Christmas plastic free: decorations over a wooden background, including pine cones, pine leaves, dried orange and a miniature wooden Christmas tree

21 eco-friendly Christmas tips

From COVID-safe community celebrations to gifts that are good for the planet, our 21 eco-friendly Christmas tips should bring some festive joy to your winter, despite restrictions.
  Published:  27 Oct 2020    |      7 minute read

Gifts

Christmas presents shouldn't cost the earth. From buying second-hand to choosing sustainable products (and avoiding companies that aren't eco-friendly), there are plenty of ways to show your loved ones, and the planet, a little love.

1. Eco-friendly t-shirts, jumpers and totes

Support our campaigns and buy a gift that makes a statement. In Friends of the Earth shop, every product is made from 100% organic cotton, using renewable energy and mailed with plastic-free packaging. You can even return products when they wear out - we'll send you £5 credit, and we'll remake them into recycled t-shirts and accessories for our Circular collection.

Friends of the Earth There is no Planet B tshirt - female model
Friends of the Earth There is no Planet B tshirt - female model

2. A gift for the planet

Mum, best mate, niece and nephew...

The planet may not be top of your Christmas list, but it needs your help. Despite government declaring a climate emergency, we haven't yet seen any real action.

So be kind to the planet this Christmas by making a donation to Friends of the Earth, either for yourself or as a gift to a loved one. You'll receive a personalised e-certificate and you'll be helping make sure real action is taken to protect our planet next year.

3. Liforme yoga mats

Give the much-needed gift of calm this Christmas, with Liforme's 100% biodegradable yoga mat. Mats are made from naturally-sourced sustainable rubber and a specially-engineered non-toxic polyurethane.

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

Woman using Liforme yoga mat
Woman using Liforme yoga mat
Credit: Liforme

4. Friends of the Earth water bottle

Be the envy of your local park with this beautiful ocean-themed steel bottle by Ion8. Healthy oceans are crucial for a health thriving planet so Ion8 are donating 25% profits of sales from this reusable bottle to support Friends of the Earth’s campaign to end plastic pollution.

ion8 x friends of the earth steel bottle

5. Christmas Bee Saver Kit

Bees are vital to our planet, helping pollinate the crops and plants that sustain us. But 13 bee species have become extinct in the UK since 1900, and a further 35 are on the threatened species list. Buy a Christmas Bee Saver Kit for a loved one, and receive bee-friendly wildflower seeds, a bee identification guide, Christmas goodies and much more.

Christmas Bee Saver Kit 2020 Contents
The contents of the 2020 Christmas Bee Saver Kit, including ID guide, seeds, wrapping paper, etc.

Planet-friendly Christmas trees

Up to 8 million Christmas trees 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 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.

6. Tree rental

More and more places, such as garden centres and plant nurseries, now offer a Christmas-tree hire service over the festive season. 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. Sounds like a good solution.

Just make sure it's grown sustainably by looking for either the FSC or Soil Association logo.

7. Use (or grow) your own

Using or buying a tree with roots lets you grow it outside and use it again next year, reducing its environmental impact and costing you less. Holly, apple, pear, bay and Japanese maple trees can all be bought in containers (though for best growth, ground planting is preferable).

They will need some looking after, and you'll need a big pot, so read these expert tips on caring for Christmas trees in pots.

Alternatively, get a large perennial indoor plant – like a yucca, palm or ficus – and just decorate it at Christmas time.

8. 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.

9. 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. Just like the rented tree, if you want one that's certified as organic and pesticide-free, get one that's approved by the Soil Association.

Young boy with blond hair putting a red star on a real Christmas tree at a pine tree farm
Rent a tree for Christmas – or recycle the one you bought
Credit: istock

10. 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.

COVID Christmas celebrations

11. Socially-distanced carols

Music is a massive part of Christmas, but this year we're going to have to get inventive to ensure we're rockin' around the Christmas tree safely. So why not rally your neighbours and organise a socially-distanced singalong? Each household can stand at their window, doorstep or balcony (with a tipple of their choice) and organisers can provide backing tracks on their phone or mini speaker, if available. It's a great way of getting people in the festive mood and including those who usually suffer from loneliness at this time of year.

12. Festive window greetings

Engage in a bit of healthy competition with other craft-lovers on your road or block of flats by making your own Christmas window greeting. Re-use cardboard from a delivery box to create a firm backing for your design, decorate with whatever you've got in the house and put a smile on the faces of passersby.

13. Winter walks

With the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, it's more important than ever to get outside for some fresh air and change of scenery. The Ramblers website  is a great resource if you're looking for local walking groups or routes. Or check out the Woodland Trust  for information on where to go for a frosty forest walk. Remember to follow government guidelines on social distancing and travel.

14. Street Santa

There's nothing quite like kindness from a stranger to lift spirits. In the absence of workplace Secret Santa, why not set one up in your neighbourhood? There's a nifty online tool called "Draw Names" that helps you organise the game – just agree between yourselves on a price limit and a day for swapping/ leaving gifts on the doorstep.

Food

Christmas gingerbread figure

Why not try cutting down 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.

15. Vegetarian and vegan recipes

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 some of the recipes our staff and supporters have sent in, or head over to 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

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.

18. 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.

Decorations

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? Foraging for pine cones and holly is the perfect excuse to enjoy the great outdoors and keep kids busy, if there's any around. And if you share your winter walks with us on social media, we'll send you extra Christmas joy!

19. Scarf folding and other green gift wrapping

Lots of wrapping paper contains plastic. Opt for the understated elegance of brown parcel paper tied up with string – adding natural decorations like spruce or homemade cookies.

Alternatively, try a scarf. No really. Someone somewhere came up with the ingenious idea of using a scarf to wrap a present – and the results are pretty amazing.

20. DIY cards

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.

Alternatively, pick up some supplies when you're next in the forest and try your hand at making leaf-pressed cards. Remember to avoid glitter on your cards, as they contain harmful microplastics.

21. Have a 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? 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.