How to have a sustainable Christmas: Trees, gifts, reusable crackers and more

Let's look after our planet!

a wheelie bin full of wrapping paper and a discarded christmas tree - how not to have a sustainable christmas
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

Doing our bit to save the planet is an all-year-round responsibility. This is why we're ditching bad habits and putting these eco-friendly hacks into practice for a more sustainable Christmas.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the age-old Christmas traditions of trees, crackers and so on, with many of us spending December stocking up on these festive features for a merry and memorable day. Yet the sad reality is that most of these Christmas customs have costly consequences on our environment. Be that deforestation as a result of Christmas tree farming, cards and the big Turkey lunch. Or greenhouse gas emissions stemming from plastic packaging and hideous amounts of food waste.

Alarming figures from Biffa estimate that the UK sends around 100 million rubbish bags to landfill over the festivities. And this doesn't include the 125,000 tonnes of discarded plastic food wrapping. In a year of COP27 and a recharged effort to combat Climate Change, it's time to address our own Christmas footprint and do our part for the planet. From shopping sustainable Christmas gifts to renting a Christmas tree - there are plenty of greener options we can follow for a greener Christmas in 2022.

How to have a sustainable Christmas - 10 tips

1. Sustainable Christmas trees

WRAP estimates that 160,000 tonnes of Christmas trees are dumped each January. And this has disastrous results on the planet, with the Carbon Trust calculating that each 2-metre fir tree has a carbon footprint of 16kg CO2.

If you can't do without the real thing this Christmas, then consider renting your tree instead.

There's companies up and down the country that provide this great sustainable service. From Leicester's Love a Christmas tree to the London Christmas Tree Rental  and Ali & Joe's in Bristol and Bath. Simply select your tree, have it delivered or collect it, look after it during the festivities and return it in January. The guys behind the initiative will then re-plant your festive fir and return the same one to you in time for Christmas 2023.

If you're unable to rent then make sure you pick a tree that's grown locally. Log on to Grown in Britain to find local sellers in your area. You'll also want to look out for Grown in Britain's label or a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal of approval. As this means the tree was grown following environmental standards. 

After use, it's essential to dispose of it properly. We recommend visiting Recycle Now and finding out where your nearest drop off point is. "'Real' trees are recyclable and can be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks or woodland areas," their website states. So you know it's being used for good and not left to rot.

As for artificial Christmas trees - they're better off being avoided. The Carbon Trust found that a 2-metre fake fir has a 40kg carbon footprint. Which is over 3 and a half times more than a real tree left in landfill.

If you do buy an artificial Christmas tree it's important you invest in one that will last past 10 years. This is what the Carbon Trust has calculated as having an equal environmental impact as a responsibly disposed natural tree.

2. Sustainable Christmas tree decorations

Those dainty baubles often come with a shedload of packaging. Especially bubblewrap to keep them in one piece. So is it any wonder that the most sustainable Christmas tree decorations are ones that are homemade?

Cut out the packaging and save the pennies, all whilst putting your crafting skills to the test. You could collect and recycle your loo rolls to make these toilet roll Christmas decorations. Or for something more tempting, we suggest these edible Christmas decorations. Which of course are zero-waste, with family members eating the evidence.

If you're a fan of biscuit baubles but haven't the time then consider the Biscuiteers company. Their 12 gingerbread baubles are seriously stylish and have a 3 month shelf life. The accompanying box is also fully recyclable - if you can bare to part with the beautifully designed beauty.

Christmas Decoration Biscuits - £48 | Biscuiteers

Christmas Decoration Biscuits - £48 | Biscuiteers

Boasting a beautiful Peacock design with stunning Jade and Azure hues. These decorations will certainly look the part on your Christmas tree. Plus they taste great too with a decadent gingerbread flavour. Simply pop them on with the accompanying gold ribbon and enjoy the view (then feast).

3. Christmas lights

It's not just the decorations you need to consider for a more sustainable Christmas. Those twinkly lights have environmental consequences too.

Opt for LED lights for your fir as these use less energy without compromising on aesthetic.

Another important note is to make sure you switch off the lights before bed. Not only is this safer (no fire hazard) and cheaper (expensive energy bills) but it'll also reduce your energy consumption too.

a close up of some Christmas lights on a Christmas tree

Credit: Getty

4. Sustainable Christmas crackers

Crackers contain plastic toys and packaging which makes them another tradition that needs to be overhauled for a sustainable Christmas.

You could save up loo roll and make your own Christmas crackers, filling each one with eco-friendlier items. The paper hats, jokes and plain cardboard exterior are all recyclable. And this DIY option can be re-used and feature more personalised (and useful) cracker presents for recipients.

If you haven't the time to make them yourself, you could pick up John Lewis's 100% recyclable fill your own. Or similarly, Tom Brown's plastic free and fully recyclable crackers come with sweet wooden toys instead. (And are the crackers of choice for the Royal Household).

Winter Fayre Merry Christmas Fill Your Own Christmas Crackers, Pack of 6, Multi - £8 | John Lewis

Winter Fayre Merry Christmas Fill Your Own Christmas Crackers, Pack of 6, Multi - £8 | John Lewis 

These Christmas crackers are 100% recyclable. They feature paper hats and mottos. All that's missing is the presents themselves. John Lewis made a commitment to produce plastic free crackers in 2020.

Eco Friendly Christmas Crackers Plastic Free Xmas Cracker Set of 6 Wooden - £18.95 | Etsy

Eco Friendly Christmas Crackers Plastic Free Xmas Cracker Set of 6 Wooden - £18.95 | Etsy 

These Tom Brown beauties are 100% recyclable even with their stunning design. Inside you'l find a joke, hat and a beautiful wooden toy or game that guests will definitely be taken with.

5. Sustainable Christmas wrapping paper

According to the Telegraph, 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used and binned in the UK each Christmas.

Though paper, the problem is that our favourite, fancy decorated rolls are not recyclable because they contain micro-plastics. And as for glitter wrapping? That glitter has a tendency to end up in our oceans, being ingested by animals with deadly consequences.

Go DIY and swap the paper for clothing - otherwise known as a traditional Japanese method called Furoshiki. Or try wrapping with newspaper, fastening with sustainable tape.

Sellotape Zero Plastic Adhesive Tape - £3.50 | John Lewis

Sellotape Zero Plastic Adhesive Tape - £3.50 | John Lewis
The UK's first compostable tape - this new Sellotape acts to reduce plastic waste by being fully biodegradable & compostable (but with the same stickiness as their Original Golden Sellotape).

If you are going to use paper, opt for plain brown paper or ones that are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. We recommend gift wrap by KRAFT as their paper is stylish and naturally biodegradable.

Kraft Trees Village Wrapping Paper (10m) - £9 | Paperchase

Kraft Trees Village Wrapping Paper (10m) - £9 | Paperchase
This fully biodegradable brown paper boasts a sweet white Christmas tree print to add a little festive fun to your wrapping. That is also better for the planet. Grab 10m of the gift wrap - enough to wrap the whole family's presents. And remember to recycle after.

6. Sustainable Christmas cards

We Brits love sending a Christmas card. With the Royal Mail estimating that 150 million cards are delivered during the festive season.

The problem is that our Christmas correspondence has consequences. With paper production being a major contribution of deforestation.

Then there's the emissions that build up from the task of delivering said cards. Plus those that are not recycled sadly end up in landfill where they'll release greenhouse gases. In fact, Envirotech found that these contributing factors amount to one card emitting 140g of Carbon Dioxide.

To combat this, you could ditch the cards altogether and donate what you would usually spend to Charity instead. A good option that benefits both the planet and those in need.

sustainable Christmas cards - EarthBits

Credit: Earth Bits

However, if you can't bear to part with the habit, purchase these TREE-FREE cards from Earth Bits. This is because they make FSC recycled cards from recycled tea, coffee and even coconut. Whilst their special seed paper designs can be replanted by the recipient and turned into flowers.

7. Christmas clothing

We all know the effects Fast Fashion has on the environment. And it's a problem we can't turn a blind eye to just because it's Christmas.

The message is yet again to recycle and buy second hand or vintage when it comes to picking your party dress for the season. You can breathe new life into an old outfit by swapping in different accessories. Or experiment with a new hairstyle or make-up to compliment your look.

If you do want something new to wear then consider a clothes swap with friends. Or check out rental clothing platforms like HURR, Onloan or Rotaro. A lot of these services have designer options available to rent too - making it an extra special Christmas treat to yourself.

As for Christmas jumpers for women and Christmas jumpers for kids - we love these up-cycled knits from Not Just clothing. The socially-conscious company have recycled materials and produced a fabulous novelty jumper collection. And there's another added bonus. With 50% of profits from each sale being donated to both environment and mental health focused charities.  

Recycled 'Attenbrrr' David Attenborough Knitted Christmas Jumper - £34.99 | Not Just

Recycled 'Attenbrrr' David Attenborough Knitted Christmas Jumper - £34.99 | Not Just

Push the environmental message this Christmas with this knit featuring the nation's favourite environmentalist. It's made from 90% recycled plastic bottles and 10% recycled acrylic yarn.

'Keep Dancing' Strictly Knitted Christmas Jumper - £34.99 | Not Just

'Keep Dancing' Strictly Knitted Christmas Jumper - £34.99 | Not Just

It's a 10 from us for this stylish Strictly festive knit. The purple and pink Christmas jumper is made using recycled acrylic yarn. Whilst the packaging for all Not Just jumpers are completely biodegradable too.

8. Reduce Christmas food waste

This is a big one with some alarming statistics to boot. Data from WRAP revealed that the UK throws away two million turkeys, 17 million Brussel sprouts and 74 million mince pies during a typical Christmas. 

If that doesn't shock you enough - this food waste recycled into energy would be enough to power an average UK home for around 57 years.

Want to curb your Christmas food waste? Try these tips:

  • Buy what you need, not want: It's likely that some households don't like Christmas puddings - so why on earth would you buy one in case of 'emergency'? Calculate how many mouths you're feeding and cater to this instead. That means no over-doing it on the spuds or sprouts. And we're sure no-one will be left hungry.
  • Compost: After you've exhausted bubble and squeak for dinner, dispose of any leftover veggies by composting. Handy tip: this also includes some cheeses (Brie) too.
  • Buy local: It's not just the leftovers that are the problem. Food miles are a factor with Christmas dinner - so choose locally grown produce over products that have been flown in from elsewhere.
  • Sustainability logos: Production and ethically sourced ingredients are another important element. You want to make sure that palm oil products like butter, bread and chocolate contain RSPO-certified palm oil. Whilst your Christmas morning eggs and smoked salmon is MSC- certified seafood.
  • Packaging: A staggering 125,000 tonnes of plastic food wrapping is discarded over the festive period. Address the issue by buying veggies that are not bagged and picking your bird up from a butchers rather than a supermarket. Look out for those choccies too: Which found that packaging accounts for half the total weight of chocolates like our favourite Ferrero Rochers.

9. Plant based Christmas?

Some households wouldn't dare celebrate Christmas without cooking a Turkey. But there's certainly some that are making the shift and ditching the poultry for a plant-based Christmas.

A survey by Deliveroo found that 1 in 5 Brits this year will be having a meat-free meal. And it's a pretty good idea when you consider the environmental impact.

"The livestock industry alone generates nearly 15% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions and requires space and huge amounts of water and feed," says WWF.

a close up of a plant based sustainable Christmas dinner

Credit: Getty

Meat farming is also credited as the biggest cause of deforestation across the globe. As according to Greenpeace, farmers in Brazil are deliberately setting fires (including those Amazon rainforest fires) to make space for cattle and industrial production.

It's an easy switch to make too with plenty of easy vegan Christmas recipes out there. Plus major supermarkets have delicious plant based ranges. Including Tesco's vegetarian and vegan selection and M&S's Plant Kitchen.

10. Reusable advent calendars

Another neat idea to kick off your sustainable Christmas is an advent calendar you can re-use year after year.

Whilst most beauty advent calendars and