How to have a Sustainable(ish) Christmas

Jen Gale, speaker and author of ‘The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide' and ‘The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Parenting', has provided us with some top tips on how to reduce waste at Christmas.

How to have a Sustainable(ish) Christmas

For many, Christmas is ‘the most wonderful time of the year', sadly it's also undoubtedly one of the most wasteful times of the year as well.

Not so fun festive facts

  • 1 in 10 unwanted gifts ends up in landfill
  • The UK generates the weight of 3.3million penguins in plastic waste each Christmas
  • The amount of wrapping paper used for presents at Christmas is enough to wrap around the globe nine times
  • Approximately 500 tonnes of old Christmas tree lights are thrown away each year
  • In the UK in 2019 we spent £220million on Christmas jumpers. A quarter of these will end up in the bin or only be worn once
  • We waste around 250,000 tonnes of food over Christmas, including:
    • the equivalent of 2 million turkeys
    • 7.5 million mince pies
    • 2 million kilograms of cheese
    • the equivalent of 4.2 million Christmas dinners

So what can we do about it? Lots as it turns out!

First things first

As cheesy as this might sound, think about what you want Christmas to be about, and to mean, for you and for your family.

If you're religious, then obviously there is meaning there, but if you aren't, what is Christmas about? Is it simply a celebration of consumption and excess? Or is about time spent together, with friends and family. And what changes can you make to help to nudge your celebrations this year to where you want them to be?

Gift buying

Some ideas below to help you buy some more sustainable and ethical gifts this Christmas, including buying less, buying second-hand, buying local or making your own.

Sustainableish christmas gift buying guide


  • Look out for plastic-free crackers in the shops, or better yet make your own! If that all feels like a step too far, then check out these reusable crackers that you can keep and use again year on year.
  • Ditch the sellotape and go for paper tape instead that can be recycled or composted with your wrapping paper. Babipur do a great range.
  • Avoid metallic wrapping paper or paper with glitter – these are ‘plasticised' and aren't able to be recycled
  • Have look at ‘furoshiki' – wrapping gifts in reusable fabric as a great sustainable alternative to traditional wrapping paper (another bonus is it's much quicker to wrap things this way!)
  • If you're sending cards, look out for ones without metallic/shiny bits and glitter, and look for cards with plastic-free packaging
  • Keep your eye out for secondhand toys – one of the many advantages is that they come without all that plastic packaging!

Christmas trees

If you have an artificial tree, keep using it until it literally falls apart.

If you're looking for a real tree, look for trees with the FSC logo, and try to buy as locally as possible. Buying a tree with a root ball means that it can be planted outside to use again next year if you have the room.

There are more and more Christmas tree rental schemes popping up – they deliver a tree in a pot to you before Christmas, and pick it up again afterwards to plant back out and grown on!

Christmas jumpers

Use the one you already have! If you need a new one, check out your local charity shops, or have a look on eBay or Vinted.

Ask your school or workplace if you can organise a Christmas jumper swap in the run up to the festivities.


  • Support local growers and retailers where you can
  • If the budget allows, look for organic meat and veg
  • See if the family are up for experimenting with a meat free Christmas dinner this year!
  • Make a meal plan for the festive fortnight, so you know exactly how many you need to cook for on each night
  • Factor in some ideas for leftovers
  • Double check what you can and can't freeze, and pop anything in the freezer that you don't think you'll manage to eat before it hits it's use by date
  • If you have leftover food that you can't eat, offer it up on the Olio app to people in your neighbourhood

Last but not least…

Christmas can be tricky for many of us at the best of times. Remember that you won't be able to ‘green' your Christmas overnight, especially when it comes to friends and family. Focus on the things that are in your control, take baby steps, and keep a note of some of the additional things you'd like to change next year.

Find out more about 'Sustainable(ish)'

Find out more about Jen Gale and how you can make the best choice for you, your family and the planet at Sustainable(ish).

Contact: The Democratic Services team

Last updated on 08/08/2023