How to have a sustainable Christmas

Gifts, food and… sustainability? With such a significant emphasis on shopping and commercialism, Westbury investigates how you can transform your Christmas festivities into an environmentally friendly affair – while still having fun at the same time!

How to enjoy the most wonderful time of year without producing vast amounts of waste and damaging the environment: it’s a puzzling issue faced by so many eco-conscious families. The solution is not always an easy one when Christmas is all about indulgence and gift-giving en masse. 

When it comes to reducing our carbon footprint and protecting our environment for our children’s children to enjoy, we need to make an effort to reduce, re-use and recycle. Introducing these elements into our yuletide festivities may well require a complete overhaul of long-held family traditions. 

Christmas should be about connecting with loved ones, purposeful gestures of appreciation and kindness – and useless, tiny plastic cracker fillers do not fit into this remit. Engaging with others in a more profound, meaningful way and rejecting the wasteful, environmentally damaging aspects of Christmas could create a genuinely better experience for you and your family. 

Go green, go paperless

On average, each household will receive 24 Christmas cards in the UK – which we ultimately throw away in January. That means that approximated 1 billion cards will end up in landfills, wasting 33 million trees. There are lots of things you can do to help minimise this – sending cards digitally using websites such as Greenvelope can help you send beautifully designed e-cards will help top save envelope paper and card paper and energy from postal shipping. 

The average UK household uses four rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas, resulting in 227,000 miles of paper thrown into landfills. Do not forget, it is all likely to be stuck together with 40 million rolls of sticky plastic tape. If you have gifts that you want to wrap, avoid glittery wrapping paper because it cannot be recycled. Use recycled materials instead, or have individual Santa sacks that you can re-use every year. 

There are also some good quality biodegradable tape products available online, like this fun Christmas themed tape. 

Give thoughtful, conscious gifts

Experiences can make the best, most memorable gifts. Things like concert tickets or a spa day vouchers will produce less waste and clutter, and can be so much more special than a product. Consumables like baked biscuits, homemade liqueurs or chutneys make lovely gifts for neighbours, schoolteachers or work colleagues. Any kind of gift that they will use up rather than thrown away is ideal. 

Do not underestimate the value of your time to someone, giving your time as a thoughtful, helpful gesture can mean the world to someone you love. Things like offering to babysit their children, fix something around the house that they need repairing, or helping them with a project they have been working on can make a world of difference. 

If this still feels a little un-christmassy, then agree on a Secret Santa concept instead, where everyone buys just one gift for one other person. You can invest a bit more in that gift and make it truly special, while considerably cutting down on waste. You will find that you and your loved ones have a lot of fun drawing names out of a hat and keeping everything a secret. 

If you are trying to live minimally, receiving and giving gifts can cause difficulties with friends and family who do not share the same values and want to show you they care by purchasing presents for you. Tell other people that you do not want gifts this year, or ask for something particular that you know you will use, such as plastic-free shampoo bars or a reusable coffee mug. If you do not want to receive any gifts at all, you can graciously ask them to donate to a charity that you support. 

Deck the halls and go natural

Natural decorations are lovely to use at Christmas, as they look beautiful and you can compost them after the festive season is over. Think about using Eucalyptus, Holly and Mistletoe branches, which you can arrange in jars, lay on tables or hang around windows. Festive floral arrangements are easy to put together – why not try our Westbury Christmas Bouquet? 

Dried orange slices are easy to make and look fantastic in wreaths or as Christmas tree decorations. Cinnamon sticks, pinecones and cranberries can also make wonderful decorations and allow you to get creative. You can also make recycled Christmas cards into snowflakes, tree decorations and paper chains. If you have your heart set on buying decorations, try to look for second-hand options. 

We absolutely love lights at Christmas. It seems that every year things get a little more creative, with many transforming their front gardens into luminous Santa grottos. Unfortunately, these lights do not just increase your electricity usage; they can also confuse nocturnal wildlife. If you want to decorate with lights, consider swapping to energy-saving LEDs the next time you purchase more. Do not throw away the ones you have already, as these will end up in a landfill and counteract your good intentions. 

Go crackers for biodegradable crackers

If you like getting creative with Christmas projects, then think about making your own eco crackers. These are a great way to introduce your friends and family to useful, eco-friendly products too while impressing them with something homemade. Collect biodegradable kitchen roll and wrapping paper tubes throughout the year, and cut them to size. Use brown greaseproof paper or recycled Christmas paper to wrap around the tubes. 

Include a selection of eco-friendly gifts that your guests can try, including bamboo toothbrushes, natural cleaning products, organic essential oils or soap bars. Tie the ends with jute string and decorate with sprigs of berries or foliage from the garden for a natural, rustic style. 

Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is a timeless symbol of the festive season. Many think that cutting down real trees is a wasteful, environmentally damaging option. However, the Christmas tree farms usually replant them, making them a renewable resource. 


Although it takes 6 – 8 years to grow, it still benefits the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Providing you appropriately recycle your tree after use, either by making into mulch for plants or playgrounds, it will not go to waste. Plastic, artificial trees are not renewable, and never decompose once discarded. Most artificial trees are produced in Asia before being transported to the UK, and they require vast amounts of energy to manufacture. 

However, using a natural tree each year and then disposing of it is still a wasteful process when everyone does it on such a large scale. For the ultimate eco-friendly option, keep a live tree in a pot in the garden and bring it in each year. There is something somewhat nostalgic about children growing up alongside their Christmas trees!

Party on and save the planet

If you are entertaining for large numbers, avoid using disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery, as you are likely to throw these away immediately after everyone has gone home. Use reusable dishes and if you do not have enough, ask friends and relatives if they could bring some with them. 

Food production and waste have a significant impact on the environment, so if you are catering for lots of people then buy local, seasonal or organic foods. 

Try reducing the number of meat products you serve, even opting for a vegetable appetiser can make a big difference if you have a large party of guests. Serve tasty canapés like these wild mushroom crostini from our friends at Humphrey Munson or a cheese board, and even your most carnivorous guests will be perfectly content. 

Choose loose fruits and vegetables rather than buying those in plastic bags so you can pick out precisely what you need, and take reusable shopping bags. Plan ahead to make sure that you only make one or two shopping trips and minimise on the amount of driving you to do to the shops. You can also check in with neighbours to see if they need anything while you are out, or share a lift, to save on the number of car journeys taken. 

Try your best to reduce food waste over Christmas. Either plan to make dishes that can be re-made into a different dish the next day, or have some Tupperware boxes ready for guests to take leftovers home with them. It saves them having to cook, and means that everything is eaten. 

This year, think about giving back to our planet as well by having a Christmas that focuses on friendship and appreciation and less about things. For more information about Westbury’s environmental policies, read here