Have Yourself a More Sustainable Christmas

Community 5 min read

12 Nov 2019

Elaine Butler is a non-profit, sustainable blogger and speaker. You can find her blog at Living Lightly in Ireland. Below, she provides a practical and affordable guide to having a more sustainable Christmas.


Christmas is the most damaging time of the year environmentally, what with all the additional journeys taken, food wasted and consumption we engage it. It's ironic that one of the most joyous times of the year is threatening the existence of humans on this planet. But we have the power to change that and to ensure we have a more sustainable Christmas. So, here are some great ideas on how to go about doing just that!


More Sustainable Gifts

After years of finding 'thoughtful' presents at the back of recipients' wardrobes and cupboards, I called a halt to gift giving. Now I only give gifts to my kids and godchildren. It's the best sustainable decision I have ever made. I have a lot more time and money, and because my relatives and friends don't have to buy me gifts they're the same. It's a win-win.

If that's all a bit too bah humbug for you, that's ok. We're all different. If you would still like to buy gifts - but want to have a more sustainable Christmas while doing it - then here are a few suggestions.

  • Buy experiences over stuff

  • Buy second-hand over new. Buying second-hand prevents more carbon being put into the atmosphere - thereby slowing down climate change.

  • Buy consumable - like soaps or food gits.

  • Buy from a company that is working to help save our planet. You'll find a list of Sustainable Ethical Retailers on my blog.

  • Buy a sustainably made product. You'll find a list of suggestions in my post Sustainable Christmas Gifts 2019

  • Give vouchers over items. The most wasteful gift is the one that's not wanted. Unfortunately, most of the vouchers available today are plastic. I always ask if they can provide digital or paper based one instead. Even if they can't - asking the question might make them think about bringing one in.

  • Donate to charity instead of buying gifts. It's a lovely way of 'giving' something to someone AND making the world a better place.



Most of us use the same decorations every year, which is the epitome of sustainability so well done! If you 'need' (in apostrophes because let's face it who 'needs' decorations) new decorations - the most sustainable options is to borrow from family or friends. Failing that, try to buy second-hand. Or you can buy locally-made decorations in natural materials like paper, wool, wood or wicker.


Less and less of us are buying and sending Christmas cards, which is a great way to have a more sustainable Christmas. But if you would still like to send cards, just make sure they're printed on sustainably sourced (FSC certified) paper and free of glitter and foil. These are just forms of plastic that contaminate our waterways, and therefore contaminate our bodies.

Wrapping Paper

The same is true of wrapping paper. There was a time when all wrapping paper was just that – paper. And it was easily recycled. It’s challenging to say to the least to try and have a more sustainable Christmas when we have foil and glitter-coated wrapping paper. These are plastic and metal combined, and have teeny, tiny particles of plastic and metal. If you're buying wrapping paper - aim for 100% paper. If possible, wrap using paper tape instead of sellotape, which isn't recyclable.

Some people like to buy fabric bags or cloths to wrap presents in. Personally, I feel this is wasteful unless you know the recipient is going to reuse it. Our family use paper gift bags instead. They're inexpensive, reusable and fully recyclable at the end of their life.



It’s more than possible to still be the hostess with the mostess and have a more sustainable Christmas. You can lessen the environmental impact of your festive soirees by using proper crockery, glassware and utensils instead of disposables. Hire some, borrow from friends and family, or ask guests to bring along their own. The mix and match look just adds to the festive atmosphere!

If you must go with disposables, avoid plastic coated paper plates as these are not compostable and will need to go in the black bin. You can get some very attractive ones from Ecoland, Down 2 Earth and Zeus Packaging. They also do food packaging that you can use as doggie bags if you've food left over. Finally, make sure you provide a compost bin and explain to your guests that their plates, food waste and paper napkins should all go into it that bin - and not the recycling.

It goes without saying - avoid straws completely. And if that's not feasible go for paper ones, which can be composted.



It's very hard to avoid packaging and palm oil when it comes to processed food, particularly party food and nibbles. But there are alternatives available that will have you leading a more sustainable Christmas in no time.
You can get package-free nuts in zero waste stores. These are lovely sprinkled with salt or sugar and roasted in the oven. Alternatively, popcorn dressed with Parmesan cheese, truffle oil, chilli flakes, or homemade caramel is delicious.

Canapes can be a terrible fuss to make, so being able to replace shop-bought ones with homemade versions will all depend on your skills and schedule. My advice is to keep it simple and to aim to only do two or three types. I try to choose canapes where I can use the same ingredients in different combinations. I also try to use ingredients that my family like, so we can consume any leftovers from parties. For a list of canape suggestions visit my post on Having a Merry Eco Party.

The food waste at Christmas time in the industrialised world is criminal. And yet it’s so easy to avoid and to have a more sustainable Christmas. The only extra food I tend to buy for Christmas is for the dinner on the day itself, and St Stephen's Day. And that typically amounts to ingredients for a fancy desert, a turkey, ham and vegetables. That's it. It saves us a fortune and we don't have to go on a crash diet in January. Winner, winner, turkey and ham dinner!

It goes without saying that organic and/or locally grown is far better for the planet. And for you if you can afford it. Even if your budget only stretches to a few locally-grown and/or organic items - that’s better than nothing.



We all have something nice in our wardrobe that we can wear for the festive season. One of the best ways to have a cheaper and more sustainable Christmas is to just re-wear clothes you already have. Or, you can borrow from friends and family. Or buy second-hand. If you do really need something new, you can buy fairly-made clothing in natural or compostable fibre clothing from sustainable ethical retailers

Christmas jumpers are a great bit of fun, as long as you don't buy a new one. To avoid this - consider hosting a Christmas jumper swap in your place of work or study. You could tie it in with an unwanted gift table to make an even bigger impact.



When buying beer and cider, aim to buy cans over bottles. They're lighter to transport and easier to recycle than glass bottles - meaning lower carbon emissions. If you buy 500ml cans or bottles instead of 330ml, you will invariably create less packaging overall. But only do so if you don’t think this is going to lead to excess consumption which is wasteful in itself.

Alternatively, you could contact a local brewery and organise a returnable keg of beer if you’re having a party. There are a whole host of fabulous Irish breweries in Ireland now, so spread the love and buy at least some of your alcohol this Christmas from a local brewery this year.

The most sustainable, and healthiest, type of wine on the market at the moment is organic or biodynamic. And the number of options on the market is increasing all the time so they are not as expensive as before. My favourite organic wine is €8.50 in Supervalu.

If you're going to be buying soft drinks and mixers, it's going to be impossible to avoid plastic. But, if you're just looking for an alternative to plain water, consider using a locally-made glass-bottled cordial. Or make your own fruit infused water.

A simple but so on-trend idea is to flavour some gin with botanicals like rosemary and orange rind, or cucumber and lime slices.
With all those tips I hope I have set you up to have a wonderful and sustainable Christmas!