16 tips for an eco-friendly Christmas

Have yourself an eco-friendly Christmas – follow our simple tips on everything from buying presents to reducing food waste during the festive period

christmas wreath held by human by getty images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Christmas is upon us, and with it comes the seemingly inevitable avalanche of unwanted gifts, glittery wrapping paper, and festive snacks we can't quite manage to finish. Or at least it's how it used to be; as so many of us are rethinking our lifestyles and our impact on the planet, enjoying Christmas in a more mindful way is becoming more appealing. We all need festive cheer and nice gifts more than ever, this year of all years, but there's a way to enjoy all of it in a way that's less harmful to the environment. From choosing eco-friendly gifts for Christmas to cooking more sustainably, we have compiled a list of easy-to-follow tips that will make your Christmas no less glamorous, but just with a little bit less of a footprint. 

Nee some decorating inspiration, too? Find it in our Christmas decoration ideas gallery. 

1. Source a sustainable tree... then dispose of it responsibly

small potted christmas tree decorated with lights by lights 4 fun

(Image credit: Lights 4 Fun)

While the debate surrounding artificial vs real Christmas trees has long divided the nation, their impact on the environment has certainly magnified the conversation. So, how to shop wisely? 

When it comes to choosing a real tree, look out for FSC Certification as only this will confirm that your tree has been sourced sustainably. It's also worth checking for Soil Association approval if you're concerned about your tree being organic.

Once Christmas is over, dispose of your real tree by taking it to a local tip where it will be processed and (eventually) turned into something new, or by looking out for local council recycling schemes.

If you've decided that you'd prefer an artificial tree, picking one up second hand from eBay, Gumtree or Facebook Marketplace is a better option than buying one brand new to reduce your impact on the earth. Still determined to buy new? Buy an artificial Christmas tree that will last a lifetime, not a cheap one you'll have to quickly replace.

2. Choose decorations that will last a lifetime

Vintage Style Bauble Garland, Cox & Cox

(Image credit: Cox&Cox)

Decorations made from recycled wood, fabric and glass make great alternatives to plastic or PVC options that are non-recyclable. When choosing decorations, we'd recommend opting for classic designs that will be loved for years, as opposed to trend pieces that you'll be tired of by next Christmas.

3. Opt for eco-friendly and Fairtrade gifts 

While it's tempting for many to go overboard when it comes to Christmas gifts, it's worth resisting if you want to be more conscious of your impact on the planet and how ethically your gifts were made.

Consider suggesting a Secret Santa as an alternative to the usual gift exchange with friends and family. It will allow you to invest more money into a single, better considered gift rather than buying lots of little things that may (sadly) end up in landfill. 

Want to make sure any gifts you do give have a minimal impact on the earth? Choose from our pick of the best eco-friendly gifts for Christmas.

4. Think twice about gift wrapping

Now that you've got your gifts sorted, it's time to think about environmentally friendly gift wrap. Here are our favourite ideas:

brown paper package tied together with velvet ribbon by ginger ray

(Image credit: Ginger Ray)
  • Reuse gift bags, boxes, tissue paper and ribbon kept from last Christmas. Didn't save any? Make a point to do it this year.
  • Choose a gorgeous fabric scarf to wrap your gift in – the recipient will love you for the 2-in-1 present. Charity shops and second hand stores are a good place to shop for them. 
  • Use brown paper to wrap gifts, tie everything together with string or raffia and spruce up with pine tree sprigs for a pretty finish.
  • Buy a reusable wrapping bag – we love the Star Pattern Fabric Gift Bags (opens in new tab) from Not On The High Street.
  • If you're buying wrapping paper, be conscious of choosing something free of foil or glitter as these varieties cannot be recycled – make sure any paper recycled has tape removed.

5. Plan your Christmas dinner to minimise waste

christmas table by getty images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A staggering amount of food goes to waste every Christmas as hosts over-buy ahead of the big day. While having too little food is many people's idea of a Christmas nightmare, writing a list (and then sticking to it) is a must before hitting the supermarket if you want to avoid panic buying and the waste it incurs.

If you do end up with leftovers, or begin to notice food going off before you get the chance to eat it, think before throwing it in the bin. While Brits joke about turkey curry, using left-over ingredients on Boxing Day is a great option for reducing waste.

Other options could include blending leftovers or on-the-turn veggies into a soup that can be frozen for a later date, or turning cheeseboard leftovers into a creamy Mac & Cheese. 

6. Cook less meat and source ingredients consciously

roasted veggies in a tray by getty images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Perhaps a more controversial option for the meat lovers among us, it's also worth considering reducing the amount of meat consumed not just for Christmas day dinner but also during the festive period as we become increasingly aware of its impact on the earth when consumed in large quantities. 

That doesn't have to mean going cold turkey (get it?!); just be aware that there are many delicious veggie options out there – perhaps you could try replacing just one meaty meal?

That said, it's not just about the food we eat; where we get it from can also alter our impact on the planet. Opting for organic meat and veg is the best way to ensure that potentially harmful pesticides haven't been used during the cultivation process. It's also worth sourcing food locally if possible – you may be surprised how close your local farmers' market is to your home.

Shopping in a supermarket? Avoid plastic packaging where possible – loose veg is a great starting point.

7. Take reusable bags Christmas shopping

reusable shopping bag with elephant print by Sophie Allport

Find this cute, Elephant Folding Shopping Bag (opens in new tab) from Sophie Allport

(Image credit: Sophie Allport)

While the 5p plastic bag tax has encouraged many of us to keep a reusable bag to hand, making sure you're prepared when it comes to Christmas shopping will reduce your plastic consumption (and save you a pound or two).

8. Opt for natural Christmas candles

soy candle in upcycled wine glass by upcycle studio

We love these Mojo Wine Bottle Candles (opens in new tab) from Upcycle Studio. Cleverly crafted from reclaimed wine bottles and hand-poured with natural soy wax, they're an eco friendly candle alternative 

(Image credit: Upcycle STUDIO)

Candles are certainly a big part of Christmas and whether you enjoy them as part of advent or simply to make a room feel cosy in the colder months, it's worth thinking about their impact on pollution levels, as well as your health.

Rather than paraffin based candles, we'd recommend switching to those made from natural wax – it's more sustainable and better for your health. 

The best Christmas candles in our guide are all-natural. 

9. Consider your Christmas card list

recycled christmas card by etsy

For recycled Christmas cards, we'd recommend trying Etsy (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Etsy)

Avoiding sending physical Christmas cards is another simple option for reducing waste. Consider opting for an e-card, writing an email or giving someone a call if getting in touch with friends and family is important to you over the Christmas period. Desperate to write cards? Opt for a design on recycled paper.

In terms of any cards you receive, there are plenty of options for reusing and recycling – cutting off the front of a card for use as a postcard or gift tag next year are simple examples.

10. Avoid disposable cutlery, crockery and cups when hosting

christmas dinner table by getty images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It seems an easy solution, if you're hosting lots of friends and family over Christmas and don't have enough supplies, to pick up disposable cutlery, crockery and cups that can simply be thrown in the bin once the party's over. However, many of these single use plastic items are non recyclable and end up going straight to landfill.

An easy alternative is simply asking a friend or family member attending to bring along their plates, cups or cutlery that can be washed and returned to them. Catering for a lot of people? Waitrose & Partners (opens in new tab) also offer a handy glass loan service.

11. Replace your advent calendar with a reusable option

red hosue advent calendar from not on the highstreet

(Image credit: Not On The Highstreet)

For many children (and adults, let's be honest) advent calendars make up a big part of the build up to Christmas. Being more eco-conscious doesn't mean having to sacrifice this tradition entirely, but it should mean making a slight change.

Rather than buying a calendar from your favourite chocolatier, why not consider making your own? Simply invest in a reusable calendar, we love this Red House Advent Calendar (opens in new tab) from Not On The High Street, and fill it with your choice of sweet treats.

Not into chocolate? The beauty of make-your-own calendar is that they can be filled with whatever takes your fancy: cheese; gin miniatures; fruit; Lego; bath bombs, you name it. We also love the idea of slipping in a few IOUs if you want to incorporate experiences into the Christmas countdown.  

12. Make your Christmas lights LEDs 

christmas tree with fairy lights by lights 4 fun

(Image credit: Lights 4 Fun)

An easy change that everyone can make this Christmas is ensuring your Christmas lights are LEDs and, if they're not, switching them to lights that are. It'll make no difference to your experience of Christmas, but a huge difference to the amount of energy used during the festive season. 

LED lights use an average of 75 per cent less energy and can last up to 25 times longer, meaning you'll save both energy (and money from your pocket).

Lights 4 Fun is a one-stop-shop for picking up LED lights (opens in new tab) this Christmas.

13. Opt for a real, DIY Christmas wreath

christmas wreath from getty images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ditch the plastic wreaths in exchange for the real thing as they're cheaper and much better for the environment. Picking up fallen sprigs of winter greenery from your garden or local park (with permission) – holly, pine and eucalyptus are great examples – doesn't cost a penny and makes for a fun (and festive) afternoon.

Once you have your greenery, take a look at our guide to making your own wreath, it'll talk you through the process step-by-step.

14. Choose organic, whatever your tipple of choice

organic ]gin from fortnum and mason

(Image credit: Fortnum & Mason)

A switch that's easier to stomach than most, opting for organic alcohol not only reduces the impact of fertilisers and pesticides on the environment, but also (apparently) leaves drinkers with less of a hangover than non-organic options. What's not to love?

Try Waitrose & Partners for a great selection of organic wine, beer and prosecco (opens in new tab). Gin lover? Fortnum & Mason have options for you... (opens in new tab)

15. Choose gifts that are designed to last

If you're giving physical gifts this Christmas, make sure they're designed to last and won't end up on the landfill in a month or a year's time.

Buy Me Once (opens in new tab) is a handy shopping platform that curates products designed to last a  lifetime – this can be through lifetime guarantees, the option for repair, great quality design or all of the above.

If you're gifting furniture or homeware, check out our guide to the best sustainable furniture brands that are committed to making pieces that are high quality and will last. 

16. Or consider buying gifts from local, independent retailers

Another way to shop more sustainably this Christmas is to shop from independent retailers such as Etsy. Lockdown has made buying presents from small, local sellers impossible in person – but many of them are still selling via Etsy (opens in new tab). It's a reliable platform with a huge choice of products, including things that are hand made and/or upcycled.  

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.