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Wooden star on a real Christmas tree

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The Christmas celebrations can put pressure on our planet. Here are five simple ways to cut your carbon footprint this festive season

Christmas decorations, presents, cards and food – there's so much to enjoy during the festive season. But Christmas can be more damaging to our environment than the rest of the year put together.


The good news is that it's easy to enjoy Christmas and still ease the pressure on our battered old planet. Here are five simple ideas for a carbon-conscious Christmas …


Millions of cards end up in the bin each Christmas. They take energy to produce – and many then end up in landfill. A simple solution is charity e-cards, available from many organizations including MacMillan and Friends of the Earth. E-cards can be sent right up to Christmas Eve, so they're great if you've missed the post!

Rather than exchanging cards with all your work colleagues, why not organise donations for a local charity instead? And children could take a bag of sweets or box of chocolates to school to share with classmates – most kids prefer this to receiving a Christmas card anyway!

After Christmas, make sure you recycle your cards – many supermarkets have special bins in store in January. Or reuse cards by turning them into colourful gift tags for next year's presents – a great rainy day activity for children!


Every Christmas, thousands of tonnes of plastic packaging are sent to landfill. Avoid adding to the pile-up with some carefully selected gifts.

Cinema or theatre tickets, magazine subscriptions or a day at a spa all make welcome gifts that require no packaging or wrapping. And membership of the National Trust or English Heritage can provide a year's worth of family days out.

Gifts from charity shops and catalogues benefit those in need as well as the gift recipient. Try Amnesty International for a wonderful selection of ethical gifts, or the RSPB for wildlife-themed ideas such as bird feeders and bug boxes.

Or with Trees for Life's Plant a Tree gift card you can help restore a forest by having a tree planted for your nearest and dearest.

Buying locally-produced gifts is another eco option. Supporting small businesses in your home town boosts the local economy and is a good way to help keep our local communities alive and vibrant. Shopping in this way also cuts your Christmas carbon footprint by avoiding long car journeys and reducing congestion in big cities. If you can't do without your big city Christmas shopping fix, make use of park-and-ride schemes or take the train.


Christmas wrapping paper is another source of waste during the festive season. Thick, glossy paper (the expensive kind) or wrap that's foiled-coated or adorned with glitter usually can't be recycled.

Instead, look for 100% recycled wrapping paper – often stocked by charity shops and catalogues – as this is usually recyclable as well. Or choose plain brown parcel paper – you can buy this from craft stores or the Post Office. Use coloured raffia and sprigs of fresh greenery to make your gifts look festive – or set the kids to work to decorate the paper with crayons, felt pens, ink stamps, paints or potato printing.

Presents wrapped in road maps

Old road maps make great festive wrapping paper

There are lots of other eco wrap ideas you can try. Old road maps work well – how about a bottle of Bordeaux wrapped in a page from a French road map for a Francophile friend? Old magazines also look lovely and colourful – gardening gloves wrapped in the pages of a gardening magazine, or some baking equipment wrapped in a cookery magazine (even better if you choose a page that includes a recipe!) are a couple of ideas.

Or you could adopt the Japanese practice of wrapping presents in a cloth, or Furoshiki. These folded cloths can be reused over and over again – once the art of folding them has been mastered. You can buy or make Furoshiki – or why not wrap a gift in a tea-towel or handkerchief, so that the wrapping is part of the gift as well?

Fabric gift bags are also simple to make, and can be reused for years.


A traditional Christmas dinner is made from seasonal British food, most of which can be bought from a local producer. Farmers' markets are the perfect one-stop shop for festive food, and many areas have extra market days at Christmas. Local food makes a great gift, too – why not put together a hamper of goodies as a special gift for a loved-one?

Choose organic produce which has not been treated with chemical fertilisers and pesticides, the production and use of which adds to climate change. Try to avoid over-buying – around a third of the food we buy at this time of year ends up in the bin, but careful meal-planning and inventive use of leftovers can help to avoid this wastage. And don't forget to compost those sprouts peelings!

For more information about food waste at Christmas, see our Christmas food waste infographic.


Strings of fairy lights on the Christmas tree use a fairly small amount of energy, but switch them off when there is no-one there to see them. For outdoors, you could invest in some solar powered fairy lights, which will cost you absolutely nothing to run and won't add to your carbon footprint.

Although it needs replacing each year, a real tree is more environmentally-friendly than a plastic one. Fake trees last just six years on average; they cannot be recycled and take hundreds of years to break down in landfill.

Most fake trees tend to be manufactured in China or Taiwan too, so there is another energy cost in transporting them to the UK. If you do choose an artificial tree, try to avoid "trendy" trees in silver or black, as these will soon be out of fashion: opt instead for traditional green, which will never date.


A better option is a locally-grown tree from a Forest Stewardship Council accredited grower. You will then be buying a completely renewable, carbon neutral tree that has had the added benefit of providing a habitat for wildlife species during its lifetime.


At the end of the festive season your tree can be recycled – most councils have a tree collection service, and will convert old trees into mulch for parks and gardens. Or, if you have space outside, choose a tree with roots and replant it.


Natural, compostable decorations are better than plastic tinsel and baubles. Try chillies, popcorn, cinnamon sticks and gingerbread. Green foliage decorations such as holly, ivy and mistletoe can also be composted at the end of December – and by bringing fresh greenery into your home you will be continuing a Christmas tradition that is hundreds of years old.

Wooden hare Christmas decoration

Little Green Space December 2016

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Help restore a forest with a Trees for Life gift card