Christmas is known to be a time of extravagance and excess but, left unchecked, it can have a devastating and totally unnecessary impact on our environment. Every year, a colossal amount of waste is generated in the UK alone over the festive period. In this guide, we show you how to combat this by having an eco-friendly Christmas, covering everything from food the food you eat to your Christmas tree, decorations and gifts.

How much waste is generated at Christmas in the UK?

In the UK alone, there is an enormous amount of waste generated at Christmas time each year. This includes food waste, packaging waste, decorations and unwanted gifts going to landfill.

It is estimated that 4.2 million Christmas dinners are wasted each year. A typical Christmas in the UK results in 2 million Turkeys being thrown away as well as 17 million Brussel sprouts, 74 million mince pies and 2 million kilos of cheese. This is just a snapshot of the problem. All this food requires resources to produce and distribute. It requires packaging, which is often not eco-friendly.

Million Christmas Dinner's Wasted

Million Turkeys Thrown Away

Million Sprouts Thrown away

Million Mince Pies Thrown Away

Million KG Of Cheese Thrown Away

A great deal of CO2 is generated by households when cooking all this food. Those cooking Turkeys, which are typically roasted for around five hours, will incur costs on their electricity bill of 1.5 times the usual daily usage. Turkey cooking across the UK is estimated to general around 14,000 metric tonnes of C02, which enough to fuel the average household for an entire year.

Around 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrapping used for food is wasted every year. Approximately 225,000 miles of wrapping paper is used each year. While some of this is recyclable in theory, much of it is not, because it contains materials such as glitter or laminates, and not everyone chooses to recycle that which is. Around 40 million rolls of sticky tape are used in the UK each year at Christmas, the majority of which is not recyclable. Then there are Christmas cards, with an average of 24 per person being discarded every year.

Christmas packaging waste

Other culprits include Christmas gift packaging and batteries as well as discarded Christmas decorations. More people than ever are ordering online these days which of course generates additional waste and emissions in the form of parcel packaging and distribution.

In total, there is an increase of 30% more rubbish produced and discarded throughout the festive period compared with the rest of the year. Clearly this is a huge problem from an environmental perspective. However, there are many actions we can take as individuals to ensure our household has an eco-friendly Christmas…

Eat a plant-based or climatarian Christmas dinner

Plant-based foods are a more sustainable option than meat and dairy. One of the best things you can do for the environment this Christmas is to go vegan or climatarian with your food. A plant-based approach will eliminate all animal derived products from your table this Christmas, which will benefit your health, non-human animals and the planet.

A climatarian approach involves choosing foods based on their environmental impact. This does not necessarily mean eradicating all meat and dairy, but rather looking at all food types and selecting the ones with the lowest carbon footprint. Naturally, this does involve eating more plant-based foods but also considers aspects like packaging and transportation involved in the production and distribution of foods. As such, it involves eating more locally produced, seasonal produce.

The best approach would be to combine the two philosophies and eat a plant-based climatarian diet this Christmas. 

Minimise food waste

To avoid food waste as much as possible this Christmas, buy only what you need and look to choose products with minimal packaging. Many people panic buy and stockpile at Christmas, grossly over-exaggerating what their household will consume in terms of food and drink.

The key to avoiding this mentality is advanced planning. Plan your meals ahead of shopping and opt for products with less packaging, or more eco-friendly packaging materials. When it comes to snacks, choose foods with a longer shelf life so they can be consumed later or donated if you don’t eat them on Christmas.

Rather than throwing away unwanted foods which are still in date, consider donating them to food charities or giving them away to others online.

Sustainable Christmas Tree

Most artificial Christmas trees are produced abroad in places like China. These trees are not environmentally friendly because they are made from plastic, metal and PVC and also shipped around the world which, of course, generates carbon emissions. In addition, these trees are always eventually thrown away and they’re not recyclable, so they end up in landfill.

If you already have an artificial tree you can use again this year then this would, of course, be the most eco friendly option. However, when it’s no longer useable and needs to be replaced, consider opting for a real Christmas tree grown locally in the UK.

Ensure your real Christmas tree does not end up on the rubbish heap after Christmas as this will negatively impact the environment when it decomposes and releases methane. Instead, use a local authority collective and chipping service or consider burning the tree (reduces emissions by up to 80% compared with throwing out) or reusing it as a home for birds and insects in your garden.

Eco-friendly Decorations

Conventional Christmas decorations can be terrible for the environment, made from unsustainable materials such as foil, glitter and plastics. In addition, they are often produced abroad and generate emissions when shipped overseas. Of course, if you already have a collection of these you can reuse then this would be the most eco-friendly option for decorating your home this Christmas. 

However, if not then consider eco-friendly decorations this year. One option is to make your own decorations from recycled or environmentally friendly materials. You can find some great inspiration on this here, here and here.

If making your own decorations doesn’t appeal to you, don’t worry as there are plenty of eco-friendly options you can buy online. Here’s a few examples:

eco crackers
eco bunting
eco xmas decs
eco Christmas decs

Eco-friendly Christmas Gifts and Wrapping

Choose eco-friendly gifts wherever possible. We love Etsy for vegan-friendly, eco-friendly and sustainable gift options from independent sellers and small businesses based right here in the UK. Buying local is a great way to not only support the local economy this Christmas but also help to reduce emissions associated with the shipping of products from abroad.

When wrapping your gifts, avoid paper with glitter or foil as this cannot be recycled. Avoid sticky tape wherever possible as small bits of plastic break down into microplastics which negatively affect wildlife and the environment in a number of ways.

This eco-friendly Christmas wrapping paper set with tags is fully recyclable. 

This tape is vegan-friendly, eco-friendly and fully recyclable for a great alternative to Sellotape:

By following the tips and advice in this guide, you will be doing your bit to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas this year.

We wish you a very merry, eco-friendly, and vegan Christmas! If you need some inspiration for vegan-friendly gifts, check our extensive vegan Christmas gift guides.