The Ethical Guide to Christmas

Are you looking to have a great Christmas, without the avoidable waste that is often generated at this time of year?

Over the years as our three children have grown up, i've seen the amount of rubbish our family produces increase significantly over the festive period. A few facts which I'll share below really opened my eyes, also included in this post are my favourite tips and ideas which will help you save money and significantly reduce the amount of rubbish generated. The vast majority are simple to achieve, use natural materials  and will reduce costs for you too, at what can be an expensive time of the year. 

Christmas is also the time of year when we think about those less fortunate than ourselves and can be a particularly hard time for those people who've lost their homes and are living on the streets. Having spoken to homeless charities in Brighton only recently (November 2022) about trying to house a homeless lady with liver failure, they told me it could be a decade or more wait for a 1 bed flat! 

 Homelessness is often portrayed as a faceless problem,  which is why we are supporting Homeless Stories a video platform featuring first person accounts from men and women of all ages who are currently affected by homelessness. The founders of Homeless Stories are looking to humanise the issue by allowing individuals affected  to tell their own stories, with a goal of working with a different charity each month.  


Christmas Waste Statistics. 

- Each Christmas just under 100km2 of wrapping paper ends up in UK landfill or is burnt! 

- 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging is thrown away, that's a 25% increase compared to other times in the year. Look for companies who use minimal packaging and no plastic wrap!

- Around 7 Million Christmas trees are estimated to be thrown away.

- It's estimated that approximately 30% of all food bought specifically for Christmas goes to waste.

Now don't get me wrong, i've not managed  to create a completely zero-waste Christmas but if you take a few pointers from this guide then you'll be amazed at the difference you can make. 

The all important Tree

For most people the Christmas tree is the focal point for the celebrations and there is definitely a debate as to whether a real or artificial tree is the more sustainable? With some people quite rightly saying they've had an artificial tree for years and throwing one away to get a real tree would be madness. What i'd look for if you are going to get a real tree, is one that is grown in the country you live in and that you are able to either compost yourself or have access to council or independent services who can do this for you. I like Patch as they plant a new tree for every one sold, which makes sense as a sustainable business model.

Whilst growing trees through the year for Christmas is carbon positive, If the thought of throwing away a tree after a few weeks is not for you, then other options are keeping small trees in large pots outside all year, bringing them in for Christmas, and decorating non traditional trees or plants. Hiring Christmas trees in pots seems to be a growing trend, you can do just that as well as adopting a tree at loveachristmastree




We've got Christmas decorations that go up year after year, a personal favourite is a gold and blue teardrop that i made from card at junior school and the fairy which sits proudly on top of the tree, was given to my partner by her Gran. These handmade decorations are joined by various baubles and stars gifted over the years, pine cones, cinnamon sticks and red berries are also nice additions which don't cost anything and can be composted at the end of the festivities. Home made candles are decorative, make the house smell festive and make great presents too. 

There's plenty of mistletoe around at this time of year if you're hoping to get lucky ;) and if you have a holly hedge or know somebody who does, they can be a great starting point for a Christmas wreath, utilising anything that is abundant in your garden at this time of year is ideal, with natural hessian to bind.  If you want to make a wreath that's a bit extra special Christmas Wreath for the front door, click the link for a step by step guide.


A great game to play with younger children in the run up to Christmas is making decorations and in particular crackers... all you need is cardboard roll and tissue paper,  although you'll have to buy the bangs, i've not cracked that one yet! You'll probably improve on the jokes and fun facts that are usually inside and you can place a small gift inside that you know the recipient will want rather than a plastic toy which immediately gets binned.


Buying Gifts

One of my favourite ways of gifting at this time of year is donating to an organisation which is close to the recipient's heart. For example, our charity partner The Marine Conservation Society have some fantastic ethically made t-shirts and sweaters, my kids love this geometric turtle t-shirt  and i'm still proudly sporting my Octopus sweatshirt from last year. MCS do great work both in the UK and in places like Turks and Caicos where they work with the local community to protect the breeding turtle population, so this gift would be a perfect way to introduce conservation into the conversation!

And trust me nobody apart from the hipsters wants to find another novelty jumper waiting for them under the tree, so to avoid disappointment a good starting point for people who are traditionally a nightmare to buy for is to just ask them, if that's not an option, or it has to be a surprise, take note of which sustainable brands they're already using.

Experiences are a great option and will generally keep waste to a minimum. If they're a music lover how about tickets to a gig in their local town or singing and songwriting lessons (I can recommend Chris Difford from Squeeze's excellent workshops) or the chance to learn a new instrument, you can do short term instrument hires from many music shops these days. 

A night at a hotel spa perhaps or a tasting menu at a new or favourite restaurant, is great for people who say they don't want or need anything. For sports lovers how about tickets to their favourite football, rugby or other winter sport? This year for Boxing Day, rather than spending loads on a premiership match, we are planning on going to see our local team Whitehawk FC, the atmosphere is great fun and kids under 10 go free so check out your local team's offer. Tennis and golf lessons are also a good option for those that want to get out of the house after Christmas, digital golf can be good fun and it's indoors which is a bonus!

Sustainable personalised gifts are always welcome at this time of year and this is one area where we can directly help... For colleagues, teachers and coffee lovers we'd recommend a stylish bamboo coffee cup, with the name or initial of the recipient embossed on the front. Tea lovers will love our infusers and caddy sets which are perfect for keeping speciality tea leaves and coffee beans fresh. For aspiring eco-warriors and teenagers we recommend our Zero Waste Starter Kit which comes with a Vegan backpack, bamboo coffee cup, water bottle and 2 straws. 

 Once you've picked out the perfect gift, what comes next next? The wrapping of course... Did you know that a lot of wrapping paper isn't recyclable, with some even containing plastic. Other things to watch out for are the type that are covered in glitter. These days there are a few alternatives to single-use to consider - Why not choose recycled or cotton wrap this year? Beautiful and much more eco friendly, or you can use brown paper which is generally good for a couple of gifting occasions or perhaps an old cover of Vogue for those into fashion.


Festive Feasting

Before we get into the feasting i'd really like to mention Bankuet  a new organisation who make it easier for you to give to food banks wherever you are. Bankuet gets food banks what they need when they need it... Providing nutritionally balanced meals, Bankuet is revolutionising the way food bank distribution works, helping end food poverty. We all wish there wasn't a need for food banks but for now this is a solution.

Now, Whether you're having a vegan Christmas or carving up a goose on the big day, a more considered Christmas does not necessarily require going cold turkey,  If we all make small changes each year it creates a big impact...

There’s almost nothing worse than scrambling around a crowded supermarket on Christmas eve, fending off the rest of your neighbourhood for the last sad bag of brussel sprouts. By avoiding the stress of the last minute dash not only will you save yourself time, you’ll also avoid mass-produced food without provenance that’s been sitting around in distribution centres before reaching your plate. 

Source local food where you know how it’s been produced and where it’s come from. If you eat meat, do you know how your turkey was raised? Go for a free-range or organic turkey from a source you trust. 

Did you know the average family wastes around a third of the food they buy at Christmas...So If you have bought or cooked too much, use silicon pouches to keep your leftovers fresher for longer 

Plan out your meals rather than just buying everything you see with a seasonal motif emblazoned on it and put that massive, pre-packed cheese board back down! Save your pennies and research a few leftover dishes that your family will really enjoy. I absolutely love turning any left over roast potatoes and greens into bubble and squeak on boxing day. Make a delicious stock for soup or risottos simmering all your dinner leftovers with water and herbs. Leave it to simmer whilst the Sound of Music is on the telly. Leave to cool and freeze in an ice cube tray and it’ll see you into the new year. Panetonne gone a bit stale? Turn it into a posh bread and butter pudding

The easiest way to avoid waste is not getting sucked into the buy-one-get-one-free deals. BOGOF's lead to a mountain of sickly treats you and your family simply won’t need after all that tasty nut roast. Notoriously designed by supermarkets to get you to buy more, BOGOFS aren’t there for your benefit, but to help line their pockets. As with any other time of year, packaging is one of the biggest problems when it comes to food waste, so try to buy loose fruit and vegetables where possible. Why not give Odd Box a try they supply wonky veg at great prices, as the major supermarkets won't touch it. 

Rather than buying packs of disposable napkins, why don't you purchase cotton reusable napkins which can be used at Christmas but also through the rest of the year.  

The zero waste movement is arguably the antithesis of Christmas – a time of  consumption and over-indulgence. But far from being for the seasonal Scrooge, buying ethically and consciously at Christmas means all of the joy without the guilt of chucking huge amounts of leftovers in the compost bin and adding to the mountains of rubbish once celebrations are over.

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone! And pass the mince pies...


Nick, Ciara, Dean, Adam, Becky, Liz, Ella and The Global WAKEcup team. xxx

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