9 tips for a more sustainable family Christmas - #5 is easy and would make a huge difference

Let's look after our planet!

Sustainable Christmas gift, tree and baubles
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's time to ditch some bad habits and put these nine eco-friendly hacks for a more sustainable Christmas into practice, after all, doing our bit to save the planet is an all-year-round responsibility.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the age-old Christmas traditions of trees, crackers, and the pick of the top Christmas toys

Yet the sad reality is that many of our Christmas customs have costly consequences on our environment. From Deforestation, as a result of Christmas tree farming and card giving to greenhouse gas emissions stemming from plastic packaging and hideous amounts of food waste.

Alarming new figures from Biffa estimate that the UK sends around 300,000 tonnes of cards (enough to cover Big Ben 260,000 times. As much as 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging (equivalent to 650,000 reindeer) with a typical house filling three bin bags of packaging each Christmas.

 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 regifting Christmas presents to renting a Christmas tree - there are plenty of greener options we can follow for a greener Christmas in 2023.

9 tips for a more sustainable Christmas

1. Sustainable Christmas trees

WRAP estimates that 160,000 tonnes of Christmas trees are dumped each January. This has disastrous results on the planet, with the Carbon Trust calculating that each two-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 are 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.

Goodto senior writer Selina Maycock reuses the real Christmas tree she bought in 2020 and it's still going strong. "I love a real tree but don't have the space for anything other than one that can sit on my window sill. So I bought a Spruce Pyramid pot Grown Christmas tree from B&Q and instead of throwing it away after the first year, I popped it in my mum's garden, where it was fed and watered throughout the year. I brought it back inside the following year (dusting off any cobwebs and spiders) and it looks as good as new. But remember to prune them back from time to time to aid growth and keep their shape."

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. 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 two-metre fake fir has a 40kg carbon footprint. Which is over 3 and a half times more than a real tree left in a landfill.

If you do buy an artificial Christmas tree you must 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 bubble wrap 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 trying this sweetie bauble decorations recipe or gingerbread Christmas tree decorations recipe as well as these other edible Christmas decoration ideas. Which of course is 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 bear to part with the beautifully designed beauty.

  • Christmas Decoration Biscuits - £48 | Biscuiteers - it boasts 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)

Biscuiteers gingerbread baubles

(Image credit: Biscuiteers)

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 aesthetics.

Another important note is to make sure you switch off the lights before bed. Not only is this safer (no fire hazard) and cheaper (save on 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-friendly 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 Christmas crackers. Or similarly, Etsy's DIY plastic-free Christmas cracker kit.

  • John Lewis Christmas Cottage Christmas Trees 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.
  • DIY Plastic Free Christmas Cracker Kit, Kraft Brown or White with Multi-Coloured Paper Hats - £5.95+ |Etsy - These are recyclable and why not add optional Jokes printed on Plantable Seed Paper to grow your own seeds.

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 tends 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, or fastening with sustainable tape.

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.

  • 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).
  • Kraft Trees Village Wrapping Paper (3m) - £3.49 | Oxfam  - 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 a few rolls of the 3m of the gift wrap - enough to wrap the whole family's presents. And remember to recycle after.

KRAFT wrapping paper

(Image credit: Oxfam.org.uk)

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. Paper production is a major contributor to 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 landfills 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 for Christmas jumper day then consider a clothes swap with friends. Or check out rental clothing platforms like HURR or Onloan. 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 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 - £39.99 | 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. 
  • People's Princess - Diana inspired Knitted Christmas Jumper - £34.99 | Not Just - It's a 10 from us for this stylish festive knit. A take on her iconic black sheep jumper. The packaging for all Not Just jumpers is completely biodegradable too.

Princes Diana inspired festive jumper

(Image credit: notjustclothing.co.uk)

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 Brussels 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 an 'emergency'? Calculate how many mouths you're feeding and cater to this instead. That means no overdoing 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 are 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 butcher's 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. 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 perfume advent calendars and advent calendars with food and drink have made the effort to feature recyclable bottles, there's still plastic packaging that some have yet to conquer.

Say goodbye to those annual non-chocolate advent calendars (and save your pennies too) by investing in a fabric or wooden one instead. They'll stay in tip-top condition in the loft so you can enjoy them year after year.

  • JoJo Maman Bebe Wooden Advent Calendar - £38 | JoJo Maman Bebe - Educational, festive and reusable - this is a great advent calendar for kids that will last for many Christmases to come. Little ones can open the wooden boxes each day in December to find a wooden figure. The sides pull out to make a play scene. Then simply pack it up again when it's all over - ready for next year's festivities. Suitable for 3-year-olds and upwards.
  • Santa Christmas Advent Calendar - £12.99| Amazon - Reusable felt fabric, this sweet fabric advent boats 24 pouches. Plus a handy string to hang it up pride of place above the mantelpiece. Bring it out year after year and fill the pockets with a Celebration choccy or two.

JoJo Maman Bebe wooden advent calendar

(Image credit: JoJo Maman Bebe)

In other family news, you might be wondering will it snow in the UK or want to find out the best places to hide Christmas presents from kids and #4 is genius.

Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)