Everything You Need To Have A Sustainable Christmas

A sustainable Christmas can be more fun than one filled with waste

By & Chloe Balhatchet

13 Minutes Read

AI-generated photo of father and daughter having a sustainable Christmas and playing in the snow A sustainable Christmas can be more fun than one filled with waste - Media Credit: PBN (image generated with Midjourney. All rights reserved)

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of the year. With great vegan food, gifts under the tree, and long-awaited family get-togethers, the holiday season is a time filled with cheer and joy. However, the environmental impacts of these festivities aren’t quite so jolly. There is a not-so-secret cost to a badly thought-out workplace Secret Santa. Food waste is often worse at Christmas; for example, 7.5 million mince pies end up in the bin in the UK each December. And the UK gets through an astonishing 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year.

As the effects of the climate crisis continue to worsen, there is a growing urgency to change some of our habits. Thankfully, having a sustainable Christmas does not mean missing out on any of the festive fun and traditions that make it special. Here are some easy and enjoyable ways to make your Christmas more sustainable.

Easy guide to a sustainable and ethical Christmas  

In this guide:

Make It Vegan

Going vegan is the best thing an individual can do to reduce your carbon footprint – that’s true at Christmas or any other time of the year. To make your Christmas as sustainable as possible, leave animals off your plate and out of your stockings…

Host a vegan feast

Aerial shot of a delicious and sustainable vegan feast
Adobe Stock Hosting a vegan feast for family or friends is a sustainable gift this Christmas

Whether you want to whip up a 14-course feast, stick something quick and easy in the oven, or head out to a vegan restaurant, there are loads of options for all to enjoy. Invite as few or as many people as you want and get the festivities started. By choosing vegan, you’ll be reducing your environmental impact and sparing animals the suffering of farms and slaughterhouses. Win win!

Be mindful too of food waste and make sure to keep any leftovers from your feast – that’s tomorrow’s lunch sorted.

Don’t buy animal products – or an animal as a Christmas gift

Express compassion this Christmas and remember that animals are individuals with their own desires and needs – not ours to buy and sell. Instead of giving an animal as a gift, you could make a donation to an animal charity or sponsor a rescued animal at an animal sanctuary.

Cut the crap

We are in a climate crisis and overconsumption is one of the main causes. While billions face extreme poverty and hunger, consumerist Western cultures encourage the accumulation of stuff we don’t really need. Making better environmental choices does not make you the Grinch. There are loads of ways to have a holly, jolly sustainable house full of Christmas cheer that don’t involve sending a big pile to landfill on Boxing Day.

No more new decorations

Re-use what you’ve already got! If you want more decorations, why not try making your own from things around the house? Or for outside, make a wreath for yourself or someone else using natural materials you foraged. If you do want to buy some new decorations, look for second-hand ones.

Rent a tree

If you’re considering buying a new artificial or real tree, consider renting a Christmas tree instead. This will save you the dilemma of cutting down trees or contributing to plastic pollution.

Sustainable potted Christmas trees to rent
Adobe Stock Renting a Christmas tree is a more sustainable way to bring festive joy into your home

Go zero-waste on your present wrapping

There are tons of creative ways to conceal a gift. Re-use existing gift bags or try wrapping with newspaper or old tissue paper and ribbons. If you want something more permanent, you could invest in some fabric wraps you will keep on using.

Make your own gift hampers

Pre-made hampers often come with a lot of packaging. To reduce this, make your own gift hampers with materials and a box, bag, or basket you already own. That way you can choose exactly what goodies to include, making the present more personal.

Boycott single use

Supermarkets are making record profits selling us stuff we don’t really need. From Christmas crackers and paper napkins to party poppers and glitter, there are loads of single-use items that are not much more than a money-making ploy. Question whether you’re buying something out of habit or because you actually want it. If these are things you do really want, opt for reusable options, which will pay off over the year, including fabric napkins and reusable Christmas crackers.

Tips for gifts

Go easy on the gifts

Excessive consumerism has made Christmas more wasteful – and also turned it into a more stressful experience. Rather than rushing around the shops looking for last-minute gifts, make your Christmas stress-free, more affordable and more sustainable by minimizing your present purchasing. That way, you can focus on the good cheer and the people around you instead.

Sustainable Christmas gift wrapped in fabric and artistically decorated with confier
Adobe Stock Why not try choosing just one gift to make your Christmas more sustainable?

Reduce the number of gifts you give (and receive)

If you have gift arrangements with friends or family members, try limiting it to one present per person. Or set up a Secret Santa so that each person buys for only one other person. Lowering the quantity will make you think harder about quality.

Choose your gifts carefully

One thoughtful present is better than a dozen pieces of tat. Choose something useful and that you know the receiver will actually want. 

Make an impact with your gifts

Remember too that your gift giving can help inspire people on their plant-based journey. If your cousin loves chocolate but has never tried a dairy-free version, a big box of Booja Booja could be a great way to open their eyes to the possibilities of veganism.

Stop buying STUFF

If you’re weighing up whether someone needs your gift idea and whether it’s something they’ll still appreciate in one year’s time, it’s probably best to assume the answer is no. Instead of burdening them with more stuff, there are plenty of thoughtful gifts that don’t involve adding more waste to the world.

Adopt an animal at a vegan animal sanctuary

Adopting Barney at Millington's Magical Barn is a sustainable Christmas gift
Millington's Magical Barn Adopting Barney at Millington’s Magical Barn is a sustainable Christmas gift

You’ll be doing something great for the animals and many gift adoptions will send updates throughout the year, making this a gift that lasts beyond the unboxing. If you choose a local sanctuary, the recipient of your gift should be able to visit their new friend – and they might even invite you along for a day out.

Buy a gift voucher to your local vegan restaurant

This present option has the fantastic flexibility of price, making it a great gift for all budgets. Choose a vegan restaurant you know and love (or look up your local vegan restaurants on HappyCow) and gift someone the freedom to choose mountains of amazing vegan food!

Book a trip

For that special someone, you could book a romantic night away at a vegan hotel or B&B. Use VegVisits to find your dream accommodation and plan your travel on public transport. A great option for families is luxury vegan glamping at Hempsall Farm. Enjoy the great outdoors and spend time with rescued farm animals at this idyllic vegan sanctuary. Or you could buy tickets to Vegan Camp Out or a trip to Camden Town vegan brewery.

Beck Hall plant-based hotel Malham
Beck Hall Treat your loved ones to stay in England’s first plant-based hotel

Gift a membership 

Another present that can make the fun last all year. Vegan charities including PETA, Viva!, and The Vegan Society offer gift memberships. These come with continued news and updates on the organization’s work, as well as other perks. The Vegan Society offers a choice of welcome packs depending on whether the recipient is vegan or not.

Gift a subscription box

For someone new to veganism, the motivation of receiving a subscription box each month can be a great boost. Book lovers might be interested in Happily Ever After, the first all-vegan book subscription box.

Dedicate a native tree to a loved one

The National Forest offers you the chance to dedicate a tree – and your recipient may even have the chance to plant it themselves. Likewise, you can adopt a tree or habitat with The Wildlife Trusts. To bring the forest closer to home, you could give someone a pack of wildflower seeds to sow in spring.

Give consumables (that you know they will want)

Rather than adding to someone’s piles of stuff, consider buying something consumable you know they will appreciate. Be careful with this one: you don’t want to overdo it and buy a five-kilo vegan cheese box if you don’t know for sure that someone will eat it all! But a thoughtful consumable gift can bring joy and have a low environmental impact.

Choose some vegan soaps or other (necessary) toiletries

Toiletries can be a thoughtful gift if you choose something that your recipient uses or needs. It’s more exciting to receive a cute bamboo toothbrush as a gift than to buy your own as you do for the rest of the year.

Buy vegan food or drink

Mont Blanc vegan doughnut at Crosstown
Crosstown Vegan food gifts have a lower environmental impact… and they may even help someone go vegan

Going vegan is the best way for an individual to have a positive impact on the planet so vegan food is a great sustainable gift. Try these special Christmas doughnuts from Crosstown. Or these new bubble bars from Moo Free. If you know someone who loves shortbread, this dairy-free tin could be the perfect gift!

If you’re giving the presents to a non-vegan, you could help open their eyes by gifting them an accidentally vegan product they already love. It will make for great conversation around the Christmas table.

Make a zero-waste food gift

It’s even better if you can purchase your food gifts from a zero-waste shop. Find a nice jar from the back of your cupboard and fill it with their favorite nuts, vegan sweets, or pasta shape. Tie a ribbon on and you have a beautiful, unique gift they can keep refilling all year round. 

Buy stuff the right way

Buying things can still have a purpose – especially if that purpose is reducing the need to buy other things! If you want to give something physical, here are some ideas to make it as sustainable as possible. The key point is to source it ethically and, of course, vegan.

Buy zero waste products

If someone does not already own them (and only if they do not already own them!), the following items could make a great gift:

  • Reusable straw or cutlery

Metal, glass or bamboo, the important thing is that they can be used again and again. No need for disposable plastic or paper.

  • Travel cup

With many cafés offering a discount to customers who bring their own, this is a money-saving gift, as well as a waste-reducing one.

  • Reusable, compostable cleaning cloths 

Scrub the dirt without making a mess of the planet’s resources.

  • Reusable cupcake cases and baking liners

Make your vegan cakes even more sustainable by swapping single-use items for reusable baking equipment.

Buy second hand where possible

Second-hand bookshop, perfect for sustainable Christmas gift shopping
Adobe Stock Second-hand books can be a great sustainable Christmas gift

Look in charity shops for books, paintings, DVDs, board games, furniture, and more. For clothes, you could also try vintage shops such as Clothesxchange or Depop. If you use Facebook, its Marketplace can be a great place to find bargains in your area – and join your local giveaway group, where people pass on unwanted items for free.

Choose ethical companies when buying new

If you are buying something new, you should, as a minimum, check that the company is giving something back to the planet and all of its inhabitants; that they’re using recycled or renewable materials, and that its treating workers fairly. For example, you could buy directly from the gift page of an animal charity.

Other ethical gift ideas include:

Sustainable fashion from Viva La Vegan
Viva La Vegan If you’re looking for a vegan Christmas jumper, this one is made from organic cotton and recycled polyester

Get creative!

Make something meaningful

Whatever you enjoy doing, and whatever your skills are, use them to create a meaningful, cheap, and environmentally friendly gift. Poet? Write a poem. Seamstress? Use some old fabrics to make someone a pillow or add some character to an old denim jacket with patches and embroidery. Artist? Paint a picture. Chocolatier? Make some vegan chocolate truffles. Green fingered? Make a bug hotel. You get the idea!

Make your own recipe kit

Build a recipe kit for one of your favorite vegan bakes by simply filling up some empty jam jars with your cupboard stocks, and tying a ribbon round the rim. Or make a vegan hot chocolate set with a range of plant-based milks for a skeptic to try, vegan chocolate, and vegan marshmallows.

Woman re-filling reusable jars in a zero waste shop
Adobe Stock Take some old glass jars to a zero waste shop to make your own sustainable gift

Regift your own items to give them a new lease of life

Second-hand shopping does not even need to involve buying anything! You could give your copy of a book you enjoyed to a friend. Or dust off an old photo frame you don’t use and add in a photo of you together. If you have candles you’ll never burn or spare cake tins that are always empty, think of someone who might enjoy them. If you have indoor plants, you could give someone a cutting.

Change your mentality

Refocus Christmas Day

Christmas Day shouldn’t be about how many gifts you give or receive or how much money you spend. Instead, it is about quality time spent with your loved ones, including eating great vegan food together. Play board games, enjoy a crisp winter walk, or just relax and enjoy making vegan hot chocolate or mulled wine and eating mince pies.

Stay out of the Boxing Day sales

Don’t ruin your sustainable Christmas by splurging in the Boxing Day sales.

Prepare for next year

And remember: whether or not you had a zero-waste Christmas this year, there are some easy ways to prepare to do things more sustainably next year. Bookmark this page so you are ready to prepare early. Then:

  • Keep all of this year’s decorations and wrapping to reuse next year
  • Save cards to re-gift, or cut out tags for gifts
  • Start a homemade project early or check in at charity shops all year round – that way you won’t end up in a last-minute panic
  • Make your own advent calendar for next December for yourself or a loved one – this can include gifts like “one homemade three-course vegan meal for two”
  • Suggest a vegan restaurant for your office christmas party next year

Aim for zero extra waste in your black bin by New Years…and nobody waiting for a gift receipt to return an unwanted gift. But above all, make this year vegan.

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