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Eco-friendly gift wrap

Sustainable giving

The festive season is possibly the UK's most wasteful time of year. Here are some ideas to keep your Christmas gift giving green

Christmas is a time of giving. But so many of us get stressed out at the expense and hard work of buying Christmas gifts for friends and family – and some gifts, while well-meaning, can be unwanted by the recipient and may end up in the bin.

As well as the financial expense, the environmental cost of Christmas is huge too. Compared with the rest of the year, an extra 30 per cent of rubbish is discarded during the festive period – that's around an extra 3,000,000 tonnes.

So what can be done to stop the waste – without stopping the fun of giving and receiving gifts?

Sustainable gift giving takes into account the four Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle – and applying these principles when choosing and wrapping presents can significantly reduce impact on the environment.

The packaging that gifts are presented in is often the problem, rather than the gift itself, so look out for things that come in cartons or boxes that can be recycled or are biodegradable. Here are some more ideas for eco-friendly gifts.

Give a memory

One way to reduce waste is to avoid a physical present altogether and opt instead for an experience.

Ideas include restaurant vouchers for a meal or afternoon tea, theatre or cinema tickets, tickets for a family day out, or a place on a course or workshop. These gifts can also create memories that live on long after Boxing Day.

Visit Warkworth Castle, in Northumberland, with English Heritage membership

For a whole year's worth of memories, membership to an organisation such as the National Trust, English Heritage or Royal Horticultural Society makes a great long-lasting gift.

Or you could create your own gift voucher, and offer your time as a gift. Why not gift a night of free babysitting, an hour or two of gardening, or a home-cooked meal? This idea is great for anyone on a tight budget, and for people who have an expertise or skill – such as car maintenance or computer know-how – that could be shared with others.

Give consumables

If you prefer to give a physical gift, consumables – food, beer, toiletries or candles, for example – are an ideal choice as they're usually warmly welcomed and create little waste if they come in recyclable packaging.

Look for locally produced food and drinks at markets and farm shops. By buying these you'll be supporting the local economy too – and most regions of the UK offer delicious local products that would make wonderful gifts.

Warkworth Castle
Market stall gin

Look for delicious locally produced food and drinks at Christmas markets

If you're good at baking, you could also make your own foodie gifts. Homemade cookies, cakes, chocolates, chutneys and jams often taste much nicer than shop-bought products, and the recipient will appreciate the thought and effort.

Cut out cookies

Homebaked cookies are a thoughtful gift

Locally produced gifts aren't limited to food and drink – choose consumable artisan gifts such as candles, soaps and bath products, looking for items with minimal or recyclable packaging.

Give sustainables

If you know someone who is trying to live a low-waste or plastic-free lifestyle, there are lots of products you can buy that will help them.

Ethical Superstore is a good place for inspiration, with all sorts of eco-friendly household goods and gifts from bamboo toothbrushes and reusable make-up remover pads, to string shopping bags and sustainably produced socks.

Zero-waste store

Look in your local zero-waste store for eco-friendly inspiration

Many towns now have a zero-waste store, and these are a great place to hunt for eco-friendly items such as reusable coffee cups, natural skincare products and eco-friendly kitchen and baking equipment.

Give a gift that grows

Gifts that grow are great for gardeners. Seeds, plants – or even a tree – are low carbon gifts and could actually help improve the environment once planted.

Wildflower seeds or seedbombs could turn a loved-one's garden into a haven for bees and butterflies, and a houseplant could freshen up the air inside the home.


Give a gift that grows, like this hazel tree

A tree, meanwhile, offers all kinds of benefits and could provide a home for dozens of wildlife species once fully grown. Hazel, rowan and crab apple are native trees that won't grow too big – or give an apple, plum or pear tree for the added advantage of an autumn fruit harvest.

You can buy a selection of native trees that are suitable for gardens at

Sustainable wrapping

Don't forget the wrapping too. Most Christmas wrapping paper isn't recyclable because it's coated in thin plastic, foil or glitter. So look out for paper that can be recycled – Wilko, for example has a good range that's very affordable. Also make sure you remove all the sticky tape before sending paper for recycling.

Christmas cards

Use last year's Christmas cards to make this year's gift tags

Simple brown parcel paper is also recyclable (and is often made from recycled materials) and can look lovely when tied up with natural string, such as jute. You can dress your packages up a bit by adding sprigs of greenery, or a large, colourful gift tag (last year's Christmas cards are good for this). Or make them more Christmassy with ink stamps or felt-tip pens – a fun, creative activity that will keep kids busy (but remember not to use glitter)!

If you're handy with a sewing machine you could also create fabric gift bags or Japanese wrapping cloths, called Furoshiki. Bags and cloths like these can be saved to be used again year after year – saving you money and avoiding more waste going to landfill.

Little Green Space November 2019

Fabric gift bags

Fabric gift bags can last for years