Robin in winter landscape illustration

21 eco-friendly Christmas tips

How to ease off the rampant consumerism – and save the planet's natural resources – without being a Scrooge at Christmas. Our 21 cockle-warming tips for a greener festive season.
  Published:  02 Nov 2018    |      6 minute read


Real Christmas tree with Father Christmas hanging decoration
Christmas tree
Credit: Bruno Martins / Unsplash

It can feel like an annual dilemma. A real Christmas tree seems a more natural choice, but up to 8 million of them are bought every December in the UK alone. That's a lot of intensive production, and potentially a lot of waste.

It's true that fake plastic trees last for years – and nowadays they can look very realistic. But they do take enormous amounts of energy to manufacture. And it's yet more synthetic waste to be disposed of in the future.

So let's look at the options in more detail.

1. Artificial trees

If you've got a fake tree already, keep using it – make it last as long as possible. But look into more environmentally-sound options when it eventually comes to replacing it.

If you do want to get a fake one, for whatever reason, try Freegle, Freecycle, eBay or Gumtree for a pre-loved one.

2. Real trees

If you want to be reassured that your tree has been grown sustainably, not in a way that's environmentally damaging, look for the FSC-certification logo. If you want a tree that's certified as organic and pesticide-free, get one that's approved by the Soil Association.

3. Grow your own

Buying a potted tree with roots lets you grow it outside and use it again next year, reducing its environmental impact and costing you less. But they do need some looking after, and you'll need a big pot. Read these expert tips on caring for Christmas trees in pots.

Alternatively, if you're feeling a bit radical or non-traditional, get a large perennial indoor plant – like a yucca, palm, fig etc – and just decorate it at Christmas time.

4. Recycling real trees

Far more Christmas trees get recycled now than even 10 years ago. Most councils have allocated locations where people can leave their tree after Christmas (take the decorations off first). Or you can usually take them to your nearest municipal tip/recycling centre.

The trees are shredded, then used as mulch on plants in parks, or on woodland paths (for a lovely instant pine-forest smell). Or else rotted down and recycled as compost.

5. Tree rental

More and more places, such as garden centres and plant nurseries, now offer a Christmas-tree hire service over the festive season. Sounds like a good solution. They'll often even deliver and collect the tree to save you the hassle. And the tree can carry on growing after it's returned.

But the same caveats apply as buying your own tree: make sure it's grown sustainably by looking for either the FSC or Soil Association logo.


Child giving an eco-friendly gift
Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat

Get creative. Home-made crafts or foods are lovely alternatives to the usual shop-bought stuff. Or, if you're really trying to cut back on the consumerism, why not offer to do something nice for someone instead?

6. Eco-friendly gifts

If you're buying presents for planet-loving friends and family, browse the Friends of the Earth eco-clothing range, all made in a factory powered by renewables. So you can do all your festive shopping and support Friends of the Earth at the same time.

7. Christmas Bee Saver Kit

Donate £15 to help bees this Christmas. Get your Christmas Bee Saver Kit
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Donate today for your Christmas Bee Saver Kit. The festive gift includes wrapping paper and cards – and everything you need to become a bee saver.

It’s the ideal gift for friends, family, or yourself. Plus, it helps bees at the same time.

8. Wool and the Gang

Two hands holding a white ball of wool. Wool and the Gang. Heal the wool.

This Christmas embrace the maker movement. Knit, help the planet and feel good. Our friends at Wool and the Gang have created 'Heal the Wool' – a luxurious yarn made completely from recycled wool that would otherwise end up in landfill. For every kit you buy, 30% is donated to Friends of the Earth. It's the perfect gift for you and your loved ones to create beautiful, low impact fashion. Get your Heal the Wool now and find out about our partnership.

9. Liforme

A woman practising yoga on a purple Liforme mat

For yoga fans. How about a revolutionary 100% biodegradable yoga mat from the eco-friendly folks at Liforme? Mats are made from naturally-sourced sustainable rubber and a specially-engineered non-toxic polyurethane. Designed by Yogis for Yogis.

This Christmas, Liforme will donate 5% from each sale of its Purple Earth range of mats to Friends of the Earth.

10. Free gifts

Why spend money if you don’t have to? Pledge to do something nice instead. Free Christmas Gift Cheques are a lovely way of making your time the thing that counts.


Christmas gingerbread figure

Why not try cutting down (or out) the meat this Christmas – at least for some days of the festive break? According to the Soil Association, "food is the single most important, everyday way for people to reduce their own environmental impact". Here are some alternative festive food tips to help you shop and cook for an Earth-friendly feast.

11. Vegetarian and vegan recipes

As Benjamin Zephaniah might say, why not be nicer to turkeys at Christmas? And it's good for you too. Nowadays veggie doesn’t have to mean predictable omelettes, cheese salads or risottos. Or even necessarily the standard nut roast for vegans at Christmas.

Have a look at the Vegetarian Society, Jamie Oliver or the excellent Vegan Food & Living for hundreds of fantastic recipes. And there are some extra tasty festive treats on the Vegan Society website – including vegan brandy butter, and even vegan eggnog.

12. Organic meat

If you can't get past the meat craving, try choosing organic and free-range, and support small-scale farming wherever possible.

It might be a bit more expensive, but it's better to buy less than more of the cheap and cheerless intensively-farmed meat. Companies like our partner, Abel & Cole, run dependable organic delivery schemes, and they offer seasonal veg, meat and dairy packages.

If you do happen to indulge in seasonal meaty excesses, why not eat less meat after Christmas to make up for it? Eating less but better meat would be a great New Year’s resolution. Read our ideas for making a roast chicken (or turkey) last a week.

13. Cut food waste

When you're food shopping, try and choose things that are light on packaging, or buy loose items.

And if you end up over-catering, don't just bin what's left. Transforming leftovers can be a great way to create new meals, save money and cut waste. Try the BBC Good Food leftovers recipes for ideas – or challenge your family to suggest recipes with whatever you’ve got in the fridge. Classic winter dishes like turkey pie and bubble and squeak are perfect for making the most of your leftovers, not to mention Brussels sprout curry.

If you have too many leftovers, see what you can freeze. Or why not donate some to an elderly neighbour, local food bank or soup kitchen? Compost any other waste.

For more ideas, see our page on solving the problem of food waste, and also the Love Food Hate Waste website.

14. Merrier mulled wine

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


Christmas wreath with dried flowers, fruits etc on door

Most of us love a bit of festive decoration and fancy wrapping, and who doesn't like getting Christmas cards? But research suggests that the paper waste over the Christmas period is equivalent to 5-12 million litres of biofuel – enough to power a bus to go to the moon 20 times.

So why not recycle or make your own Christmas decorations? It’s a great excuse to have fun, and keep kids busy, if there's any around. You can also try getting creative with dried fruit peel, pine cones, Christmas tree offcuts and the like.

15. Scarf folding and other green gift wrapping

Someone somewhere came up with the ingenious idea of using a scarf to wrap a present – and the results are pretty amazing. Check out these scarf wraps.

Or use newspapers or magazines saved from your recycling – the more colourful the better.

If you're not into folding, a reusable cloth bag decorated with cutouts from old Christmas cards would look great under the tree.

16. Cut your card footprint

An unbelievable 1.5 billion Christmas cards are thrown away by UK households each year, according to Imperial College researchers.

E-cards (sent online) are an increasingly popular alternative. They cut your carbon footprint, save trees and save money – see Friends of the Earth's free e-cards.

17. Rainbow Christmas tree

The rainbow Christmas tree will probably be the biggest decorating trend of the year. But how do you achieve this look in an eco-friendly way? Try creating paper chains from recycled coloured paper.

Sadly, a lot of standard decorations – including tinsel and glitter – are made from plastic, often PVC. They're hardly environmentally friendly.

If you're using fairy lights, make sure you get LED ones – they're the most energy efficient. And put them on a timer so they're not on all day.

18. Have a DIY crafty Christmas

How do you fancy creating your own edible Christmas decorations, or a homemade Advent calendar, or even making a natural Christmas wreath from carefully foraged materials?

Leisure and travel

Ribblehead viaduct, Yorkshire
Ribblehead viaduct, Yorkshire

Here are some fun and mostly free things to do during the festive break, with minimal cost to the environment.

19. Festival winter walks and events

The Ramblers website is a great resource if you're looking for local walking groups or routes. Or visit the Canal and River Trust for information about frosty walks along Britain’s beautiful waterways. The National Trust offers a full calendar of festive activities and events around Christmas, in some of Britain’s most stunning country parks and homes.

20. Share transport

Make Christmas travel greener by sharing shopping trips and lifts with friends and family. Use public transport, or shop online and get bulk deliveries.

21. Get on your bike

Turn your Christmas holiday into a green getaway. The UK has lots of wonderful outdoor cycling opportunities. Escape Routes by Matt Carroll has 60 scenic routes for both day-trips and longer weekend breaks.

Look out for more tips in our series on tackling overconsumption.