Sustainable Christmas Ideas | Living North

Your Guide To A Sustainable Christmas A-Z


This Christmas we’ve rounded up all the ways you’ll be able to cut back, to show that Christmas doesn’t necessarily need to be a time of excess

A... Artificial Trees 

Artificial trees are not only made from plastic, they have most likely been shipped great distances too. This year, make the change from an artificial tree with a carbon footprint of more than double the real deal, and instead splurge out on a proper tree. While they may be on the more expensive side, they’re far kinder to our environment – they help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow.

B... Batteries 

With new nifty presents come the batteries to make them work – which not only contain toxic chemicals, but do not biodegrade and are difficult to recycle. Cut back on batteries this Christmas and invest in rechargeable batteries which come with charging ports to fuel them up from your mains supply, so you can use them time and time again.

C... Crackers 

Whilst they may be a traditional part of your Christmas table, crackers are filled with cheap plastic gimmicks, which come Boxing Day, end up in your bin. But alternatives are out there. From crackers made using seed paper (that can be planted in your garden once pulled) to crackers filled with quality chocolates, when they still pack in a snap, joke and a hat, it’s worth considering making the switch. 

D... Donations 

From supporting charities to donating gifts there are a multitude of ways to help charities at Christmas. Pick up an extra gift to donate to a child who otherwise may not get one (Cash for Kids’ annual Mission Christmas ensures that every child wakes up to a gift on Christmas morning) or sponsor a pet as a gift for an animal lover, and fund essential items like beds, food and toys all year round. 

E... Eat Up

An obscene amount of food goes to waste every Christmas as we over-buy ahead of the big day. While it might be seen as something of a Christmas catastrophe to have too little food on the table, it’s worth planning ahead to avoid having too much – write a list before doing your Christmas shopping, but most importantly be sure to stick to it. Many of us are guilty of panic buying in the supermarket but few consider the waste it will cause. If you still end up with turkey on the table come Boxing Day, you’ll find recipes for turkey curries and salads online at, and if you do happen to leave it too late, just be sure to compost it rather than putting it in the bin.

F… Food Miles

Christmas begins in the kitchen, with delicious food to indulge in over the festive period. But, small changes to your festive feast could make a big difference to your carbon footprint. Try sourcing your ingredients as locally as you can – local, organic meat is a lot better than going to the supermarket for meat that’s had to travel miles to get there. But, it’s not just organic and local that will make a difference. You can reduce your carbon footprint by choosing turkey over lamb, beef or salmon, while a chicken or a vegetable dinner will cut your carbon even more.

G… Grow Your Own

While it may be too late for this Christmas, next Christmas go one step further than locally-sourced by growing your own. If you have the time and skills it’s a great way to further reduce your emissions, giving you the freshest vegetables and herbs, which are organic and home-grown too. 

H… Handmade Presents 

Not only will a handmade gift come without the plastic packaging – of which 125,000 tonnes are thrown away each Christmas – and harsh chemicals, they’ll have that added ounce of meaning too. From scrapbooks and hand-knitted hats to jams, chutneys and flavoured gin – there’s a DIY gift out there for almost everyone. 

I… Involved

From buying fair trade, to donating old coats, hats and scarves to the local shelter, or collecting blankets for the homeless as the weather gets colder. This Christmas you can make a difference just by getting involved in your local community.

J… Just Breathe

The holiday season is supposedly a time of joy, but over 90 percent of us stress over at least one aspect of Christmas – 68 percent worry about crowds and queues and 37 percent about gaining weight. So, how do you combat stress during what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year? Don’t be afraid to ask for help, sharing the work of preparing for Christmas is a great way of building team spirit. Now’s the time to learn to say no, and whether it’s how many Christmas parties you’ll be attending, or how many gifts you’ll be buying, don’t overcommit yourself.

K... Kindness Calendar 

The age-old tradition of advent doesn’t have the most positive impact on our environment. Behind the plastic and packaging of 24 doors you find chocolate, or yet more plastic packaging if you opt for the latest trend in beauty advent calendars. This year try a kindness calendar – not only will you be able to reuse your calendar year-on-year, but you can fill it with your own activities and good deeds, from donating toys to a festive movie night watching Home Alone. 

L… Lights 

Christmas is synonymous with fairy lights, but they can be responsible for consuming huge amounts of energy. If your lights are more than 10 years old make the switch to more efficient LED ones, they can save you up to 90 percent on power costs and last longer than traditional bulbs. If you’re using lights outdoors, opt for environmentally-friendly solar-powered lights, which don’t require an electrical power source and use LED bulbs too. 

M… Mulled Wine

If you’re entertaining friends, mulled wine is a go-to festive treat – look out for organic and vegan wines for the most sustainable options.

N… Notes to Friends

Over Christmas we send one billion Christmas cards, and many of them end up in landfill. This Christmas choose 100 percent recycled or recyclable Christmas cards, banish paper all together by sending an e-card, or give someone a call if getting in touch with friends and family is important to you over the Christmas period. You’ll find Cards for Good Causes on sale too, pick up a pack to give back to one of their 250 UK-based, national and local supported charities.

O… Ornaments 

From the baubles that adorn your Christmas tree to the mistletoe that hangs in the doorway, the majority of Christmas decorations you buy are made from plastic, or are coated in it. Instead go au-natural and bring in elements from the outdoors by crafting your own wreath. If you simply can’t resist a new decoration or two, opt for wood, glass, metal or organic cotton and spend on meaningful ornaments in classic designs that you know will last.

P… Paraffin Free

As well as fairy lights, candles come out at Christmas too. This year choose paraffin free, natural-soy candles which are non-toxic and biodegradable. And, unlike the others, don’t emit chemicals into the air. 

Q… Quality over Quantity

Whilst many have the idea that the bigger the pile of presents the more happiness there will be, it’s worth cutting back on Christmas gifts if you’re looking to be more conscious of your impact on the planet. Splurging on fewer gifts will not only mean that less end up in landfill, but the few you do buy are likely to have been made more ethically too. After all, it’s not just the thought that counts. 

R… Recycle 

English households throw an additional three million tonnes away over the festive period, and much of it consists of waste that could have been recycled. Take your drinks bottles and paper to the recycling bank and be sure to recycle your tree too. Six million trees are thrown away each year, but with most councils allocating locations where people can leave their tree after Christmas, your tree could be shredded, then used as mulch on plants in parks, or on woodland paths, or recycled as compost.

S… Shop Local

Each Christmas, 4,000 tonnes of products arrive from China. Presents bought locally means support for small suppliers and the local community, all while minimising your carbon footprint.

T… Turn off

So you’ve made the switch to LED bulbs, but now you need to remember to switch them off too. Christmas tree lights left on for 10 hours a day over the 12 days of Christmas produces enough CO2 to inflate 12 balloons, so turn them off when they are not wanted. To make things easier, invest in a timer that will turn your Christmas lights off at the end of the day for you, if you can get your hands on one that connect to your phone via an app too you’ll have full control, whether you’re in or out.

U… Unplug for Family Time

For many, Christmas is about spending time with family, but the rise in social media has turned us away from conversation in favour of our screens. During the season of giving, try giving your time, after all, Christmas Day is a time to share with family, not share online, and every moment spent unnecessarily uploading could be better spent elsewhere. 

V… Volunteer

It’s a joyful time for many of us, but for some it is more difficult than any other time of year. Of course we all want to spend time with our family this Christmas, but if you’ve got the time or the means, then give an extra helping hand this December to a North East charity that would be more than happy to receive your help. From Hexham’s Tynedale Hospice at Home, who welcome new volunteers to alleviate the extra pressure on their Hospital Transport Service, and Northumbrian Hedgehog Rescue Trust, who want to educate the public on the treatment, nursing, and conservation of hedgehogs as the weather gets colder, to Action Foundation in Newcastle and Sunderland, who are actively searching for volunteer hosts. If you’ve got a spare bedroom, why not consider providing a safe space this Christmas for someone who desperately needs it.

W… Wrap 

Across the UK it is estimated that we throw out 108 million rolls of wrapping paper every Christmas. While many of us make the effort to recycle it, if it contains dye, foil, plastic, or you forget to remove your left-over sticky tape, then it won’t end up where you might think. Recycled brown paper is an old-school go to, but fabric and ties, re-usable gift bags or seeking out recycled or recyclable wrap are all small, but worth-while changes to make this year. 

X… (E) xtreme

Making sustainable switches this Christmas doesn’t mean banning plastic all together, nor does it mean scrapping the celebrations. Don’t go to the extreme, small changes can make all of the difference in reducing your environmental footprint during the festive break.  

Y… Year Long

Christmas comes and goes quickly, but conscious choices to live more sustainably don’t have to. Try taking some of the sustainable switches you’ve made throughout the festive season and applying them to your daily routine for the rest of the year. 

Z… Zero-waste

Cutting out waste during the Christmas period is no mean feat, but it can certainly be done. Gift memories over materials, like tickets to a concert or a voucher for a spa day, avoid food wrapped in packaging by taking along your own eco-bags and buying direct from farmers markets or direct from producers. Rent a potted Christmas tree, which can then be re-planted for the following year, and collect branches and foliage, or dry sliced oranges to decorate your home and tree. 

Published in: December 2019

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