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  • Writer's pictureSarah Anelay - Clear Public Space

How to Have Yourself a Sustainable Christmas

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Christmas- it’s a time of unadulterated and indulgent over-consumption, and in 2020, that’s just what we all need.

Being lectured on the environmental impact of your Christmas dinner or the carbon footprint of Christmas trees isn’t what any of us want to hear. Especially during these Covid times, none of us want to feel guilty about our favourite festive traditions which bring us some much-needed joy.

So I’m not going to do that (or at least until the end of this post).

Instead, I am going to share some straightforward solutions to enjoying a more sustainable Christmas... then at the end, I’m going to share the shocking figures because this wouldn’t be an environmental blog if there wasn’t a smidgen of awareness-making.

After all, studies have shown that doing an environmental good deed will make you feel good so creating eco-friendly habits and making positive changes this festive season can improve your well-being, self-worth, and save you money in the process.


  • Clear out some space in your freezer early on in December so you have plenty of room for freezing leftovers.

  • If you can, compost the mounds of potato, carrot and parsnip peelings that form during Christmas day prep.

  • Don’t bother buying those food items you know no-one will eat (Christmas cake I am looking at you).

  • Buy loose fruit and veg rather than packaged to cut down on food waste as well as plastic packaging.

  • Try to buy organic, free-range, certified meat, locally sourced, all that good stuff! (I do, however, completely understand this is not always financially viable for everyone).

  • Check for the recycling logo when buying sweet treats. Many sweets and chocolates come wrapped in a combination of materials, such as aluminium foil and plastic film, known as composite or flexible packaging. According to Valpak, flexible packaging accounts for nearly one-third of UK consumer plastic packaging and virtually all ends up in landfill.

  • Check out these great recipes for using up all your Christmas leftovers:


  • When buying cards, look out for ones labelled with the FSC logo. This means the cards have been sourced from sustainably managed forests and/or have a high recycled content.

  • Choose cards that are clearly marked recyclable and avoid cards that are very shiny, covered in glitter, bows, metallic finishes or other embellishments as these aren’t recyclable and will contaminate your recycling


  • The same as cards goes for wrapping paper- buy ones with FSC logos and avoid any with glitter or metallic finishes so they can be recycled.

  • Try making your own wrapping paper with newspapers, magazines, old books or maps.

  • Avoid classic sellotape (it can’t be recycled) and opt for biodegradable paper tape (it’s surprisingly cheap) or sellotape zero plastic.


  • Give people gift receipts so they can return or swap an unwanted present.

  • Try buying eco-friendly and sustainable gifts with certifications such as Fairtrade; Rainforest Alliance; Scientific Certification Systems (SCS); Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Energy Star, and; Palm Oil Free.

  • Opt for a gift experience rather than a physical present- why not treat someone to a meal at a local restaurant or café?

  • Shop locally, especially from Black-owned businesses.


In amongst the (drunken) haze of the festive period, thinking about what is, and is not, recyclable isn’t always high on our priority list. So here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Glitter, tinsel and baubles (whether glass or plastic) cannot be recycled.

  • A lot of Christmas cards and crackers are recyclable, but if they have any glitter on them you’ll have to cut off those parts before putting them into the recycling bin.

  • Some councils will accept ‘real’ Christmas trees as part of garden waste collections in the new year. So, check on your local authority’s website to see you can recycle your Christmas tree with them when the festive season is over.

  • Fairy lights can be recycled with electrical items- check here to find out how in your local area.

  • A lot of wrapping paper is not recyclable. The best way to check is a scrunch test- scrunch the paper up into a ball and if it springs back, it can’t be recycled, but if it stays in a ball then it can. Many local authorities don’t accept wrapping paper in recycling bins so make sure to check first.

  • Sellotape cannot go into the recycling bin, so you need to rip off any bits of tape first

  • All packaging has a recycling logo to show if it can, or cannot, be recycled.

The Important but Sort Of Depressing Bit

I don’t want to suck the joy out of Christmas with environmental evangelism, but some of these stats are utterly shocking and such metrics do help to put our small behaviours into the big impact picture. So instead of feeling horrified and depressed, just think what a difference your behavioural changes this year will make!

Food Waste

Wrapping Paper


  • In the UK, the cost of unwanted gifts totals £700 million .

  • By March almost half (41%) of toys will have broken or our children will be bored of them, most of which will go straight to the tip.

  • 200,000 tonnes of electrical waste is exported from the UK to African nations every year, with only 30% being recycled. Much of these electrical waste comes from Christmas presents and boxing day sales.

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