The why, where, how, and what of celebrating a low-waste Christmas


Christmas is the season of giving, yet it is the time of year when we take most from the environment. I see it as a shame that such a joyous time becomes so taxing on our Earth. While it would perhaps be best to ditch Christmas gifts, fairy lights, open fires, and wrapping paper entirely, there is a way to celebrate the holidays with less impact on our planet. Below is some advice on where to shop, how to wrap, and what to gift if you want to celebrate Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa in a more eco-friendly way. In my opinion, these are great Christmas gift ideas (regardless if you’re trying to save the environment or not) because they involve a little more care and thought than your average gift.

Joy to the world!

Why. I won’t spend too long describing the harms that Christmas causes because I’m not a Grinch like that. But here’s a few reasons to be more environmentally mindful this holiday season.

  • We use 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging for gifts
  • We travel 6 billion miles around the UK to visit friends and family
  • We will purchase approximately 12 million Christmas jumpers this year, despite 65 million already hanging in wardrobes around the UK
  • We will purchase 6-8 million real Christmas trees in the UK and 5.3 million artificial trees

Where

  • Christmas markets and farmers’ markets. This is a great way to support your local community and find unique items.
  • Etsy/not-on-the-high-street. Be careful with online shopping as it normally has a big carbon footprint, but some shops are very careful with their packaging and shipping. You also support independent shops to do what they love.
  • Wearth London/Peace With the Wild. These are two online stores I love. I try to avoid online shopping, but if you have to, these two shops reduce their packaging as much as possible.
  • Bulk stores. There’s an awesome bulk store in Clapham called Hetu. These are great places to go to buy groceries and zero-waste essentials.
  • Make your own! Whenever possible, try making it yourself. It adds a super special touch to your gift.

How

  • Gift bags. I have to be honest with you, I don’t really like gift bags. They’re less exciting than opening up a wrapped present, and they don’t look as nice. But they’re great because they can be reused.
  • Scarves/cloth wrapping. Buy a thin scarf from a charity shop and use it to tie your gifts. It looks really cute and unique, and there’s less risk of the packaging getting ripped or damaged. The recipient also gets a free scarf.
  • Reuse wrapping paper. Resist the urge to tear open your gift so that you can reuse the wrapping paper next year. It saves money and the environment.
  • Gift boxes. These have the same benefits as gift bags but look a little nicer.
  • If you don’t need to wrap it, don’t. I completely understand the appeal of wrapping gifts, but if it’s not necessary, then don’t bother. If the gift itself comes in really nice packaging, maybe you don’t need to wrap it. If your parents are getting your sibling a bike or something large, encourage them to not spend hours trying to wrap it.

What

  • Charity donations in the recipient’s name. This one is a win-win-win-win. If you donate money to a charity that the recipient really cares about; you feel good about yourself, the recipient feels as if they’ve done a good dead, the charity benefits, and the environment isn’t hurt. It’s the season of giving, after all!
  • Tickets to plays/musicals/ballets/concerts/lectures/etc. While you cannot guarantee that the event itself is zero-waste, the gift is. This gift is perfect because you’re creating memories with the person instead of giving them something they’ll forget about in a few years.
  • Classes (e.g. dance classes, cooking classes, fitness classes, book clubs). If your special someone has a New Year’s resolution, why not give them the gift of some classes. It’s a really fun gift idea that really benefits the recipient. If you’re not sure what they want, why not give them the choice?
  • Zero waste essentials. If you always see this person with a disposable coffee cup or plastic straws and know that they want to be more eco-friendly, why not buy them some zero waste essentials? Keepcups, bamboo/metal straws, lunch containers, reusable shopping bags, bamboo cutlery, etc. These can be a hassle to buy so getting it for them can prompt them to start living more sustainably.
  • Restaurant gift certificates. I mean I wouldn’t be mad about a voucher to Byron (they do the best veggie burgers no arguments) or Pret or Wholefoods or Pizza Express or…
  • Plants. The perfect gift for somebody with green fingers or somebody who just wants to add a little greenery and life into their bedroom/home.
  • Netflix membership/Spotify premium/gym membership. These are on the pricier side, but they’re a great gift for anybody who wants to try out a new service (you can always offer to pay just for 1 or 2 months)
  • Necessaries they would otherwise buy. This one seems a little odd because there’s little festive about deodorant. However, if you’re anything like me, you hate buying face wash, deodorant, pads, tights, soap, etc. If you know the person well, get them a basket full of necessaries or bulk buy a few things. They won’t have to worry about running out of pads for all of 2020!
  • Offer to run errands. This may seem like a lazy gift, but if executed properly could be a nice present to a busy friend or parent. You could offer to buy groceries, collect packages, post cards, handle returns, leave the car in for repair (if you have a driver’s license), or any other boring tasks. An extra eco-challenge is to run the errands on a bike or on public transport so that you aren’t contributing to extra emissions or traffic.
  • Bulk buy coffee. This one’s for the coffee addicts (but see my recent article for why this one’s not the best gift).
  • Homemade food/baked goods. What’s not to like? Whether you make the best brownies (Amy Simonds does don’t fight me) or you make a mean lasagne, this gift is thoughtful and it makes both the recipient and giver feel nice and warm. Unless you are a horrendous baker (see SAL’s bake-off cake), or if you forget about a person’s allergies or intolerances (I’ve triggered an allergic reaction with my muffins) this gift never goes wrong.
  • Homemade scarfs/mittens/blankets/etc. This one’s not just for grandmas! If you have a secret passion for knitting, give somebody special a scarf to keep them warm throughout these grey months.
  • Low waste toiletries. Buy package-free soap or candles in recyclable containers. Check out Christmas markets or bulk stores to find some really cute, trendy toiletries and beauty products. This is a great gift because there are few people who protest to a nice-smelling organic soap or a bath bomb in really cute packaging.
  • Local art. Support your local artists and bring a little joy into people’s homes. This one is great for any art fan and it gives back to the community.
  • Up-cycled/second-hand clothing. This one can be a gamble, but when done correctly can become the most wonderful and unique gift. If you have a talent for up-cycling clothing, take some second-hand items and style them up. Nobody else in the entire world will receive that same gift, and that’s really special.
  • Top up their Oyster card. Encourage public transport? Reduce traffic? Eliminate hassle? Stop the recipient from having a panic when they realise they’ve run out of money on their card? Check all.
  • Eco jewellery. Here’s another opportunity to support the local community or buy from eco-conscious retailers. This is a sweet, fool-proof gift idea that puts less pressure on the environment than jewellery from a fast-fashion retailer.
  • Promise a fun day out. I love going to Kew Gardens with my mum, and I love going to shows with my friends. Why not promise a fun day out that’s jam-packed with cute activities? You create memories, you get out of the house, and everybody has a good time. I advise having a plan in place when you give the gift. For example, give a loose itinerary instead of just saying ‘we’re gonna do a day out’ because that seems as if you forgot to give them a gift.

The holiday season should be a relaxing a joyous time, so try not to wallow in environmental stress. However, next time you’re buying a gift, think about its impact on the planet and try to find a more eco-friendly alternative.

Happy holidays!