10 Ways to Go Green and Celebrate a Sustainable Christmas This Year

From using recycled wrapping paper, avoiding glitter, and choosing an eco-friendly Christmas tree to sustainable decor, there are many ways to be kinder to the planet this Christmas.

With 2020 being a disruptive year, most of us are looking forward to the much-needed cheer that Christmas will bring. Supermarkets are stocked with the holiday essentials, people are getting their last-minute checklists ready, and the spirit of the holidays is in the air, even if it’s going to be a much quieter celebration for many.

However, while Christmas may be a wonderful time of the year, it is also one of the most wasteful. According to packaging company GWP Group, every year in the U.K., an additional 30% of rubbish, amounting to around 3 million tons, is produced and discarded throughout the festive period compared to the rest of the year. This includes:

  • 54 million platefuls of wasted food
  • Around 500 tons of Christmas lights thrown away
  • 8 million Christmas trees
  • 108 million rolls of wrapping paper
  • 100 million black bags filled with packaging from toys and gifts

Meanwhile, in the U.S., between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, 25% more trash is thrown away than any other period throughout the year. Every holiday season, Americans use 125,000 tons of plastic packaging.

While these are some alarming numbers, there’s a lot you can do to reduce wastage and celebrate a sustainable holiday. As you get into the festive spirit, here are some tips to go green this Christmas.

1. Use recycled paper or fabric to pack gifts

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

No Christmas is complete without gifts. And with it comes tons of wrapping paper, which is almost always discarded. In the U.K. alone, every year after Christmas Day, 83 square kilometers of wrapping paper are thrown out or burned. Most of these wrapping papers cannot be recycled as they contain glitter, plastic, or metallic finish.

Hence, consider using recyclable wrapping paper, such as brown, undyed paper made from recyclable materials. Better yet, you can reuse paper from gifts you received. You can even use newspaper and decorate it with reusable items such as twine or ribbon. Alternatively, using fabric is also a great means to wrap your gifts, as this can be reused and/or upcycled.

Furthermore, it is also important to be mindful of what you do with the wrapping paper left over from gifts you receive. Make sure to reuse or repurpose it if it can’t be recycled.

2. Say no to glitter

While glitter is sparkly and fun, it is very harmful to the environment. Made from plastic sheets, glitter essentially constitutes microplastics that end up in waterways and get consumed by first plankton and fish, and then seabirds and other marine life.

“All glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic and all microplastics leak into the environment,” said Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist.

In the spirit of a greener Christmas, retailers and supermarkets are also making a conscious choice to avoid glitter in their products. For instance, last year, Marks and Spencer announced that it was removing glitter from its Christmas celebration range.

For glitter lovers, all is not lost – if you really want to use glitter, you can opt for plant-based or vegan glitter.

3.  Avoid sending cards, or choose the right one

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

Every year, an estimated 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away by U.K. households. According to research, the volume of wrapping paper and cards discarded after Christmas in the U.K. can make enough biofuel to send a bus to the moon over 20 times. Hence, the most eco-friendly means to celebrate Christmas is to avoid sending cards.

An alternative is to send e-cards, which save both money and trees, or physical cards that are recyclable and contain no glitter or metallic finish. You can also make DIY cards using various eco-friendly household items or make leaf or pressed flower cards.

Another great zero-waste alternative is plantable cards, which come with seeds embedded in them. These cards are made of biodegradable paper which can be planted on soil; while the plants will grow, the paper will eventually decompose.

When it comes to the cards that you receive, try to recycle or repurpose them instead of throwing them away.

4. Choose an eco-friendly Christmas tree

Plastic tree vs real tree is a much-debated topic. While both have their merits, they also have their shortcomings. The key is to pick one that is most sustainable and the least harmful for the planet.

Unsurprisingly, Carbon Trust found that a real Christmas tree has a significantly lower carbon footprint compared to an artificial tree. An artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions, more than twice that of a real tree.

While choosing your tree, make sure to check if it has been sustainably sourced. You can also buy a rooted tree, which you can plant and re-harvest post-Christmas. To further reduce your carbon footprint, consider buying the tree locally.

Once Christmas is over, make sure to dispose of it properly by chipping, burning, or planting rather than dumping it in a landfill – this reduces the possible carbon footprint by up to 80%. Furthermore, you can also rent a tree, which you can simply return to the rental company after Christmas.

When buying an artificial tree, only one that is useable for around 10 years will have an environmental impact lower than that of real trees, says Carbon Trust.

5. Choose sustainable gifts

According to the figures from GWP Group, £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents are thrown into landfills each year.

Buying second-hand, long-lasting, or DIY handcrafted gifts are some great sustainable gifting options. When choosing gifts, especially for kids, buy those made from eco-friendly and sustainably sourced materials, as opposed to plastic. There is also a wide range of potted plants that you can gift your friends and family, which is a much kinder option for the planet.

Alternatively, rather than gifting a physical item, you can also gift experiences, like a visit to some place special or a tutorial.

6. Use sustainable decor

Image by Vlad Vasnetsov from Pixabay

Similar to gifts, buy decorations and ornaments that are eco-friendly and long-lasting, so that you don’t have to keep buying new ones every year. You can also make your own decor with eco-friendly materials.

Additionally, when choosing lights for your Christmas tree, make sure to use LED bulbs, which are more energy-efficient and use around  80% less energy than incandescent bulbs. If every household in the U.K. switched one string of incandescent lights for its LED equivalent, we could save over £11 million (US$14.64 million) and 29,000 tonnes of CO2,  across 12 days of Christmas.

Alternatively, you can also opt for solar-powered lights, especially for outdoor lighting. If you are using candles, use ones made of soya, vegetable oil, or beeswax, as they are more eco-friendly than paraffin.

Additionally, make sure to keep your energy usage at a minimum by ensuring to switch off the lights when not in use.

7. Use recyclable crackers

Christmas crackers are fun, but mostly filled with plastic. Replace single-use crackers with reusable or recyclable ones (which are often made from fabric). Some crackers also allow you to fill them with your own gifts. Alternatively, you can also buy crackers made from recycled materials and those that do not contain glitter or foil.

You can also make your own crackers by sourcing materials from craft suppliers and looking up some tips on how to make them.

8. Shop locally

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Doing your Christmas shopping locally is a great means to reduce your carbon footprint by minimizing the energy and emissions required for the transport of items you buy. Furthermore, it will also help support local businesses and local employment, thereby building a sustainable local economy.

By opting to shop locally, you can avoid unnecessary packaging and may also come across gifts that you may not find anywhere else. Even when it comes to food, approach local farmers and butchers.

9. Shop mindfully and avoid food wastage

When it comes to food, shop locally, and buy organic, as organic meat and vegetables are better for the environment due to not using harmful pesticides. When you’re out shopping, make sure to carry your own bags, and avoid buying items that come in plastic packaging. Wherever possible, look for alternatives. For instance, buy chocolates that come in tins rather than plastic boxes.

In the U.K. alone, 4 million tons of food are thrown away in December, including 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, and over 170 tons of sprouts. In order to minimize food wastage, plan ahead, and buy only items that you really need.

If at all you end up with leftovers, turn them into new meals, which will not only help avoid wastage but also help save money.

10. Avoid single-use tableware

Although large gatherings are not allowed in many countries amid COVID-19, if you do host a party, avoid using single-use glasses and cutlery as much as you can. Alternatively, you can ask your guests to bring their own plates or glasses, and this will also reduce your expenses.

As you celebrate a safe, socially-distanced Christmas this year, be conscious and avoid harming the planet as much as you can. Wherever possible, reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose.

Header image by Lucie Liz from Pexels


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