Mad About . . .

Christmas Is Coming (like it or not): A Guide to making it Eco-Friendly

1st December 2021
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I have to say I’m normally very last minute when it comes to Christmas posts but I had a bit of time to plan this year and having decided on the general themes that I’m going to look at (always trying to make it a little different from everything else out there) and the thing that struck me first and foremost was the sustainable issue. Christmas is a frenzy of plastic tat, unrecyclable paper, crackers, sticky tape and that’s before we start the great tinsel debate.

twas the night before christmas

So this year I thought I’d kick off – hopefully in time – with some tips and ideas to green up your Christmas. And the good news is that there are some great alternatives and eco-friendly options. I imagine it gets better every year.

Let’s start with the Christmas tree. This is slightly more complicated that I first thought and I am indebted to Moral Fibres for an in-depth look at the pros and cons of real versus fake. I have included some highlights here but urge you to read the full post.

enamel tree decoration from nancy and betty

The British Christmas Tree Growers Association says around 7m real trees are bought each year and while most of us dispose of them after one season (repotting is another option) they still have a lower carbon footprint than an artificial one.

According to the Trust, a natural two-metre Christmas tree that does not have roots and is disposed of into a landfill after Christmas has a carbon footprint of around 16kg of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, a two-metre real Christmas tree that has roots and is properly disposed of after its use has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg of carbon dioxide. Properly disposed of in this sense means burning it on a bonfire, planting it, or having it chipped by your local Council.

Don’t forget that a real tree will absorb CO2 while it’s growing as opposed to one that will use fossil fuels during its production. If you do have a fake one then you need to make sure you use it for at least 10 years. In which case it’s best to buy an actual green one (as opposed to a trendy pink or purple number that you might go off).  I have a wooden one that slots together and stores flat and imagine that I will always find room for it either on its own or as well as a real one. I also note that the Ikea Vinter hanging version is back this year (although not available for home delivery) and this is another great option for those who don’t have much space. It’s £15. I have also seen posts where people have sewn decorations onto it as well and also Christmas lights as long as they don’t heat up and you remember to turn them off whenever you leave the room.

pre cut fabric hanging. christmas tree from ikea

pre-cut fabric hanging. christmas tree from ikea

The idea of using year after year goes for the decorations too . I have tended to buy one or two new ones a year to replace broken ones or add to a collection of nostalgic baubles that all tell their own stories of Christmas past. I have never been into the Christmas décor trend which changes every year and don’t take part in styling campaigns that ask me to do that.

hand-turned wooden trees sold individually for £16 from form shop

So the tree is done. And yes you can get eco friendly tinsel.

Worrabout the presents you say? Well, I will be looking at what you might want to buy people over the next couple of weeks, but let’s look at the wrapping first. Although paper is generally recyclable, once you add the shiny glitter and foil it mostly isn’t. Try the old trick of crumpling it – if it stays crumpled it’s paper. If it bounces back it probably has some plastic or something un-recyclable in it.

Apparently we will get through 108 million rolls of wrapping paper over the festive season – that’s four rolls per household – or enough to go around the world 22 times so we need to think about a way of reducing that impact on the earth.

eco tinsel comes in lots of different colours

One way is the Japanese Furoshiki fabric wrapping. Just make sure your giftees don’t run off with it as it’s not cheap. That said you could also buy everyone (some people) an extra present of a pretty tea towel or a silk pillowcase (so good for the hair and wrinkles apparently) and wrap the actual present inside that. Lots of pattern choices here and different sizes.

furoshiki linen wrapping paper

For wrapping paper – probably easier if you have bigger presents for smaller people – try Re-Wrapped, whose paper is biodegradable, compostable, uses Vegan-friendly inks and is made from 100 per cent recycled unbleached materials.

And the tape? Well you can avoid the plastic stuff too with this tape from Wearth London. Or there is string and don’t forget the gift tags. Try Eco-Craft for all of this.

And the crackers. A sea of plastic tat and bad jokes and is all either lost or thrown away by tea time. Here are some alternatives and yes they are more expensive. If you don’t want to do crackers at all why not put a small present in each person’s place? This can be anything from a pretty hand sanitiser to a bar of soap or a small wooden toy or perhaps a puzzle – we used to call them executive toys in the 80s – that will keep people occupied or even start conversations. We have also used boxes of jokes or games set along the table too and there’s no reason why they can’t come out year after year.

eco plastic free crackers from nancy and betty

Here are some plastic free charity crackers (there will be others) or these more luxurious ones from Nancy and Betty where they plant a tree for every box bought.

Or what about these re-usable crackers,  which, once pulled, become the napkins for the meal. They come with a durable cardboard core and you buy your own fillings.

Right now we’ve sorted that out we can get on with the present-buying. I’ll be back on Wednesday with some ideas from small businesses and yes there will be an eco gift guide as well coming up.

re-useable crackers that double up as napkins from 2greenmonkeys.co.uk

There is one more clever idea that Jules Haines, of the Haines Collection has made using leftover fabric and that’s this rather pretty eco wrapping bag in which you can store all your rolls of paper as well as labels, tape and scissors in the large velvet pockets. For years I have tucked my paper down the side of the boiler and am never able to find the tape when I want so, in the spirit of Christmas shopping – one for you, one for me, I’m going to say kick off your eco Christmas shopping with little eco self-gifting.

eco wrapping bag from the haines collection

eco wrapping bag from the haines collection


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  • Alex 5th December 2021 at 3:06 pm

    That fantastic tips – loved this post. Thank you Kate!

  • Pia 2nd December 2021 at 2:25 pm

    Might be just me but I do have a lot of wallpaper remnants or tests. Do a giftbox out of the wallpaper. The stiffer material works perfectly for that purpose.
    And newspapers also works well for giftwraps. My husband does have the non-digital version of newspaper on weekends. He is a bit old-fashioned 🙂 But then I can use the paper for gifts. With the tips from “Rach with an E” even newspapers will look great.
    For friends and parties I usually bring a flower in a pot/bowl bought second hand. Green moss from outside and dried slices of oranges and some other small decorations makes it festive. (I do love DIY so I have a lot of small things both for giftwrapping and these hostess gifts.)

  • Ruth A Butros 1st December 2021 at 2:04 pm

    Don’t forget that if you’re tired of a color scheme for ornaments, you can sell yours on FB Marketplace or some similar site, and also buy from someone else who is looking to make a change.
    No one has ever commented (or probably knew) about the “used” items on my tree. I second the brown paper wrapping, writing the giftee’s name on it and drawing with contrasting colors.

  • Bonnie Foster Abel 1st December 2021 at 1:05 pm

    There are many creative ideas in this post from you, Kate, and from Madeleine, Rach with an E, and Sophia. I love the thoughtful table gifts in lieu in of a foil/plastic cracker. Your list of sustainable items is truly inspiring, and one hopes, people are shopping in this way .

  • Madeleine 1st December 2021 at 11:37 am

    As for wrapping paper, we carefully unwrap and use it for the next year. This is also a source for hilarity and nostalgia as a reminder of Christmases past. We have carefully saved, and ever smaller, pieces that go back to my father, who died in 1992.

  • Rach with an E 1st December 2021 at 10:57 am

    I like to use plain old brown paper for gift wrap (buy from the post office) and wrap with coloured string, twigs, holly, seasonal flowers and discarded/recycled Christmas baubles (charity shops). Pretty vintage brooches make a lovely decoration, cost next to nothing and can be worn by the recipient if chosen carefully. Or photocopy a happy photo of the recipient and stick it on the parcel – no label needed. Wilko did make your own cracker packs in brown card but this year they’re gold and may not be recyclable. I buy inexpensive gifts to fit inside which can be a challenge. If I don’t have a cracker, then I do a small table gift which has to be cheap, cheerful and preferably from a charity shop. If you have a big family, then challenge each person to bring a table gift. It’s fun and makes the gifter think carefully about the giftee. If all else fails, there’s always chocolate!

  • Sophia McDermott 1st December 2021 at 7:58 am


    There are also Christmas tree rentals. I looked at this last year and was too late ….. and again too late but hopefully they are restocking.


    • Lucy 1st December 2021 at 8:22 am

      This is a brilliant idea!

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