9 ways to have a sustainable, environmentally-friendly Christmas including recyclable wrapping, buying locally and using leftovers
There is no doubt Christmas is a time of excess – from the decorations to the food – it's a time to indulge and after the chaos of last year we're very much here for it.
However, there’s a down side to how much we indulge over the festive season that stretches far beyond our waistlines and that's the sheer amount of waste it generates.
From the mountains of presents, to leftover and out-of-date food, alongside mammoth amounts of throwaway plastic in the form of wrapping paper, packaging and Christmas crackers, in all the fun and excitement it can be very easy to overlook the impact Christmas can have on the environment.
“I think we are encouraged to make each Christmas bigger and better than the one before,” says Eilidh Gallagher, eco blogger and author of Green Christmas.
“More presents, more decorations, more parties, just more. We all feel the need to keep up thanks to social media, and see so many images of the picture-perfect Christmas that we feel pressure to recreate."
From wildfires to record-breaking temperatures through to the eye-opening facts and figures that crept out of November's COP26 climate conference – we are all becoming much more aware about the impact our lifestyles are having on climate change.
But being eco-friendly or environmentally aware doesn't mean cutting back on all the festive trimmings. If you'd like this year's festive season to be that little bit kinder to planet Earth here are some easy changes you can make this year...
1. Send sustainable seasons greetings
Despite being made of paper and card not all Christmas cards are in fact easily recyclable and some use plastic decorations, dye or glitter that mean throwing them out is not as straightforward as tipping them all straight in the recycling bin. Research from Friends of the Earth and Imperial College suggests we throw away around 1.5 billion cards every year – which is a lot of waste if only a fraction of those can be fully recycled.
Consumer organisation Which? estimates that in 2019 as many as two in five people didn't bother with cards, so concerned were they about their environmental impact.
But if an e-card is one step too far for your family or business, or a scheduled face-time doesn't quite feel the same, when buying this year's cards be sure to check that what you're buying – and its packaging – can be recycled. A Forest Stewardship Council mark will also tell you the paper has been sustainably produced.
And remember, if you want to go one step further, this year's cards could make next year's present gift tags.
2. Let the train take the strain
Christmas shopping, errands and socialising leave us darting here there and everywhere in December. But where possible let the train – or some other form of public transport – help get you from A to B.
If you're heading out to a Christmas party, family day out, or even a day Christmas shopping in the nearest big town or city it is worth considering using public transport that is not only kinder to the environment but will save you having to battle queues and a wait for parking.
More than a quarter of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions are connected to transport – if you can walk or use public transport for just one or two journeys this December you'd have ordinarily made by car then you'll be helping to do your bit.
And if travelling by train or bus is not convenient and you're heading out with others then car sharing or using the same taxi can also help cut down the numbers of vehicles on the road and the harmful gases they're expelling.
3. Don't forget those reusable bags!
Money..phone..face mask...re-usable bag?
We all buy a lot in December – perhaps more than we do at any other time of the year.
It's very easy to nip in a shop or collect a parcel without having something to put – or more importantly hide – it in.
Try and avoid acquiring a giant mountain of plastic bags come the end of December as well as an exciting pile of presents by ensuring that you've got a re-usable bag or two always to hand.
4. Present wrapping
Swapping traditional wrapping paper and gift bags in favour of something more environmentally-friendly is an easy way to make a big change when it comes to investing in a sustainable Christmas this year.
Single-use gift wrap can be problematic to recycle as can the sticky tape we regularly use to hold it together – if it has glitter in it, is laminated, or can’t be scrunched into a ball, it’s not recyclable.
A number of shops and supermarkets are this year selling recyclable wrapping paper – alongside not selling it in the usual cellophane or plastic wrapping – together with a number of biodegradable tape options that will hold your gifts together and be suitable for the recycling box afterwards.
Traditional brown paper also works just as well – tied up with string if your skills are up to it (You Tube can help!) while unwanted old road maps cluttering book shelves or glove compartments are also popular alternatives to wrapping paper for some added interest.
5. Buy local
While buying locally keeps money in your local economy it can do wonders for your environmental footprint too.
Shopping with nearby butchers or greengrocers not only reduces your own carbon footprint but you're also likely to be buying produce that has travelled far fewer food miles.
It has also been grown or produced much closer to where you live.
You will, of course, also be supporting independent traders who will be very glad of your custom after a tough two years.
6. Choose long-lasting gifts
With children this can be particularly hard as so many toys and crazes they are often desperate for come Christmas are made from plastic that is tricky to recycle.
If a wooden alternative isn't possible it is also worth scouring second hand sites and marketplace listings as, inevitably, youngsters outgrow things quickly.
Families are very often looking to sell items their children no longer play with ahead of receiving more gifts on December 25.
Toy rental sites are also now growing in popularity.
Monthly or yearly subscriptions can provide you with everything from toys to children's bikes that you can periodically send back and recycle for the next level as they grow.
And if you're struggling to buy for adults too – or wish to avoid just another gift that may sit on a shelf – consider an alternative to a physical present this year.
Theatre tickets, vouchers for a local restaurant or passes for a nearby attraction might go down well.
And items don't necessarily need to cost a fortune.
The offer of babysitting - or pet sitting - to enable a family to enjoy a night out or some time away can be just as popular as something they can keep alongside things that you can make at home such as home made chutney, cookies or Christmas cake.
7. Don't buy a new Christmas jumper
It raises money for charity and every year the high street will be full of marketing for a new festive knit.
But if yours still fits from last year then drag it out the cupboard and wear it again – or alternatively swap with a friend if you fancy a change.
If your kids have outgrown the ones they own, ask among other parents or classmates for a potential replacement someone else has outgrown – perhaps even a class swap shop would help unwanted clothing find a new owner for the short festive season.
8. Love your leftovers
Global food waste, if it were a country, would reportedly have the third highest emissions rate in the world and while we all like to indulge over Christmas, what is leftover can be an equally large problem.
Alongside not over-ordering, you can cut down on waste by buying items with the longest possible dates on them to ensure that your fridge, if it's full to the brim, is packed with useable items and not food that is going to go off not long after you bought it.
This will mean you're not only throwing away and disposing of its packaging without it having been eaten and enjoyed but then also needing to head out and buy more to replace what's lost.
Planning meals ahead can cut down on the amount you're buying on the off-chance and, crucially, be prepared to use up what food you have. The internet has thousands of recipes and ideas for using up Christmas food – and if you know the buffet table will still be well stocked once the party is over don't be afraid to ask people to bring their own re-usable containers in order to take a food parcel back home with them.
9. Recycle, recycle, recycle
If you've got a real tree – find your nearest recycling centre or drop-off point – that will most likely shred your fir so that it can be used locally in parks or woodland for chipping.
All paper, cards and wrapping should be disposed of properly – while reusing or re-purposing as much of it as you can.
And carefully packaging up as many decorations and displays for next year, alongside your artificial tree if you've used one, will ensure as a nation we're not too wasteful.
When it's all over the biggest gift you can give back to the environment is by recycling or reusing as much as you can.