How to have an eco-friendly family Christmas

How to have an eco-friendly family Christmas

We all want to enjoy ourselves at Christmas, but there is now a growing awareness about the wasteful nature of the festive season. In the UK alone, we generate 3 million tonnes of additional general waste over the Christmas period and as a nation we eat 80% more food than the rest of the year (with a whopping 230,000 tonnes of this extra food being binned yearly).

That feels like a very large hill to climb to reduce our carbon footprint over the festive period, but we’re here to tell you that being more eco-conscious at Christmas doesn't have to be difficult and having a more sustainable yuletide doesn’t have to be boring for you and your family!

Here’s some top tips on how to adapt your family traditions to have a more environmentally friendly Christmas...

Grab a reusable advent calendar

Opening the doors of an advent calendar in the run-up to Christmas is a fantastic tradition to get the kids excited about what's to come. Traditional chocolate advent calendars contain single use plastic and often the cardboard contains glitter or materials that aren’t recyclable. Instead, why not invest in a reusable advent calendar that you can fill with delicious treats or handmade gifts year after year? You don’t need to spend a fortune on your reusable calendar either. Get the children involved in making their own out of a cardboard box, or whatever craft materials you have to hand.

Think different when it comes to Christmas cards

Cards are another tradition that we all grew up with. But we often never questioned the single-use nature of them. You can get creative with the kids by making home made cards, or to save money and waste, send your loved ones an e-card. There’s plenty of plantable cards available too. These are made from biodegradable or compostable materials and are embedded with seeds that will sprout and grow when planted. 

Buy less- shop local and shop ethical

We’re all guilty of plenty of impulse purchases over Christmas, and the pressure to show your family love with physical gifts can be overwhelming at this time of year. Mindful shopping can be a saviour in these scenarios. It takes a bit more time, but seeking out local or eco-minded brands to find thoughtful gifts for all the family pays dividends in the long run.

Start family Christmas traditions in nature 

As a parent, it can be difficult to steer the family away from the consumer-driven side of Christmas. Getting out in nature is a great way to spend quality time with your children and it's free! It’s never too late to start up simple and thoughtful family traditions like a boxing day walk, family geocaching, or foraging for holly and evergreen shrubs to create a natural and biodegradable festive wreath.

Change up your Christmas tree 

The tree is the classic staple of a family Christmas scene, but they can be enormously wasteful. Try decorating an existing houseplant instead. You’ll be amazed at how much fun it can be to get really creative adapting your plants into Christmas trees with the kids. Alternatively, if you have a living tree, you can plant it in the garden ready for next year. Reusing your Christmas tree is a great way to save money and waste. 

Make use of LED lights for the tree as a more sustainable experience. They are much more energy efficient- consuming 80% less energy than incandescent lights and they tend to last 25 times longer. 

Swap tinsel and glitter for foliage.

Many traditional decoration items like tinsel contain dangerous microplastics that enter the food chain and are harmful to wildlife. You can switch these items for natural alternatives, like holly, mistletoe and other foliage that you can find in the garden or on a walk (a great way to get the family outdoors too!) If you do use non-recyclables for decorations, then why not save money by reusing some of your family’s old knick-knacks and ornaments in the loft, or buy preloved decs from a charity shop?

Find alternative wrapping paper 

Lots of wrapping paper isn’t recyclable. If it has glitter, sequin and bows attached, then while it looks lovely, it can’t be recycled. Very small items such as glitter often end up in our rivers and oceans. Shiny wrapping paper is also impossible to recycle, so consider looking out for reusable choices, like fabric wrap or biodegradable wrapping paper instead. Reusing old gifted wrapping is a fantastic way to wrap your presents too. You can use natural materials for decoration, like a sprig of holly instead of a bow. Don’t forget, gifts can still look beautiful while being packaged in a more natural way!

Rethink your xmas party outfit

Cheap fast fashion means that Christmas outfits are often used only once. In 2019, 12 million Christmas jumpers were sold in the UK. (even though we already had 65 million in our wardrobes). For your work Christmas ‘do’, you can look just as dressed up in a reused or borrowed outfit. If you do buy something new, choose sustainable materials. 

Charity Christmas jumper days are a fantastic idea, but there’s no need to buy a new jumper for it. Re-wear an old jumper, grab one from a charity shop, or borrow from a friend. 

Choose long lasting gifts (including stocking fillers!)

Many gifts offered to our loved ones are designed for single or short term use. Try buying your family and friends experiences instead- concert tickets and digital subscriptions are great waste-free alternatives. When buying products, avoid plastics and look for long-lasting organic or sustainable materials.

Stockings are another wonderful tradition you can start with your children. The trouble is that often they are filled with small single-use plastic items that get thrown away shortly after the big day. Instead delight your loved ones with small handmade items, or gifts like a sturdy reusable water bottle, reusable straws, or bottle free toiletries.

Opt for locally sourced food 

Sharing a festive family meal is often the highlight of Christmas day. Reduce the carbon footprint of your Christmas dinner by finding local suppliers. You can grab your fruit and veg from a greengrocer or stock up on loose items to avoid plastic packaging. This year, you could go meat free to make an even bigger environmental and financial saving, or even swapping one or two meat items out for plant-based alternatives helps and gives the family something new and delicious to try this year.

Don’t forget to avoid food waste using your leftovers to make meals -turkey curry, soup and vegetable bubble and squeak are some of our favourites!


We hope this has given you a few ideas on how you can be more environmentally mindful during the festive season. After all, Christmas memories are made from spending time with your friends and family, not from expensive single-use gifts and Christmas jumpers! This Christmas, let’s be kind to our loved ones and our planet.

1 comment

This is a brilliant list of suggestions-thank you! Xx

Elizabeth Heptinstall

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