25 eco-friendly Christmas tips

Christmas is traditionally a season for spoiling yourself and your family. But it can also be a time of waste with too much food, too many presents and too much packaging.

We’ve got some great tips to help you enjoy Christmas, so you can spoil yourself without spoiling the planet.

Here’s a uniquely seasonal paradox. Is it possible to buy a truly green Christmas tree?? Artificial trees aren’t biodegradable and need enormous amounts of energy to manufacture. So it may come as a surprise that buying a real tree is not necessarily a greener option.

What makes the most sustainable tree depends on many factors. These will include how many years you use an artificial tree, how and where a real tree is grown, and whether it’s composted afterwards or continues to grow. 

The best option is to use whatever you’ve already got - or decorate large house plants to make stunning tree substitutes. Remember to put your fairy lights on a timer!

1. Artificial trees

If you have one already, use it for as many years as possible to make the most of it. If you don’t have one, try FreegleFreecycle, Ebay or Gumtree for a pre-loved one.

2. Eco-friendly real trees

To make sure your tree is UK grown, buy from a retailer registered with the British Christmas Tree Growers Association. If you want a tree that is certified organic, check to see that it has been approved by the Soil Association.

3. Grow your own

Buying a potted tree with roots allows you to grow it outside and use it again next year, reducing its environmental impact and costing you less. But be warned - they require some looking after and you'll need a big pot. Read these expert tips on caring for Christmas trees in pots.

4. Recycling cut trees

Don’t let your tree be part of the 90% that end up in landfill. Many local councils now compost them so find your local Christmas tree recycling point.

5. Tree rental

Christmas tree rental, what a brilliant idea.

Forever Green Christmas Trees deliver around South Essex but are prepared to do deliveries further afield if you call them up (07854 437 224).

The Little Tree Company previously operated across the UK and is now offering a local service in the South Yorkshire area.

Lovely Branches serves Greater London.

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Let your imagination run wild. Homemade craft items or food can be a refreshing and creative alternative to high-street or online purchases. Giving your promise to do something nice will probably be seen as special too.

6. Homemade gifts

You can make use of what you already have, with these beautiful origami Christmas models or make your own candles in bespoke containers, like old tea-cups. Websites such as Prima have oodles of Christmas craft ideas, or see some of our favourite craft and gift ideas on Pinterest.

7. Food gifts

Sweets, biscuits and preserves can all make fabulous Christmas presents, especially with some creative packaging. To make the most of your pantry and garden, Alys Fowler’s book Abundance is a wonderful resource. In it you can find recipes for things like jams and pickles, which you can make months before Christmas.

The BBC Goodfood website and Delicious Magazine are both packed with sweet and savoury recipes for gifts. If you're baking with the kids, why not try traditional favourites such as gingerbread men? They're great fun to decorate.

8. Free gifts

Why spend if you don’t have to? Free Christmas Gift Cheques are a lovely way of making your time the thing that counts.

9. Friends of the Earth shop

The Friends of the Earth shop has a fabulous eco-friendly range of cards, calendars and gifts. So you can do all your festive shopping and support Friends of the Earth at the same time. We’ve also got gift vouchers, so you can let your friends or family choose their own present.

 

A turkey on the table doesn’t have to be a seasonal inevitability. Here are some festive food tips to help you shop and cook for a planet-friendly feast.

10. Vegetarian recipes

Why not cut the meat this Christmas, or cook vegetarian for Boxing Day and over the rest of the festive break? According to the Soil Association "food is the single most important, everyday way for people to reduce their own environmental impact".

This doesn’t have to mean endless cheese salads, cheese omelettes and cheese sandwiches. Try the Vegetarian Society or Jamie Oliver for hundreds of fantastic recipes.

11. Vegan recipes

Vegan brandy butter? It exists, and it’s good too. If you need inspiration for a vegan Christmas, visit The Vegan Society website, or browse through the excellent online Vegan Food Magazine.

12. Organic meat

For planet-friendly meat and dairy, choose organic and free-range, and support greener, small-scale farming methods. Organisations like Riverford Farms run dependable organic delivery schemes, geared towards the festive period.

If you indulge in seasonal excesses, why not eat less meat before Christmas to make up for it? Eating less but better meat would be a great New Year’s resolution. Read our ideas for making a roast chicken (or turkey) last a week.

13. Leftovers

Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. Try Love your leftovers, or the BBC Good Food leftovers recipes - or challenge your family to suggest recipes with whatever ingredients you’ve got in the fridge. Classic winter dishes like turkey pie and bubble and squeak are perfect for making the most of your leftovers, not to mention Brussels sprout curry.

14. Cut food waste

Choose food that is light on packaging or loose. If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze. If you still have too much, why not donate to an elderly neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen? Compost any other waste.

15. Mulled wine

If you’re entertaining friends, mulled wine is a great festive treat. Why not buy from our partner, organic wine specialist Vinceremos? If you want to go that extra mile, read Steve Cain’s blog on making your own wine.

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Christmas decorations, present wrapping and cards add a touch of flair, colour and personality to the Christmas period. But experts estimate that paper waste over this time is equivalent to 5-12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times.

So why not recycle or make your own Christmas decorations? It’s a great excuse to have fun and keep kids busy.

16. Gift wrap

Use cloth, recycled paper or magazine pages to wrap gifts, or keep the kids entertained by making your own wrapping paper. Recycle once the presents are open.

17. Cut your card footprint

1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away by UK residents each year according to Imperial College researchers.

E-cards are increasingly popular for good reason. They cut your carbon footprint, save trees and save money - see Friends of the Earth free e-cards

If you prefer to buy cards, take a look at our eco-friendly Christmas cards.

18. Crafty Christmas

From baked Christmas decorations to matchbox baubles, try these Christmas craft ideas.

19. Decorations

Looking for eco-friendly and Fairtrade Christmas decorations? Our favourites include Christmas stockings made from recycled sari fabric, felt dove and robin decorations, recycled sari bunting, distressed glass baubles and a cloth advent calendar kit.

 

Who says you have to spend money to have fun? Here are some fun and free things to do on Boxing Day with zero cost to the environment.

20. Parlour games

Have fun the old-fashioned way with parlour games. If you don't already have your own favourites, you'll find plenty of suggestions for family-friendly games online. Find more in Parlour Games for Modern Families, which has games of logic and memory, wordplay, card games, role-play, and rough-and-tumble.

21. Festival winter walks

The Ramblers website is a great resource if you're looking for local walking groups or routes. Alternatively visit The Canal and Rivers Trust for information about frosty walks along Britain’s beautiful waterways and canals.

22. The National Trust

The National Trust offers a full calendar of festive activities and events at Christmas, in some of Britain’s most stunning homes and sites.

23. Getting around

Make Christmas travel greener by sharing shopping trips and lifts with friends and family. Use public transport, or shop online and get bulk deliveries.

24. Get on your bike

Turn your holiday into a getaway. The UK has plenty of wonderful outdoor cycling opportunities. Escape Routes by Matt Carroll has 60 scenic routes for both day-trips and longer weekend breaks.

25. Get cosy with a book

Friends of the Earth receives a 5% donation when you buy via this link to The Book Depository. There’s no extra cost to you, just great discounts and free P&P on all books.

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This article was originally published on 26 November 2013.