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7 top tips for a more sustainable Christmas

Doing your bit for the planet (and your wallet), doesn’t mean you can’t have the Christmas you’re dreaming of.

Updated

Presents wrapped in fabric

‘We’re dreaming of a green Christmas, with no plastic waste in sighhhhhht.’ OK, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but we’re guessing if you’ve found your way here you’re looking for sustainable Christmas ideas. From buying locally grown trees to giving eco-friendly gifts, here's how you can celebrate in (sustainable) style.

Slash your shopping

First off, can you cut down your shopping list? Making a list and checking it twice is the best way to make sure you don’t go overboard with Christmas shopping. Can you organise a Secret Santa present giving session for friends and family members, rather than buying for everyone? When it comes to festive food, we all love to indulge but try not to buy and cook more than will be eaten. Simple solutions to avoid food waste include freezing half of your canapes to use on a different day and making the most of leftovers. Turkey curry anyone?

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Think of your bin

Most Christmas wrapping paper and cards can’t be recycled. Those that can usually say so on the packaging, so choose wisely. (Psst, find out more about Christmas recycling here.) Why not wrap presents in pretty second-hand scarves or DIY some wrapping paper instead?

Likewise, most Christmas crackers are destined for the big black bin, as are their contents, so consider making your own plastic-free DIY versions. Kits are available from craft shops and online or just use some pretty paper and loo roll inners. Choose individual cracker gifts, from chocolate bars to miniature gin bottles, hair clips and travel-sized bubble bath.

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dustpan with leftover christmas ornaments

Eco-friendly Christmas tree options

If you have a reusable tree already, keep using it. Otherwise, it’s best to choose a real tree. Real Christmas trees are usually grown as a crop, so a new one will be replanted for each one that’s cut down.

Man-made trees can’t be recycled and could end up languishing in a landfill for generations once they’ve outlived their welcome. To reduce your tree’s footprint, try to buy one that’s been locally grown (to cut down on transport emissions). If you have a garden, why not invest in a potted tree that can be brought inside year after year?

natural christmas tree without ornaments

Make a DIY Christmas tree

How about saying no to buying a tree altogether and making a DIY Christmas tree instead? Here’s how:

  • Find several straightish slim sticks, in varying sizes, from around 10 centimetres to up to a metre.
  • Lay them out on the floor in size order, so the smallest is at the top and the largest at the bottom.
  • Tie the top stick to the next smallest one using some twine or ribbon, at both ends. (Leave a gap between the sticks of around 10 centimetres.)
  • Tie that second stick to the next one in the same way and repeat.
  • Eventually, you should have something that’s roughly triangular (AKA tree) shaped. Hang it from the wall, with the smallest stick at the top, and attach small baubles and energy-efficient fairy lights from it.

Alternatively, an easier solution is to paint one large branch silver, hang it from the ceiling or stand it in a pot and decorate it with homemade or second-hand baubles.

Sustainable Christmas gift ideas

The key thing to remember with Christmas gifts is to only buy things that are truly wanted or needed (or ideally both). A wind-up radio might be marketed as an eco-gift, but it’s not exactly eco if it doesn’t get used. So find out what the recipient wants first, and then see if there’s a way you can buy or make it more sustainably. That could mean choosing Fairtrade chocolate rather than a box of chocs from the supermarket, or buying an FSC-certified wooden building blocks set rather than a plastic one. Or it could mean giving someone a rose bush that will brighten their garden for years to come.

This might mean buying fewer, more expensive gifts, even if that means clubbing together with other people to afford them. Rather than giving someone a mass-produced hat, gloves and scarf set, along with some ‘smellies’ and knick-knacks, could you treat them to an ethically-made, luxuriously soft bamboo scarf instead?

Give your time

We know it’s a bit of a twee saying, but sometimes the best thing you can give is time. Could you offer to do the cleaning, babysit or cook dinner? Or why not spend some time making gifts? Homemade Christmas gift ideas range from DIY bath bombs, chocolate brownies and soy candles to bird boxes and pallet tables. Alternatively, give an experience that you can enjoy together, whether it’s a trip to the theatre, a sewing class or a National Trust membership.

Buy second-hand

Choosing sustainable Christmas gifts can be trickier with kids. No one wants to see their children disappointed on Christmas Day because Santa didn’t bring them the toy they desperately want (the one you know they’ll get bored of after three minutes). If you need to buy that plastic toy, try to find it second-hand first.

Children don’t usually care (or notice) if something isn’t brand new. And a teenager won’t be too bothered if that mobile phone is second-hand as long as you put a new case on it. Likewise, look for other Christmas essentials second-hand, from decorations to tableware and that all-important festive jumper.

Originally published