8 Tips For A Sustainable Christmas

Tips for a Sustainable and Waste-Free Holiday Season: Dive into the festive spirit while reducing your environmental impact this Christmas! Learn how to trim down on waste, from eco-friendly gift wrapping alternatives to upcycled decorations.

Christmas can be a truly magical time of the year, and we all look forward to a break from work, family time, tasty food, cheesy television and, of course, a bit of Mariah Carey. However, despite being one of the most fun and festive times of the year, it’s also one of the most wasteful. 

In the UK, we create 30% more waste during the festive period, including a staggering 4,500 tonnes of tin foil simply for food storage and preparation. 

And it’s not just a waste of food, plastic and paper; the amount of money spent on unwanted items increases yearly despite the growing cost of living. Last year, the UK spent £700million on unwanted gifts, with only 1% remaining in use six months after the holidays had ended. 

But it needn't be that way. It’s possible to show the planet plenty of love at Christmas. So, to help you cut back on waste this year, here are some tips for a more sustainable festive season. 

1. Buy less and give responsibly 

How many unwanted presents do you still have at the back of your cupboards from last year? Over 62% of us receive at least one unwanted gift each Christmas, which is then either discarded or forgotten about. More surprisingly, one in ten of us have deliberately bought someone a gift they knew they wouldn't like.

Overconsumption like this is awful for the planet and our bank accounts, but there is quite an easy solution to this growing problem. Simply buy fewer new gifts this Christmas. 

Check out websites like Facebook Market Place, eBay and Gumtree for preloved gifts. Charity shops are also great places to find the perfect Christmas gift. Then, of course, there is regifting, a great way to give your unneeded presents a second chance.

Or, you could forgo the wrapping, boxes and physical products and gift a memorable experience like a show or trip away! 

2. Use recycled paper for present wrapping

Did you know that the plastic waste from wrapping paper and sellotape generated by the UK each Christmas equals the weight of 3.3 million Emperor Penguins? And a substantial chunk of this waste isn’t or cannot be recycled.

Instead of buying wrapping paper just for it to be ripped up and discarded, there are plenty of ways to get creative by using reusable materials or recyclable paper such as newspapers, magazines or brown paper. Or ask yourself, does this need wrapping? 

Gift bags are much easier to reuse, so your gift could simply sit in a little bag this year. 

3. Sellotape sucks; why not try these alternatives…

Over 1 million rolls of tape are used on Christmas Eve for wrapping presents when plenty of more sustainable options are available. 

You can use natural options like ribbon or twine, which your recipient can keep reusing. Or go completely zero waste by using string or pieces of fabric lying around. 

There is also the option of recyclable paper tape, like this one from Eco Craft.

4. Upcycled Christmas cards

Even if they’re made of recyclable materials, if your Christmas card has glitter or decorations, sadly, it can’t be recycled. 

A great way around this is by removing the embellishments, such as ribbons and buttons, and reusing these for crafts with kids. Ensure the cards you send are recyclable, or consider sending an e-card instead.

5. Make your decorations last

Every year in the UK, 12,500 tonnes of Christmas decorations are discarded and sent to landfills. This includes 68,000 miles worth of Christmas lights. This can be easily stopped. The great thing about decorations is that plenty of stores sell decorations that can be used repeatedly. 

Baubles, lights, ornaments and beading don’t need to be thrown when the holiday season is over. With the correct boxing, they can be safely stored until the following year. 

On a budget? Then get creative with upcycled light bulbs instead of plastic baubles and garlands made from those old Christmas cards.

6. Plan your food shop

Over Christmas, the biggest culprit of waste is not presents, decorations or cards but food instead. Here’s just a snippet of the food we throw away in the UK over the holiday season:

  • 263,000 turkeys
  • 7.5 million mince pies
  • 740,000 portions of Christmas pudding
  • 17.2 million sprouts
  • 2 million kilograms of cheese
  • 10.9 million parsnips
  • 9.8 million cups of gravy
  • 9 Million carrots

Approximately 66% of people admit to buying too much Christmas food that ends up in the bin. So this Christmas, make a change and take a more mindful approach to your food shop. 

  • Write a list of what you plan to buy to avoid purchasing things you don’t need that might go to waste. 
  • Avoid marketing gimmicks that encourage you to buy more than you need.
  • Choose loose fruit and vegetables over pre-packaged, giving you more control over the exact quantity you need.
  • Learn how to store your food properly. Correctly keeping your fruit and vegetables can make them last much longer.
  • Supermarkets tend to put fridge and bakery items with longer use-by dates towards the back of the shelf. Always rummage around at the back to find the longest date available.

7. Turn your leftovers into tasty treats

Maybe your menu didn’t quite go to plan, or your guests weren’t as hungry as expected. That doesn’t mean your uneaten food has to go to waste. 

BBC Good Food has a variety of great recipes for all your leftovers, from Re-fried Roasties and Cheese Board Macaroni to Moroccan-spiced Turkey Pie and Bombay Potato Omelette. 

8. Consider alternative Christmas trees 

Forestry England offers valuable suggestions to enhance the sustainability of your Christmas tree choice. Their recommendations encompass selecting a real tree with Grown-in-Britain certification. Or consider buying a potted tree for long-term enjoyment. Once you've removed all the decorations and Christmas feels like a distant memory, take a moment to visit your local authority's website or access Recycle Now for guidance on how to recycle your Christmas tree properly.

You can also rent Christmas trees or even decorate your houseplants with lights. If you do go for a fake tree, make sure to store it correctly to ensure it can be used time and time again.

Christmas is an excellent time of year for us to be together, celebrate, play games, eat food and reminisce. Focusing on the environment needn’t take away from that. We can all make a difference with just a few small changes to our choices and lifestyle. 

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