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12 ways to be more eco-conscious this Christmas

08 December 2020 | Celia Topping

Christmas is a magical time of year, full of family, friends and festive cheer. But it’s also a time of heavy consumerism and over-indulgence. With just a few eco-friendly tweaks, we can keep all the yuletide joy, while cutting our carbon footprint. So here are our 12 eco-ways for your 12 days of Christmas – and not a bah humbug in sight! 

12 ways to have an eco-conscious christmas

1. Can your Christmas tree be greener?

The sparking, star-topped centrepiece of Christmas is undoubtedly the tree. Since Prince Albert brought a fir tree to Windsor Castle in 1840, the Christmas tree has taken pride of place at the heart of our Christmas traditions. 

But the environmental impact of millions of trees going to landfill every year is taking its toll. We wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of their wonderful tree – but just a few sustainable tweaks can make even this most Christmassy of customs that little bit more eco-friendly:

  • Renting a tree gives you all the joy and none of the waste. You just have to keep it watered during your lease. Order from Love A Christmas Tree, or London Christmas Tree Rental.
  • Buying a tree with roots and replanting it year after year is the ultimate solution. See the RHS site for tips on keeping your tree in tip-top condition in both home and garden. 
  • If you go the cut-tree route, make sure it’s from sustainable sources such as bctga.co.uk or growninbritain.org, and is Forest Stewardships Council (FSC)-approved. Many Christmas tree farms offer recycling afterwards.
  • Real vs fake? The carbon emissions created in the manufacture of fake trees is high, but if you use the tree for 10 years or more, it does eventually balance out. Generally though, a real tree is better for your carbon footprint than an artificial one1
  • There’s no excuse for littering the streets with dejected-looking trees post-Christmas. Most local authorities will have pick-up days – or try recyclenow to find out your local drop-off points. 

For more pointers on eco-friendly Christmas trees, check out our helpful blog post.

2. Light up your Christmas with LEDs

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without some sparkle. But all those incandescent lights waste a lot of energy. If every UK home swapped a string of traditional lights for LED ones, we could save more than £11 million, and 29,000 tonnes of CO2 – just over the 12 days of Christmas2.

3. Eco-conscious Christmas crackers

Everyone loves pulling a cracker – but the amount of waste they produce is just, well, crackers. So what are the alternatives? 

  • Look out for plastic-free and recyclable crackers. Many of them can be filled with your own homemade treats and, of course, some terrible jokes.
  • Reusable crackers are growing in popularity. Refill them annually, for a happy, zero-waste Christmas for years to come.

4. Give a gift for the planet

12 ways to be eco conscious this christmas

The joy of giving (and receiving!) doesn’t have to cost the Earth. Ticking off the Christmas list shouldn't mean delivery vans, mountains of packaging and unwanted gifts. Instead, we need to rethink our shopping habits. Try to give presents with meaning and value, rather than a novelty trinket that will be in the bin by Boxing Day. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Vintage or second-hand means unique and original, not tired and old. Who wouldn’t love a gorgeous retro scarf, a classic LP or a first-edition book? Try your local charity shop, or shop online at eBay, and Oxfam’s online emporium.
  • Give a gift for the planet from a sustainable store – maybe a  Zero Waste Cookbook for the chef in your life, a snug rug for those chilly winter evenings or a tote bag stocking filler. Find great green gifts at Wearth LondonKnow The Origin and the Ethical Superstore
  • For a personal touch, try making your own presents. Fill a recycled glass jar with pickles, jam, brownies or flapjacks. There are tonnes of online tutorials that can teach you something new, so you can really impress.  
  • Support local businesses. This doesn’t only create fewer carbon emissions by cutting out delivery, with less unnecessary packaging. It just feels good to physically choose that special something, rather than swipe for it. 
  • Keep an eye out for those eco-friendly logos. They include Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Energy Star and Palm Oil Free.

For loads more eco-friendly gifts and advice on shopping sustainably, see our seasonal blog.

5. Decorations: how green are yours?

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, as they say! Choose something a little more eco-friendly than tinsel this year, with some of our handy decoration ideas:

  • Foraging is fun – take a pair of scissors next time you stroll through the local park. Then you can snip a holly twig or two to spruce up your home, instead of buying plastic garlands.
  • Have a festive ‘craft-ernoon’ with friends and family and make your own decorations. Try drying slices of oranges and lemons to hang on your tree, put iced biscuits on string, or use a cookie-cutter to cut out clay decorations to bake in the oven.
  • Remember making paper chains as a kid? Chop last year’s Christmas cards into strips, for that old-fashioned feel. And card is just that little bit sturdier for packing away until next year. 
  • If time is short, buy sustainable decorations from Etsy, or feast your eyes on the gorgeous designs from Nkuku
  • Check out this ingenious idea for bunting made from used Christmas crackers

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6. Sharing is caring when you’re travelling at Christmas

Although this year will be different, most of us will be travelling somewhere at Christmas to visit family and friends. So why not find out if you can offer someone a lift, or jump in with a friend if they’re going the same way? (Sticking to government guidelines, of course). This way you can cut down on fuel emissions, air pollution and road congestion. 

You’ve seen Carpool Karaoke, right? Whether it’s Slade, Cliff Richard or Hark the Herald, it’ll certainly keep your spirits up to belt out the Christmas tunes on a long journey. Take some mince pies and nuts to keep you fuelled with Yuletide cheer. Just be sure to save the mulled wine for your arrival! 

7. Cut down on Christmas card waste

An estimated one billion Christmas cards are bought each year, only to end up thrown away or burned. Of course, not sending cards would be the greenest thing to do – but we’re not that Scrooge-like! You can still send some Christmas cheer without the guilt: 

  • For gorgeous and sustainable Christmas cards, check out ranges by the Woodland Trust  and the RSPB. Your money goes towards good causes, too. 
  • Plantable cards with seeds embedded in biodegradable paper are a charming card-and-gift combo for your eco-loving friends.
  • And if you can’t plant them, keep them. Turn this year’s cards into next year’s gift tags.

8. Greener ways with wrapping paper

12 ways for an eco-conscious christmas

We apparently use an estimated 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper each year at Christmas. That’s a heck of a lot of trees. But by being a little bit eco-clever, you can still merrily wrap and roll without killing our forests

  • Recycled wrapping paper comes in all sorts of delightful designs – without all that non-biodegradable foil, glitter and plastic.
  • Reuse the wrapping paper that hasn’t been ripped to shreds by excited hands, and recycle what you can’t. Remember to take off all the tape.
  • Simple brown paper packages tied up with string, and embellished with a sprig of holly or a couple of pine cones make for handsome gifts.
  • Traditionally known as furoshiki, the elegant, decorative, Japanese art of fabric wrapping is easy to try, using pretty offcuts and charity-shop finds. 

Top tip: Take the ‘scrunch test’. Scrunch up a bit of your wrapping paper. If it stays scrunched, it’s most likely recyclable. If it bounces back open, it’s not.

9. Sustainable advent calendars

Advent: who knew that opening 24 little cardboard doors could cause so much glee! But instead of buying a mass-produced chocolate calendar, or a kids’ one filled with plastic toys, consider a reusable one. Not only is it a lovely festive focal point for your room, but it also ticks that eco-friendly box.

You could even try your hand at making one yourself, using matchboxes, paper, old tins or hemp. And why not go the whole hog and fill it with handmade treats. Even a handwritten poem or quote could be a fun way to start someone’s day the right way. 

10. Festive drinking

Many of us like a tipple at Christmas – but there are ways to be environmentally-friendly, even while we let our hair down:

  • Organic wines and spirits are in plentiful supply. Check out Vintage Roots  for a very merry Christmas. 
  • Need more glasses for a larger gathering? Don’t rush to buy single-use plastic cups. Instead, call your local party supplier for back-up. 
  • Make sure you recycle all your glass bottles, cans and cartons

11.Christmas dinner: how to shop sustainably and stop the waste

The main event for many families is the Christmas meal. But with the equivalent of 4.2 million Christmas dinners being scraped into the bin each year, we need to look at what we’re buying and know how to stop the waste. So:

  • Plan ahead and only buy what you need.
  • Cut down on meat. And make sure what you buy is locally sourced and organic, from small-scale farming practices. Farmdrop has a list of sustainable producers. And Abel and Cole are great for veg. 
  • Consider a vegan option. Does chestnut pâté strudel, Christmas pudding ice-cream or a non-eggy eggnog tickle your fancy? Try Vegan Food and Living for loads of delicious, non-meat roast dinner ideas.
  • Don’t let your waste go to waste. Fare Share, City Harvest and Food Cycle collect your surplus food, which is then distributed to those in need.

12. Swap your little black dress for a little green dress this Christmas

Sustainable sequins? Sadly there’s no such thing – but you can still get your shimmer on this Christmas, without those PVC pests: 

  • With so many sustainable fashion labels, you’re bound to be able to find just the right little number for under the mistletoe, whatever your budget
  • One man’s trash is another man’s christmas outfit – so check out some of the clothes-swapping apps like Depop or Vinted, You’d be surprised by what others want to get rid of!

From all of us at OVO, we wish you a very Merry Christmas. And we hope this blog helps you make this year a green one! 

Our mission to zero carbon isn’t just for Christmas – it’s for life. Find out how you can join our climate-conscious community. Check out our plans, and our even greener upgrade, OVO Beyond

Sources and references:

1 carbontrust.com/news-and-events/news/the-carbon-trusts-top-christmas-tips

2 https://www.countryliving.com/uk/homes-interiors/interiors/g25329535/eco-friendly-christmas-ideas-green-christmas/

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