How to have the most sustainable Christmas ever

Ocado slots are being snapped up like Glasto tickets, Instagram snaps of Winter Wonderland are littering your feed and the inescapable notes of Mariah Carey are echoing off every shop front — yes, ladies and gents, Omicron or no Omicron, the festive season is officially upon us.

How to have the most sustainable Christmas ever
© Getty Images/iStockphoto African-american couple stretching gift boxes to camera

While general merriment and an excuse to drink mulled wine in your office chair at 2pm are what gets most of us through the rest of the year (and god knows, it’s been a year), Christmas also opens the floodgates to a carnival of hyper-consumption.

From swathes of wrapping paper to bundles of plastic toys, groaning tables of food to endless Amazon orders of last-minute deliveries, we as a nation aren’t so hot on the eco-front when it comes to festivities. In fact, polls have found that the UK sends almost 100 million rubbish bags to landfill over the festive period, which is a lot of Quality Street wrappers.

But all is not lost. Don’t cancel the big day just yet, there are sustainable swaps for almost every part of your Christmas ritual that make it kinder to the planet (really) — and often easier on the purse strings, too. You and Mother Earth can thank us later.

Give the gift of green

Let’s start at the very beginning — because if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping, you’re already lagging behind. One of the easiest ways of going green is to ditch “stuff” altogether. Giving tickets or experiences will not only save on wrapping but could help out the businesses that have struggled during the pandemic. Check out your favourite local restaurants — many will do vouchers, from high-end pub grub at The Camberwell Arms, to London chic-chain Caravan, to haute cuisine at The Clove Club.

If vouchers aren’t up your street, there’s no reason to look any further than our own island for gifts that are big on luxury and low on air miles. Forest Wines, just off Blackhorse Road, has an abundance of locally sourced wines and beers, plus specially selected Walthamstow hampers for die-hard E17ers. Knock Knock by Smith and Brock is also doing hampers, and try Natty Boy Wines or Shop Cuvée for boxes of low-intervention wine, delivered to you by bike. You can also look to delivery services such as Abel & Cole or Farmdrop for their transparent sourcing and commitment to keeping carbon low and quality, organic produce high.

How to have the most sustainable Christmas ever
© Provided by Evening Standard A Farmdrop van (Farmdrop)

If foodie gifts aren’t whetting your appetite, try Crouch End Candles for its refillable offerings (who could dislike a candle whose scent is described as “hug”?). And if you’re really serious about beginning your eco journey, buy a refill starter kit for Haringey and Hackney’s Topup Truck, which is a roaming milk float that offers refills to locals: the kit includes bags, bottles and a £10 gift card.

Vintage offerings are equally as perfect — head to Skoob to peruse their 55,000 and counting selection of second-hand books, or Walden Books for a chance to bag a true rarity. Nip to Notting Hill for the fashion aficionados in your life, with the British Red Cross being one of vintage queen Bay Garnett’s top spots for browsing.

How to have the most sustainable Christmas ever
© Provided by Evening Standard Walden Books (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Of course, if you’re the kind of person who has too much time on their hands and is too thoughtful for their own good, you can always make your own. Give the gift of Alton Brown’s homemade aged eggnog to truly impress, or go super green and cop a kit from Bloom & Wild and make your own plant pot.

Deck the halls (with eco-tinsel)

Don’t skip past this if you’re already done and dusted with your tree decorations for this year, you’re going to want to get ahead for 2022. With seven million trees going to landfill every year, rental tree services are springing up everywhere now, with the majority selling out for this season long ago. London Christmas Tree Rental, which offers an option to rent the same tree year-on-year from their hubs across the capital, advises signing up to their mailing list to be informed for next year — but if you’re truly stuck, their miniature Holly Berry children’s trees are still in plentiful supply.

How to have the most sustainable Christmas ever
© Provided by Evening Standard London Christmas Tree Rental’s Holly Berry tree (London Christmas Tree Rental)

Co-founder Catherine Loveless is passionate about changing attitudes towards festive sustainability. “If everybody was able to change just one of their behaviours, whether it’s wrapping paper or trees, it all adds up,” she says. “Ever since I’ve worked with trees, I’ve become a lot more mindful about my own behaviour.” Every little helps.

Still in the market for a whopper to rock around this year? Go for real over faux to avoid pesky plastic and make sure it’s collected responsibly — most London councils offer tree collection come January. For last minuters, The Stem offers UK-grown Norway spruces, with 10 trees planted for every one cut down, and delivers straight to you in an electric van to keep carbon footprint elf-sized.

If you’ve sorted the tree and are gazing at bare branches hoping for inspiration, you’re in luck. Arket and Re-Found Objects both offer a plethora of paper options for a plastic-free alternative to the usual smattering of baubles, whilst Eco Tinsel stocks — yes, you guessed it — eco-friendly tinsel.

Set it aglow with LED lights to save on CO2, and opt for solar-powered bulbs to impress your neighbours with your outdoor display this year. Of course, the best way to stay sustainable when it comes to decorating is to use what you already have — so dig out that dusty box from the loft and give some tired baubles a new lease of life with a biodegradable glitter kit from Wearth.

Wrap it up (with reusable paper)

Chic wrapping might be a chance to earn some creative kudos under the tree, but in the UK we throw away an estimated 227,000 miles of wrapping paper every year. So what’s the alternative? Well, Wearth offers both recycled and reusable gift wrap in a variety of cheery festive prints, whilst Plus has created a dissolvable wrapping paper that can simply be chucked in the bath (!) once it’s been ripped to shreds by gleeful hands. &Keep has a lovely selection of biodegradable tape (some even printed with oh-so-cute snowmen), whilst Wrappuccino has created a cotton booze bag for presenting a festive tipple.

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When it comes to cards, email alternatives — while apparently the best option for sustainability — just don’t scream festive fun. If you can’t bear to hit “send” on a badly photoshopped e-card, there are eco alternatives. Wildflower Favours are selling plantable cards in packs of 10, with UK-grown seeds inside that are reportedly amazing for insects, while 1 Tree Cards plants a tree for every one of their recycled cards sold. If you’re short on time and are browsing your local instead, make sure to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) mark to guarantee that the paper has been sourced ethically and sustainably.

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