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03 Dec 2020
Jamie Gibbs Jamie Gibbs

How to celebrate Christmas and be kind to the planet


Illustration of a family with Christmas hats taking their rubbish to be recycled.


Mistletoe, wine and a low carbon footprint.

Christmas is usually a time for excess. Good food, good friends and festive frolics all around.

But for the eco-conscious among us, Christmas comes with its own set of worries. How do you get festive without hurting the planet?

With so many issues about the environment, it's a confusing job to know what you can do to help. And more than half of Brits worry about the impact Christmas has on the environment*.

Here are our top tips to stay merry and bright and keep your conscience clear this Christmas.


Christmas recycling rules

Two in five people are more confused about recycling at Christmas. Almost one in three of these said the changing bin collection days are confusing. And two in five said the rules around what is and isn't recyclable aren't clear.

Your local council is the best place to check your bin collection days. Use GOV.UK's tool to find your local council.

We looked at the five most confusing festive items when it comes to recycling. Take a look at our graphic - Which bin? Christmas recycling confusion - to find out what you can and can't recycle over Christmas.

READ MORE: Can I recycle this? The most confusing items demystified


Eco-friendly Christmas journeys

If you're planning on driving to your Christmas bubble this year, here are some extra tips to help lower your emissions:

 READ MORE: How to be a green driver


Eco-friendly Christmas trees 

On the whole, real trees have a lower carbon footprint than artificial ones. They're even better if you can get them from a local or sustainable source. 

But if you already have an artificial tree that's in good nick, keep using it. Carbon Trust says it takes 10 years for an artificial tree to have a lower carbon footprint than a real one.

You can also rent Christmas trees. These are often from local tree farms so a quick Google is your friend here.

If you decide to get a real tree, try to get one that's pot-grown and still living. This means you can replant it after Christmas so it's not wasted.

If you have to get rid of the tree afterwards, the best ways to do so are by chipping or burning.


Eco-friendly Christmas gifts

Unwanted Christmas gifts are a real problem. Not only do you have to fake enthusiasm for yet another bath set, you also have to deal with the waste.

In 2016, eBay worked out that well-meaning relatives wasted around £2.2 bn on unwanted gifts.

To avoid this happening to you, don't leave anything to chance. Use a wish list service like Wishlistr so you can let them know exactly what you want.

Once you send the list out, others can mark an item as bought without letting you know. No more doubled-up presents, no more 'it's not quite what I wanted but thanks anyway auntie' gifts.

If you still wind up with something that you have no use for, there's no shame in re-gifting it to someone who'd love it.

Keep any gift bags in good nick and you can reuse them for next year. Make sure you take any tags off first, though.

An alternative to buying traditional presents would be to gift someone a memory. Buy them tickets for a show they'd like, or book them an online experience. A year's subscription or membership might also go down well.


Eco-friendly wrapping paper

The best way to test if you can recycle wrapping paper is to scrunch it up. If it stays scrunched, it's made of paper and you can recycle it.

If not, it likely has other materials in the mix, meaning you can't recycle it. The same goes for anything with glitter or fancy textures on it - you can't recycle it.

You can buy wrapping paper that's made from recycled paper, but it tends to be more expensive.

Instead, why not go rustic? Grab some brown parcel paper and string to give your gifts a vintage feel. You can then use festive ink stamps to personalise the parcel.


Eco-friendly Christmas dinner

The aim of the game is to reduce waste as much as you can.

Lock down how many will be at your table for Christmas dinner and resist the urge to put on a huge spread. You'll have leftovers no matter what.

And speaking of leftovers, don't throw it all in the bin at the end of the day.

Leftover turkey can make for a great Boxing Day curry, and you can fry those roasties to revive them.

You can make a delicious stock from the turkey carcass too. Throw it in a pot of water with some leftover onions, celery and carrots and simmer for a few hours. After you've strained it, the stock will keep for a few months in the freezer.

You can compost anything left over after all that.

Here are some other tips to have a greener Christmas dinner:

  • Ditch the meat. You don't need to go vegetarian or vegan to make an impact. Reducing the amount of meat you eat over Christmas helps lower your carbon footprint.

  • Shop local. Choosing local veggies and meat means fewer carbon miles to get to your plate.

  • Say no to plastic. When you buy your veggies, put them in a paper bag rather than a plastic one. And avoid black plastic wherever you can.


Other eco-friendly Christmas tips

If you want to make your Christmas even greener, here are some more things you can do:

  • Instead of sending Christmas cards, send an e-card that supports a charity. does exactly that. It lets you send up to 100 Christmas e-cards and you can donate to Friends of the Earth while you're there.

  • Make sure your home's heating is in order. Check out our tips on getting the most out of your heating.

  • Switch to LED Christmas lights to reduce your energy use.

  • Buy a reusable advent calendar. This means you can fill it with things you like rather than sub-par chocolate!


Merry Christmas!


* All figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 13th and 17th of December 2019.


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