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11 Dec 2020

Regift and recycle: 12 ways to have a more sustainable Christmas

From renting Christmas trees to buying second-hand, find out how to be more eco-friendly this Christmas
Buying a Christmas tree

Almost half of us (45%) who celebrated Christmas last year did something to reduce the environmental impact of our festive celebrations, Which? research has revealed*.

Two in five of us chose not to send dust-gathering Christmas cards, while one in five opted for recyclable wrapping paper.

Presents, tree lights and endless supplies of snacks are synonymous with Christmas, but they also contribute to a huge increase in waste during the festive season.

Thankfully, there are lots of simple and easy ways to be more sustainable at Christmas without scrimping on fun.

If you're looking to introduce some eco-friendly traditions to your festivities, here are our 12 tips for making your Christmas less wasteful and more sustainable.

1. Christmas card alternatives

Not all Christmas cards are recyclable - some use glitter, plastic or dyes that can be harmful when disposed of.

As many as two in five of us didn't bother with Christmas cards last year in order to reduce our environmental impact.

If you too want to give them a miss this year,you could send an e-card instead, or arrange video calls with those on your Christmas card list.

Or if you do still want to send cards, make sure they have the Forest Stewardship Council stamp on them, which certifies that the paper has been sustainably produced.

And remember to save any Christmas cards you receive, so you can use them to make gift tags next year.

2. Rethink how you wrap presents

Rethinking how you wrap gifts is a really easy (and creative!) way to be more sustainable at Christmas.

Plastic-based or glittery wrapping paper can't be recycled and one in five of us opted for recyclable paper instead last year.

If brown recycling paper sounds too understated for Christmas, you can brighten yours up with second-hand festive-themed fabric or decorations you've saved from previous years.

Remember that even recyclable paper must have sticky tape and decorations removed before going in the recycling bin.

Others at Which? festoon parcels with festive stamps, or use Christmas scarves to wrap up presents using origami-folding tutorials online.

If you're given a gift and aren't sure if the paper is recyclable, do the scrunch test - if it scrunches up like paper and stays scrunched then you can probably recycle it.

3. Don't overbuy food (and save leftovers!)

Try to only buy the food you think you'll need when doing your Christmas shopping (particularly with meat, fish and dairy which might go out of date).

If you do have leftovers, look up recipes to see how you can make the most of them (boxing day bubble and squeak is a personal highlight).

And if you really want to reduce your carbon footprint, try swapping out the turkey for a vegan option.

We recently revealed the top five best vegan Christmas mains you can get in supermarkets this year.

4. Buy local

Buying local reduces your carbon footprint.

Shopping with local butchers and green grocers for your Christmas lunch can be the more eco-friendly option, or you can visit local shops on your high street instead of ordering online.

If you can't visit shops due to lockdown restrictions, you can sometimes click-and-collect with certain retailers.

You'll also be supporting independent businesses who need your help more than ever this year.

5. Gift durable products

Are the speakers you're gifting likely to still be working next Christmas?

Buying more durable and long-lasting gifts is more sustainable than buying items that have a short lifespan.

It's worth researching the durability of a product - particularly for home appliances and tech products - before investing.

Try to avoid fast fashion too and opt for more eco-friendly options.

6. Use eco-friendly crackers

Christmas lunch isn't complete without crackers - but do you really need another plastic mini magnifying glass or fortune-telling fish?

Instead, try buying eco-friendly crackers which use little to no plastic and all (or most) of their parts can be recycled.

Some even include games worth replaying over again, and objects you'd want to keep instead of chucking away at the end of lunch.

We've even tested a selection of them for you, so you know which eco-friendly crackers get the thumbs up.

And if you want to get creative there are lots of guides online on how to make your own crackers out of bog roll and scraps of fabric - they can be reused every year with objects of your choice too!

7. Buy LED lights

Wood-burning stove with a Christmas tree and black

Whether you're lighting up just the tree or your entire house, make sure you chose energy-efficient bulbs this year.

We recommend buying LED lights which use very little energy and are long-lasting.

Avoid battery-powered lights if you can, as batteries can leak harmful chemicals once disposed of.

It's also worth doing your research before buying tree lights from online marketplaces - last year we found that almost 50% of the cheap Christmas tree lights bought from online marketplaces were found to be unsafe.

Remember to turn off your tree lights at night and when you're out the house.

8. Regift unwanted presents from last year

Christmas is the season of giving - but present-buying doesn't always go to plan.

One in five of us received an unwanted present the last festive season.

If you unwrapped something weird and wonderful, have a think if there's anyone else you can regift it to this year.

A lot of charities also have donation schemes over Christmas to ensure children get gifts, so it's worth looking up if there's a charity near you.

And if the same cousin buys you yet another gaudy jumper this year, think about donating it to charity or regifting it to someone with more garish taste than you.

9. Buy second-hand

Shopping second-hand is a more sustainable way of gift-giving and (bonus points) will almost always save you money.

You can find second-hand books, video games and other tech products in great knack online, and they're often considerably cheaper than buying a brand new version.

World of Books is one site worth looking at for any avid readers you're buying for, while Vinted is a secondhand clothing platform where you can sometimes find clothes with the tags on that haven't been worn before.

Preloved is another site where you might find secondhand toys to regift too.

10. Recycle, recycle, recycle

Recycling isn't just about wrapping paper.

If you get a new phone or tablet for Christmas, make sure you recycle your previous model.

Old or broken electrical items are full of valuable materials like gold and zinc that can be reused.

Your local council should have a recycling bank, or you can arrange a pick-up for larger items.

Christmas trees can also be recycled. Or if you buy potted Christmas trees, keep them in your house and garden rather than throwing them out.

And with most of us doing our Christmas shopping online this year, make sure you recycle any packaging, or hold onto it if it's reusable.

11. Rent a Christmas tree

Buying a Christmas tree

The carbon footprint of a tree becomes much bigger if it ends up in landfill, which many of ours do.

If you'd like a more permanent fir-friend this year, you can rent a tree instead.

Tree rentals have soared in popularity in recent years, and there are many rental companies operating around the country.

You normally pay for the tree as well as a deposit, which is then reimbursed once the tree has been returned.

Some of the companies even let you name the tree and will re-deliver the same one to you every Christmas, so it really is like a new addition to the family.

12. Swap plastic for eco-friendly gifts

Plastic is pretty hard to get away from over Christmas, but you can try to make a conscious effort to avoid it when buying gifts, decorations and games.

Shop around for plastic-free, wooden toys and avoid any games that contain plastic parts.

You can also look for - or make your own - paper decorations for your home.

Other non-plastic sustainable stocking fillers could be plants, reusable coffee cups or eco-friendly straws.

* Populus, on behalf of Which?, surveyed 2,071 UK residents online between Jan 31 and Feb 3 2020.