The festive season is traditionally the period of peak consumption when we go all out on gifts and food to impress our guests. But with a little expert know-how, you can host an eco-friendly Christmas without skimping on the festive magic. From the tree you buy to the food you eat, everything – no matter how big or small – can make a huge difference.
We all love a Christmas tree. But did you know around eight million trees are cut and discarded in the UK each year. A cut tree has a carbon footprint of up to 16kg of CO2, whereas a live tree continues to absorb CO2.
The most environmentally friendly way to have a tree is to rent one. Try ECO Elf in Totton, who work with the best growers across the UK to provide a high-quality living tree delivered directly to your door and then collected again in January so it can be used the following year.
If you can’t rent, buy a potted spruce, and grow it in your garden for reuse each year. Or buy an FSC-certified tree to ensure it’s from a well-managed forest and recycle it properly – most councils recycle trees by turning them into chippings, reducing their carbon footprint by up to 80 per cent compared with sending them to landfill. Plastic trees, which can only go to landfills, have double a real tree’s carbon footprint. If you already have one, keep using it, though.
It takes the shine off the decorations when you discover that neither tinsel nor baubles are recyclable. Make your own instead with salt-dough hanging decorations, dried orange slice ornaments and sticks of cinnamon for the tree. Each is fully compostable, while wreaths made using foraged materials like pine cones, ivy and holly can be recycled at the kerbside.
Or get your secateurs at ready and join one of the many Christmas wreath workshops at Chewton Glen, The New Forest Heritage Centre in Lyndhurst or Rosie Lea’s in Lymington.
Outdoor Christmas lights create so much light pollution that even Nasa can see them from space, so it can be beneficial to keep festive illuminations inside. Decorative lights cost the UK £3.75m a day to run over the festive period, so opt for solar-powered LED tree lights. Turn them off at night.
It’s a long-held festive tradition to send Christmas cards in the UK, and we send an estimated 1.05bn Christmas cards each year, but 1bn of them don’t get recycled – the equivalent of cutting down nearly 350,000 trees. 1 Tree Cards sell 100 per cent recycled cards, printed with vegan inks and using renewable energy. Plus, for every card they send, they plant a tree through Eden Reforestation Projects. Alternatively, buy recycled or FSC-certified cards and avoid those with glitter or plastic.
A YouGov survey found that 57 per cent of people in the UK receive at least one unwanted gift, so ask people what they want for Christmas – or give them a few options to choose from. Our own ethical gift guide has lots of great ideas but focuses on buying less and buying better. If researching gifts online, try an ethical search engine, and use not-for-profit Ecosia. 80 per cent of their advertising revenue funds reforestation efforts in countries like Brazil and Indonesia. Plus, they don’t save your searches, track the websites you visit, or sell your data.
Or buy your presents from local shops and businesses. Small business Saturday is back again on the 3rd of Dec. The campaign highlights small business success and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities. Many small businesses participate in the day by hosting events and offering discounts.
The UK throws away obscene amounts of wrapping paper, and the plastic, foil, glitter, and sticky tape on many sheets make them unrecyclable. Furoshiki, a traditional, reusable Japanese wrapping cloth, is a fab alternative – or else use recyclable brown paper.
According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, 99 per cent of Brits throw away the plastic gifts inside crackers. Either buy sustainable Christmas crackers that are plastic-free or try making your own with small homemade gifts.
“By shopping locally, we can talk to people about where our food comes from, to make informed decisions about the kind of food we want to eat, and the farming practices we want to support,” explains Lucia Monje-Jelfs from the Sustainable Food Trust.
Do your research for a sustainable Christmas dinner. The Farms to Feed Us database highlights small-scale producers growing food using resilient farming systems, whilst Big Barn pulls together more than 600 artisan and specialist producers who support local, sustainable agriculture. Buy local wherever possible from producers like Paul Tanners Turkeys, who pride themselves on high-quality free-range birds reared in the heart of Boldre.
The UK throws away a reported 2m turkeys at Christmas, crowning 270,000 tonnes of uneaten festive grub. To reduce waste, clear the fridge before Christmas, and plan and portion your meals sensibly. Share any leftovers on Olio, an app that pairs you with neighbours who might need them – and supplies recipes to make the best use of leftovers.