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How to have a more sustainable Christmas

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

It's the most wonderful time of the year... and sadly, the most wasteful. From the 70,000 miles of fairy lights that are discarded each year, to the 16 million single use advent calendars, the UK produces over 688,000 tonnes of waste over the Christmas period - that's around 30% higher than the rest of the year. If you're concerned about this (and you probably should be) there are a few small changes you can make to make your Christmas a bit more sustainable - so you can enjoy the festivities without having such a harmful impact on the planet.

Contents

Christmas Jumpers

Christmas Cards

Christmas Crackers

Wrapping Paper

Food

Gifts

Christmas Trees

Christmas Jumpers

12 million Christmas jumpers are bought each year in the UK, even though we already collectively own around 65 million. Most of these will only been worn once or twice, before heading for landfill. They're nearly always made from plastic materials, so are harmful to the environment.


Rather than buying a new jumper each year, why not buy a preloved one instead? If a jumper has only been worn a handful of times, it will still have plenty of wear left before it should be recycled. Plus, as around 50% of the microfibre particles escape during the first wash, a second-hand jumper will release less plastic particles in each subsequent wash. I like Vinted for buying and selling preloved clothes, but for children's clothes, my favourite place is Mojo & Co, where I've bought preloved Christmas jumpers (and nativity costumes) for my children several times.



You could also see if there's a Christmas Jumper Exchange in your local area, where you can arrange to swap rather than buy new. If there isn't one, you could consider setting one up. A children's jumper exchange ahead of Christmas Jumper Day could charge a nominal fee and be a fantastic way for your child's school to raise some additional funds whilst reducing waste.


Christmas Cards

It's estimated that the UK sends 1 billion Christmas cards every year. That's the equivalent of 33 million trees. Many of these cannot be recycled - if they contain any glitter, glue, foil or 3d images, they need to go to landfill.


You can reduce your impact by thinking about whether you really need to send Christmas cards. I still send to my grandparents, because they like it, and I don't get to see them as much as I'd like, but I don't really send them to anyone else now. If you really want to send a card, an e-card is a less wasteful option, but before you send them to everyone you've ever met, bear in mind that emails also have a carbon footprint. You can make an effort to wish Happy Christmas to people you care about - either in person, on the phone, or via text, and I think that's just as thoughtful as sending a card. And lets be honest, your postal worker, takeaway deliverer, and window cleaner probably aren't worried if you don't send them a card (although they might still appreciate a Christmas tip!)


My children used to send them to their classmates in school, but we stopped when we thought about the amount of waste that was generating. Although it's quite nice for the children to hand them out, sometimes I'd find unopened ones in their bags or school trays after the holidays, and they'd end up straight in the bin. If every child in a class of 30 children sent a card to each of their classmates, that would total 870 cards per class (I had to check this several times, because that's mind-blowing!) That's not including the 30 cards each teacher is taking home! If your child is desperate to take something in, why not send small packs of wildflower seeds with a Christmas message on the envelope instead?


So the best thing you can do to reduce waste from Christmas cards is to just send less! If you do have people you still want to send to, try to make sure the ones you buy are made from recycled materials, and that can be recycled again after use. Better yet, why not send a plantable card, that can be planted and will grow into beautiful wildflowers, combining the card with a gift!

Plantable wildflower seed Christmas card with ice skates infront of a Christmassy mountain scene with the words Merry Christmas
Christmas Crackers

In the UK, we will pull over 154 million crackers over the festive period. Many of these crackers are covered in foil or glitter, making them unsuitable for recycling. Crackers are single use, so they are discarded once they've been pulled, with the majority ending up in landfill They also traditionally come with a small gift inside, which is nearly always made from plastic, and is generally fairly useless. 99% of people admit to throwing this gift away at the end of the day.


Interestingly, pulling crackers isn't a Christmas tradition across other Christmas-celebrating countries - you're only likely to find them in the UK and Ireland, and Commonwealth countries.


If you don't want to ditch the crackers altogether, there are a few alternative options that are much less harmful to the environment. Look for options made from recycled materials, that don't contain any glitter or foil, such as these Beeco Crackers, which are made from recycled kraft, and contain wildflower seed bombs rather than the usual plastic tat!


Another option is to make your own. These make your own cracker kits make it easy for you! They come in a choice of 4 designs, include a hat, joke and snap for each, and leave you to decide what (if anything) to put in as a gift.


Alternatively, you could use reusable crackers. This option creates the least waste, as you simply replace the snap, fill with treats of your choice, and reuse them over and over. They can even be flat-packed for easy storage!


A reusable Christmas cracker on a plate on a Christmassy table

Wrapping Paper

Every year, we discard 238,855 miles of wrapping paper - that's enough to reach the moon! A whopping 50,000 trees are needed to generate all this wrapping paper, and again, much of it isn't recyclable due to glitter and foil.


At a minimum, you really want your wrapping paper to be both recycled and recyclable. Kraft paper and twine is a simple, but aesthetically pleasing way of achieving this. Reusable wrapping bags are another good option, and I really like the Japanese tradition of Furoshiki, which involves tying fabric around the gift.


Gifts

Every year we waste £700m on unwanted gifts. £42m worth of these unwanted gifts end up in landfill each year, meaning that we are literally throwing money away. Even if there wasn't a cost of living crisis, it would still be insanely wasteful! With estimates that only 1% of all gifts given over Christmas are still in use 6 months later, it's definitely worth looking at alternative ways of gift giving.


I love to give (and receive) experience gifts. Tickets to a show, a voucher for a cookery class, an annual pass for a local attraction all make lovely gifts, without any associated waste.


Handmade gifts are always well received. You can be as creative as you like - I once used damaged books and a heart shaped hole-punch to make a photo frame filled up with words to describe my sister. Candles, jams, and bath bombs are all easy to make yourself, and make lovely gifts.


It's also becoming much more normalised to give preloved gifts - check out charity shops, local Facebook groups, or even upcycle something you already own.


If you want some more inspiration, you might want to check out my Eco Friendly Gift Guide for Men or Eco Friendly Gifts for Kids.



Food

7m tonnes of food are wasted each Christmas, including 2 million still edible turkeys. One of the main reasons for all this waste is over buying. People often worry that there won't be enough, so they buy extra just in case. The best way to avoid this is to plan your meals, taking into account the number of people that you're feeding, and any dietary requirements. There's no point contributing to the 1008 double decker bus fulls of leftover brussels sprouts, if none of your guests like brussels sprouts!


If you want to reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas Lunch, consider going meat free or less meat. Some fantastic alternatives include nut roasts, pies, wellingtons, terrines, or stuffed vegetables. If you feel that the turkey is irreplaceable, Turkey Finder is a useful tool to find a responsibly raised bird from local producer.


This might be an unpopular suggestion, but we actually found we significantly reduced our food waste by switching our Christmas Dinner to Boxing Day. On Christmas Day, everyone is over-excited, the children want to spend all morning eating the chocolates that came in their stockings, and they can't wait to get back to their presents after eating. I found that we all have much better appetites if we have the roast the following day, and so we waste a lot less.


There are lots of great ways to use up any leftovers - bubble and squeak anyone? Great British Chefs have some great tips for freezing your leftovers, including your cheeseboard! Plus you can ferment, pickle or jam any unused fruit or veg, either for your own use, or to giveaway as lovely handmade gifts!


Christmas Trees

Every year, there's a debate about whether it's more environmentally friendly to use a plastic or a real tree. Plastic trees are usually made in China and shipped to the UK. If you reuse an artificial tree 10 times, it will negate its carbon footprint, although they shed small plastic needles all over the floor, and they do not biodegrade. However, if you already own one, it's most sustainable to carry on using it rather than switching to a real tree. They can be reused many times - our one will be 16 years old this Christmas!




Between 6 and 8 million real trees are sold in the UK each year. They take 10 to 12 years to grow to 6 feet, providing habitat for wildlife and capturing carbon during this time. It's important to search for a sustainable grower when buying a real tree, so that you're not contributing to deforestation. Decomposing real trees each year generates around 100,000 tonnes of methane gas, which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.


Perhaps the most sustainable option is to rent a potted tree. These trees are returned to the supplier after use, where they continue to capture carbon and provide habitats for wildlife. They usually need less fertiliser, and there's no waste after use. You can even choose to have the same tree each year, and watch it grow with your children! They require a bit more care than a disposable tree, and you usually have to pay a damage deposit, which you'll lose if you don't look after the tree.


Conclusion

With 57.8 million Brits celebrating Christmas each year, it's no wonder that so much extra waste is generated. However, it only takes a few small changes to dramatically reduce your impact, and if everyone did the same, it would make a huge difference. When we're throwing away enough Christmas Puddings to feed the whole of Scotland, it's time to rethink our habits!


Merry Christmas!


 
This is where I found the statistics shared in this blog

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