Christmas - time for feasting, celebrations, meeting up with family, and remembering what the true meaning is – love, peace and goodwill to all.

And then there’s presents, trees, stockings, turkey, stuffing, mince pies, wrapping paper, decorations, sixpences in puddings, cardholders, advent calendars, pigs in blankets, reindeer food, secret Santas, carol singers, sherry, fairy lights, “Santa stop here” signs, tinsel, party dresses, loo roll embossed with snowmen, table runners and those oversized plates that you put the real plates on (!?!)..……the list is endless!

STOP!…too much - and it’s still 4 weeks to go!

The truth is that the stresses we face at this time of year can often put real strains on our health, families, finances, relationships, and increasingly, our planet. So, what if you took a more sustainable and ethical approach to it all this year – not just in terms of the resources you use, but also to your own health and wellbeing? Might we all start 2020 in a decidedly more peaceful place?

The true cost of Christmas

According to UK statistics:

  • Households spend an average £500 more in December than other months1
  • We waste 54 million platefuls of food during December2 and 70% buy far more food than we need
  • We’ll use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper - enough to stretch nine times around the world3
  • Other waste includes 125,000 tons of plastic wrapping and 10 million items of turkey packaging3

As concern about excessive consumption, un-needed packaging and our effect on the planet increases, here are some ideas to help make your Christmas more ethical and sustainable this year.

Cards and wrapping paper

We all like to send and receive cards but buying charity cards will help ensure your money goes to good causes as well. To help save trees, consider sending e-cards instead, as these save paper and can be animated and audio-visual too.

If you do send real cards, make sure they are sourced from sustainable forests, such as those carrying the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark, guaranteeing the paper has been produced sustainably and ethically. Find cards made from recycled sources, and then ensure you recycle them effectively too. Some types of wrapping paper contain non-recyclable materials, so be careful what you buy. A quick test is to scrunch up the wrapping paper: if is unfolds on its own, it may contain unrecyclable materials, but check with your local recycling centre if you are unsure.

You could also:

  • Cut up old cards and make them into gift tags, cards or place names for next year
  • Make new Christmas decorations such as mobiles, or keep cards for craft activities throughout the year
  • Use fabric instead of paper which you can reuse
  • Reuse bows and ribbons
  • Use gift bags to hold several presents instead of wrapping things individually
  • Buy gifts that don’t need wrapping – like experiences and events

Christmas trees

In the UK, we buy approximately 8 million Christmas trees each year, creating a lot of potential waste. Fake trees last longer but can be energy-expensive to produce and dispose of. One idea gathering momentum is the idea of renting your Christmas tree from a garden centre or local nursery. Some even deliver and collect them afterwards, and the living tree gets to continue growing as well. If you do buy a real tree, make sure it has been grown sustainably by looking for either the FSC or Soil Association logo.

You could also grow your own tree in a pot and enjoy it all year round. Some good examples of ‘alternative’ Christmas trees include yucca, apple, bay, pear, maple, firs, holly or just some painted sticks in a pot.

When it comes to recycling trees, most local tips and recycling centres will take them and many councils arrange a local drop-off point. Recycled trees can be rotted down for compost or used for mulch with a lovely pine smell. Alternatively, chop it and create a habitat for insects and birds in your garden.


Don’t buy more decorations – reuse the ones you already have or make your own. Use natural resources such as tree cuttings, pine cones, conkers, and dried fruit/flowers to make stunning displays and table decorations. Why not use old books as a centre piece, or create a mini forest scene with some branches in oasis? Use salt dough (flour, salt and water) to create some miniature figures such as snowmen and Santas. Children love to make and paint them, and they are cheap and biodegradable too. Just make sure they know they can’t eat them!


Who doesn’t like a bit of sparkle at Christmas? But can we add glitter to decorations and cards in an ethical and sustainable manner? The answer is yes - you can now buy biodegradable, plant-based glitter which degrades over time, so you can add that bit of sparkle without feeling guilty. There are even make-up versions so you can let your little ones really shine in their nativity plays as angels and stars!

Christmas crackers

Make your own crackers using the inside of a kitchen roll. Fill with sweets, a joke and a homemade paper hat, and cover with some recycled paper, old maps, newspapers or children’s paintings/drawings. Or recycle jam jars, paint the outsides with Christmas images and fill with goodies!

Ethical gifts

There has been a burgeoning of ethical and different gift providers in recent years. Nowadays you can buy goats, chickens, food, footballs, water, seeds, tools, and bees. The recipient gets a card and a wonderful feeling; and disadvantaged people from all over the world receive something that could make their life just that little bit easier.

Top Tips!

1.  Simplify – less is more

2.  Make things – it’s more personal and unique

3.  Reduce, recycle and reuse

4.  Source local goods

5.  Use what’s around you in nature – it’s free!

6.  Car share with friends when shopping

7.  Check for sustainable and ethical third-party endorsements

8.  Don’t overbuy – most shops open again on Boxing Day!

9.  Stop and give yourself a break – you deserve it

10.  Remember that Christmas is more about giving your time and your love than it is your money – the people you care about will appreciate it much more than an extra oversized plate!

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