Christmas is just around the corner so we’ve put together some ways you can have a sustainable Christmas (that don’t break the bank!).
Christmas can be a time for overconsumption (buying and eating!) and lots of spending. Not only does that have a negative impact on the planet but it can also make the period surrounding Christmas a bit of a financial struggle, particularly this year.
But we aren’t scrooges. Christmas also can be one of the most brilliant times of year. It gives you the chance to spend quality time with the ones you love, to give gifts, to eat some brilliant food and ultimately, have some fun, whatever your budget.
So, we are stripping it back and suggesting ways of creating a sustainable Christmas and in turn, a more affordable festive period. From trees to gift wrap, gifts to Christmas food and everything in between! And yes, sustainable can also mean cheaper, believe it or not, because, ultimately, it’s about going back to the basics. Thinking seasonally, getting creative with homemade projects, buying locally, thinking about quality over quantity and reminding yourself what Christmas is REALLY about (spoiler alert, it isn’t a tonne of plastic-ridden gift sets full of bubble bath you aren’t ever going to use!).
1. Christmas Trees
What is Christmas without a Christmas tree? The smell, the joy of decorating it and not to mention, the place in which presents are left by Father Christmas! Often though, freshly grown trees don’t seem like the most sustainable option due to the fact we have to cut them down. And what about fake trees made from plastic? It’s all a bit of a minefield but here are a few ways you can ensure that you make a sustainable Christmas tree choice.
The rise of the rent-a-tree is a fantastic sustainable Christmas tree option! We heard about the concept through a local grower in Cumbria called Lake District Eco Christmas Trees and we love it. Essentially, you borrow a Christmas tree from a grower, house it, decorate it, care for it over the Christmas period. You then give it back so it can be planted out until next Christmas where it can be dug up and used again for a few weeks as a Christmas tree (and more often that not, you can get the same tree back year-on-year from some growers!).
It is the most sustainable choice for lots of reasons:
- No waste – it is reported that between six and eight million real Christmas trees head to landfill every year. By renting a tree there is zero waste involved because the tree will get replanted.
- Convenient – you get a real, healthy tree that you don’t have to worry about what to do with it afterwards. More often than not you can even get them delivered and picked up from the grower.
- The trees are replanted and will grow between Christmases – the trees will be replanted and remove CO2 from the air between festivities whilst also providing habitats for local wildlife.
- You know the source – with it being locally grown, you are reducing the travel carbon footprint of your tree.
- Part of the family – maybe not linked to sustainability but we think it’s lovely that year-on-year you can get the same tree back. You can see how it has grown and it will almost become a part of the family!
- Retired trees – there does come a point where the rent-a-trees will become too big. Many of these are then retired and then planted out to live out their long lives as big trees!
All in all, the cost of a rent-a-tree is about the same as buying a regular tree. There is an added deposit which you’ll get back on return of a healthy tree but other than that, it’s pretty much the same overall cost (but a more sustainable option). We’ve found our local farm in Lake District Eco Christmas Trees so if you’re in Cumbria, it is well worth contacting them. There are lots more dotted around the country have a Google to see if there is one local to you. Here are a few we’ve found:
- Rental Claus – Gloucestershire
- Love A Christmas Tree – Kirkby Mallory, Leicestershire
- London Christmas Tree rental – London
- Rental Christmas Tree – Stroud
- Christmas on the Hill – Muswell Hill, Hampstead and Stoke Newington, London
- Greenies Trees– Nantwich, Cheshire
- Winstone Ice-cream– Stroud, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Nailsworth, Woodchester, Tetbury and Cirencester
- Stockeld Park - North Yorkshire
Buy a potted tree and replant
Similar to the concept of renting a Christmas tree, if you’ve got a big enough garden, you could buy a potted tree and either repot it or plant it out with the aim of reusing it year-on-year. It perhaps isn’t option for a lot of us, but if you’ve got the space, it is definitely worth doing. Year on year it is cheaper than renting a tree whilst still having all the environmental benefits!
We actually have a Christmas Tree sanctuary for retired Christmas trees in one of our Buy Land Plant Trees fields where we’ve taken ex-potted trees that have become too big for people’s gardens and have planted them out!
Source an FSC, locally grown tree
If renting a tree or growing a tree aren’t options for whatever reason, you can still choose to make a more sustainable real Christmas tree option. To do this, try and buy one that has been locally grown or at least grown in the UK with an FSC certification. These trees are often grown for the purpose of being cut down so whilst, yes, they are cut down, whilst they are growing, these trees will be providing all the usual benefits to the environment – carbon capture, habitat creation, flood mitigation etc. And if it weren’t for the Christmas tree market, they arguably might not be growing! Choosing a locally grown, FSC-certified tree will limit any unnecessary transporting and will often be replaced by the planting of more trees making it circular and sustainable.
What you want to ensure you are doing with these trees is disposing of them properly. A real tree that is recycled (by turning it into chippings) or composted can have negligible and even negative emissions. But a 6.5ft tall real tree could result in a carbon footprint of 16kg CO2 if it ends up in landfill because the tree decomposes and produces methane gas – which is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. If you can’t compost your tree yourself, most local authorities now offer a collection service for real trees which they shred and use on gardens and parks but just double-check this before you buy one!
What about a fake Christmas tree?
The jury is out on whether fake, plastic Christmas trees are more sustainable than real trees. There are a whole host of factors like how long the fake tree is used for, where real trees are being sourced from and the rest.
Ultimately though, fake trees are more often than not made of PVC – a plastic which is notoriously difficult if not impossible to get recycled because it requires specialist equipment. That PVC is made from oil and once the tree is made (which is usually abroad) it needs to be shipped long distances before arriving at a shop and then your home. According to The Guardian, a 6.5ft artificial tree has a carbon footprint equivalent to about 40kg of greenhouse gas emissions – which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends its life in landfill and more than 10 times that of a real tree that is burnt. But like we said, there are lots of variables to this figure.
The advice is if you already have an artificial tree, keep it and keep using it until it really can’t be used any longer! If you still want to opt for an artificial tree, opt for a second-hand one in order for the plastic to be reused not dumped. Plus, second-hand fake trees will be much cheaper than brand-new ones!
Wreaths are wonderful Christmassy additions to any front door! They can be very expensive and can also contain foliage that has been grown and imported, which all adds to the carbon footprint of the wreath. Here are a couple of ways you can make a more sustainable and potentially cheaper, wreath.
Get one using UK foliage
If you are able to, support a local business and get a wreath made locally! You want to ensure that the company making it is using seasonal, UK-grown foliage. We are lucky to have the Cumberland Flower Farm close by who makes beautiful wreaths using flowers grown by the owner, Harriet herself but have a look at the Flowers from the Farm directory to see who is growing UK flowers local to you!
Grab a wire hanger and make your sustainable Christmas wreath!
Wreaths can be expensive to get made, as can the workshops where you can make your own. But, you can still make your own sustainable wreath at home using foraged vegetation from a local park or woodland. You don’t want to be chopping down big branches or whole bushes, but small clippings from trees and finding things like pinecones and holly branches that have already fallen from trees is perfect. You can also add cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, scraps of ribbon and old baubles to your wreath. With a few extra simple supplies, you can create something rather beautiful. All you need is a wire coat hanger, some florists wire, secateurs and this tutorial to create a homemade wreath that you can be proud of. Just remember to compost all the vegetation after the Christmas period is over.
Ah Christmas decorations. Whether it’s decorating your tree, your room or your desk at work, Christmas decorations are key part of getting in the festive spirit. There will of course be decorations you’ve had for years and years but we are all victim to buying ‘plasticy’, last-two-years-then-need-throwing-away type of decorations. So rather than replacing those sorts of decorations with brand new ones why not try a few of our sustainable Christmas decoration options that will be cheaper and you’ll have a great time making them!
Salt dough decorations
Remember making salt dough decorations as a kid? Well, why not start making them again! Or get the kids involved and get their creative juices flowing! Salt dough decorations are cheap to make, can be used year on year, made from store cupboard ingredients and lets face it, fun to make too! Just mix 250g of plain flour, 125g table salt and 125ml of water to create a ball of dough. Roll it out, use your favourite festive cookie cutter to cut out some shapes remembering to put a whole at the top to thread ribbon through, bake at your oven’s lowest temperature on a baking tray lined with baking parchment for 3 hours, leave to cool and then paint! Add a ribbon for hanging and ta-da, you’ve got yourself some rather lovely tree decorations! A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Dried orange decorations
Dried orange slices make for the easiest homemade decorations and beautiful too! Just slice an orange into 1cm slices, dry them off, place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment, put in a low-temperature oven for about three hours (turning every now and then) or until completely dehydrated. Pop a whole in the top of orange slice and thread through some string or ribbon ready to hang.
Second hand decorations
If making homemade decorations isn’t for you, rather than buying brand new ones, why not head to your local charity shops and see what second-hand decorations are on offer? It prevents unnecessary landfill and is a much cheaper option than brand-new decorations. If you don’t have the time to go to your local charity shop have a look on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Pre-Loved, Vinted or Gumtree to see what might be around. You’ll get quite an eclectic collection!
Tinsel is often made of PVC which is very hard to recycle. If you’ve already got tinsel, use it and use it until it can’t be used anymore. If you are looking at buying some new tinsel, why not try and make your own? It’s very simple to do and can be used on trees of to decorate stair banisters and railings. All you need it a piece of string or wool yarn and some scraps of material (old craft scraps, old clothes ripped us into strips and whatever else you can find will do!) and some ribbon. Tie knots in each ends of your yarn and then start tying your fabric scraps in a single knot around the yarn. The more tightly you can push them together and fill the spaces, the more full and fluffy your fabric tinsel will look.
When we were thinking about Christmas and gifting – be that present or card – one of the things that came up in conversation was the pressure of giving to someone because they have gifted you something being a big driver of who we bought gifts for. It’s a weird one isn’t it? And of course, being British we are all too afraid to have the conversation about NOT gifting.
This year has been a financial struggle so why put yourself under any more financial pressure? This year, we challenge you to break down those barriers and have a conversation with people who you would perhaps normally give gifts to, about NOT giving gifts or cards. You’ll probably be surprised at the relief from the other person! That doesn’t mean you care about them any less and perhaps you can go for a festive walk instead to spend some quality time together. At the end of the day, not giving gifts is not only better for your bank balance (at a time when times are tough) but better for the environment too! It really is one of the best ways to have a sustainable Christmas.
We aren’t scrooges. Gifting is of course part of Christmas and there will be people you’d like to gift to but how many times have you had gifts that you’ve bought or been bought that are gifts for the sake of giving gifts? And how much money do you reckon you’ve wasted? Actually, maybe don’t think about that too much. Instead, think about what thoughtful, affordable and sustainable Christmas gifts you can give this year?
Give time not ‘stuff’
Giving ‘stuff’, more often than not, leads to waste. Plus, ‘stuff’ can be expensive! So this year, why not forget about ‘stuff’ and give someone your time? Connect, talk and remind yourself that one of the true joys of Christmas is to spend time with the ones you love. Go on a walk, meet for a coffee, promise to make time for someone once a month for the next year – there are a whole host of ways you can give your time to the people you love.
Who doesn’t love a homemade gift? It is a gift where you have put time, thought and effort into, and, despite what you might think, you don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef or an expert knitter to create a meaningful homemade gift. There are all sorts of things you can make and they are great for stocking fillers too! Flavoured oils, a little cross-stitch or baked goods. The list goes on….
One of our favourites is our very own Foolproof Fudge recipe which even the most novice of cooks can give a go. It really is fool-proof! It can be simply wrapped in our greaseproof paper with a bit of string or ribbon tied around it for a delicious and thoughtful gift.
Buy from the list!
If there are people you are getting ‘stuff’ for this year, it is useful to get your loved ones to write you a list of the things they actually want and need. Top tip – STICK TO THE LIST and don’t go off-piste. Although tempting to get imaginative, buying what someone actually wants can be a great way of preventing unnecessary waste! We promise, it really doesn’t ruin the magic of Christmas and will prevent any fake ‘Oh, I love it’ moments.
Buy from a small businesses
Buying from a small business truly is a gift that gives twice. A gift that brings joy to the maker/seller and to the recipient. Choosing to buy from small businesses where you will make a real difference to someone’s livelihood and you often end up with something that is more thoughtful, beautifully crafted and sent with love! Now if that isn’t Christmassy, we don’t know what is.
Christmas cards are lovely but require a lot of paper and often see lots of trees cut down as a result. Last Christmas, Royal Mail delivered around 1.5 million and that doesn’t count all the ones we hand-post ourselves! Christmas cards aren’t cheap either, so this year, why not do cards differently?. If charity paper cards are usually your way of giving to charity, you can still make a donation directly and note that on your cards, whatever form they take this year.
E-cards are a brilliant alternative to paper cards. Some people think that they are less personal but with technology nowadays you really can make them all singing and all dancing! Remember that words typed out mean just as much as words typed on a page. E-cards are also a cheaper alternative (and sometimes even free)!
Make your own sustainable Christmas cards
Even if you aren’t that creative, making your own cards can be a really simple way of utilising paper and cards in circulation whilst creating something thoughtful. Use and cut up old Christmas cards, use magazines and newspapers or use stamps and cut shapes from paper to create something truly unique. There are endless ideas! If you are a bit stuck, take to Pinterest to find some inspiration and remember that sometimes less is more! Using just paper and card (rather than adding glitter etc) for your homemade cards means that it’ll be much easier for the receiver to recycle the card. Just remember to add a note on the back of your card to remind them to do so!
If you don’t feel inclined to make your own cards, why not use cards made of recycled paper? These are a great sustainable Christmas card option although are quite expensive. It's a really simple switch to make. They are normal Christmas cards just made of recycled paper! There are lots of options about and we'll be adding some to our Gift range so keep your eyes peeled...
What to do with cards you receive?
Although you may not be sending cards yourself this Christmas, it is more than likely that you’ll receive some. The best thing you can do is either save them to make your own sustainable Christmas cards for next year or ensure you put them in your recycling bin (enveloped included!).
If you are giving gifts this year, you will most likely be wrapping them! Just like cards, wrapping paper can cause a lot of waste and can be rather expensive so here are a few ways you can wrap your Christmas presents sustainably and affordably.
Make your own sustainable Christmas wrapping paper
Making your own sustainable Christmas wrapping paper sounds difficult but it actually couldn’t be easier! All you need is some cheap, brown kraft paper which you can get either online or from most stationary shops. Take a cookie cutter, dip it into some paint and print your very own repeat Christmas pattern across the paper! You can also use a potato (yes, a potato!) to print patterns. Take a potato, cut out a Christmas shape and use that as a stamp to dip into the paint and print your own design onto the brown paper. You can even make your own matching gift tags if you fancy! Remember to also use paper tape where you can when using the paper to wrap presents to ensure the paper and tape can be fully recycled.
Try Furoshiki wrapping
Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping gifts with fabric. Using a piece of material to wrap your presents is special yet sustainable with the material being able to be used over and over. The fabric becomes part of the present really! You can buy specific Furoshiki wrapping clothes from us as part of our Gift range or if you’ve got scrap material at home, you can use that too! Picking some cheap fabric up from your local haberdashery is also an option. There are lots of YouTube videos that show you various techniques so have a research and get wrapping (with fabric!).
Recycle paper from the gifts you get this year
You will most likely get some presents this year that are wrapped. If you can, open your presents carefully so that you can keep and use the wrapping paper next year! You can either use it to wrap or to use to make gorgeous looking sustainable Christmas cards! Don’t have the space to store the paper? Make sure you recycle it, removing any plastic tape before putting it in your recycling bin.
Christmas crackers are a Christmas must-have in lots of houses but they are notorious for being full of stuff we don’t want or need which (surprise, surprise) creates a lot of waste. In the UK, it is estimated that 50 million crackers are pulled every year. Make that two crackers and you’ve got 100 million crackers. Laid end to end, that would be enough crackers to stretch from the UK to the North Pole and back FOUR TIMES OVER. So this year, could you do without? And if you can’t (we see you Christmas cracker lovers), why not try our sustainable Christmas cracker suggestions.
Make homemade sustainable Christmas crackers!
Yes, making homemade crackers is a thing. There are lots of great tutorials and free templates online. They are quite tricky but can be such a special addition to any table. Try to fill them with items your Christmas Day guests will want (or can eat) to ensure you don’t have anything that goes to waste. You can do this on the cheap! It just time you need to be able to set aside. If you can, make them from recycled paper and once the crackers have been ‘cracked’, recycle the paper and cardboard the crackers have been made from.
Buy reusable ones
We found a brilliant little company called Keep This Cracker who make reusable and sustainable Christmas crackers that can be used year on year. They create minimal waste, are made in the UK and are completely plastic free. Crackers!
Christmas food! Just thinking about it makes your belly start to rumble. Turkey, stuffing, Brussel sprouts, roast potatoes, Quality Street, mince pies, Bailey’s….the list goes on. When you start adding up the cost and the food miles of all this food, it is quite scary. But there are some really simple things you can do, without sacrificing on your Christmas food traditions, that will make things a wee bit cheaper and kinder to the environment.
Buy seasonally and locally
The best way to food miles down is to buy seasonally. You’ll be surprised about the cost too – more often than not, it can be about the same as shopping in your supermarket and sometimes cheaper. Vegetables that are in season in December are things all your root vegetables, cabbages, cauliflowers, leeks, Brussel sprouts and more. Fruit includes apples, chestnuts, cranberries, pears and quince. Try and buy British grown if you can. It’s the same with your Christmas meat. If you can buy British meat, do and utilise your local butchers in sourcing it as it will more than likely come from a local farm if you do!
Buy what you need!
There is a temptation at Christmas to buy enough food to sink a battleship. You absolutely DO NOT need to do that. The key is to plan, write a shopping list and buy what you need. Remember, most supermarkets will be closed just for a day or two so it is possible to get more if you need once you’ve got the main Christmas period over. The more you buy, the more it costs and the more that is at risk of going to waste! Leftovers are great, but being wasteful isn’t, so try to be mindful as to how much Christmas food you need (accommodating for leftovers if you can’t resist your Boxing Day turkey sandwich!).
Use your excess!
If you do end up overbuying, make sure you prevent as much as possible from going to waste. Obviously, if you’ve got things that have a short date like fruit and veg, prioritise those. There are lots of great recipes on BBC Good Food. If you really have got lots of excess and find yourself running out of time think about pickling, making jams and chutneys, or looking at ways you can freeze your produce. Google will be your best friend here depending on what fruit and veg you’ve got left. If compostable produce has ‘gone off’ rather than throwing them away, try to ensure you do actually compost it to prevent the items from going into landfill.
10. Christmas clothes
Christmas jumpers, Christmas pyjamas, Christmas socks – you name it, retailers manage to create Christmas versions of all sorts of garments! Rather than buying into the fast-fashion ‘use and throw away’ attitude, why not try to think long-term and buy something you can keep to bring out year on year. Sustainable Christmas fashion will always be in Vogue!
Whether you are looking for a Christmas jumper or some new Christmas PJs why not utilise a piece of festive clothing that is already in circulation and prevent it from going to landfill! Charity shops and second-hand clothing websites like Depop always have some great options. Vintage shops too. You’ll get a unique piece that is not only cheaper than buying new but most likely more sustainable too. In the same vein, if you have Christmas attire you want to throw it away, donate it to your local charity shop. As the old saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure….
If you are going to buy new, try and buy a product made from sustainable, natural materials. Think wool socks and jumpers (which we promise will keep you MUCH warmer than any other material) or organic cotton PJs. Try and avoid polyester and plastic-based materials where you can. Buying sustainably and buying garments that are good quality may cost you a little more (which we understand not everyone will be able to do right now) but they will also last you a lot longer. Just think of it in terms of cost per wear (and the reduced cost to the planet).