Enjoy a more sustainable Christmas

It’s that time of year again - so indulge in some festive cheer, exchanging gifts and sharing food and drink in celebration.

Last year it was reported that we will throwaway 108 million rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas time. This alarming waste statistic should be enough to stop you reaching for that brand new shiny festive roll.

The team at Ethical Consumer has researched the shopping habits and festive traditions of the nation - and has sought to find sustainable alternatives to help make this Christmas an enjoyable experience that doesn’t cost the earth.

In this article we list a host of ways to celebrate a more environmentally friendly Christmas.

Reduce the plastic

From wrapped gifts to festive food, Christmas can often come with a whole lot of pointless packaging.

Consider your décor

This can be a bit of a challenge with shops filled with plastic decorations from tinsel to trees without much of it being produced in a sustainable way.
If you haven't got a Christmas tree already buy a real one. Just make sure it comes in a pot with a root ball so you can replant it and use it again next year. If you already have a plastic tree,  re-use it rather than buying something else.  If you want to add some new decorations this year rather than dusting off the old ones, then edible home made iced-gingerbread make a great alternative to bought ones.

The dreaded wrapping paper

Last year it was reported that we will throwaway 108 million rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas time. This alarming waste statistic should be enough to stop you reaching for that brand new shiny festive roll.

Any wrapping paper that has glitter on it, or has been lined with a super thin coating of plastic can’t be recycled. A quick test to check, courtesy of Recycle Now [https://www.recyclenow.com], is ‘if it scrunches it can be recycled’.

If you haven't already hoarded away last year's wrapping paper in preparation, get creative with newspaper, ends of wallpaper or old fabric. However, if you can't resist that festive print, you can find 100% recycled wrapping paper online.
But why waste materials and money on something that will be thrown away?

Get creative with your gifts

Gifts that are created with love and thought, as well as combating consumerism, are always welcome, particularly if you have a creative streak.  Biscuits, soaps and candles are easy and fun to make and there are thousands of recipes and ideas online. You have complete control over the ingredients, so you can choose Fair Trade, organic and natural products. Make sure you use recycled packaging, such as old jam jars to make your gifts as sustainable as possible.

Buy less stuff

Giving the gift of an experience is a simple way to buy a present for a loved-one without increasing the amount of physical stuff in their lives. Theatre tickets, gallery and museum passes, membership to organisations like the Woodland Trust or digital magazine subscriptions (there’s a really useful one called Ethical Consumer) all make ideal presents.

Last year it was reported that we will throwaway 108 million rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas time. This alarming waste statistic should be enough to stop you reaching for that brand new shiny festive roll.

Green and ethical presents

If you are going to be buying presents this year, plan ahead and choose organic or recycled items, or new gifts that have been made in the most sustainable way. There’s detailed guides online to a whole array of gift ideas, but here are some ideas to start with.

Perfume and aftershave

Perfumers are legally allowed to keep their ingredients list a secret, which means it's often hard to work out whether a perfume contains animal ingredients or dodgy toxic chemicals. However, our Best Buy brands are vegan, that ensures no animal ingredients and are cruelty-free. Plus they also don’t contain parabens. Our Best Buys for perfume and aftershave are Dolma, Fairypants, Neal’s Yard, and Weleda.


Shun ‘fast fashion’ and the novelty Christmas jumper and instead choose something stylish and sustainable from a fashion brand with a conscience. We recommend Know the Origin, Brothers We Stand, and People Tree. There are also plenty more in our dedicated ethical fashion retailers guide. There’s a newly updated guide to underwear to help you find the most ethical pair of socks or undies. We recommend PICO and PACT brands.


Electronics are often a big gift at Christmas time, and buying a new phone or laptop is often a bit of an ethical minefield and we therefore recommend that you buy second-hand or refurbished equipment wherever possible.

If you do want to buy new, we recommend: Fairphone from our Mobile Phones Guide; Sony’s PVC and BFR-free models from our Digital Cameras Guide; Apple iPad or Asus Zenpad from our Tablets Guide; and Lenovo Thinkpad from our Laptops Guide.


Books are wonderful gifts for adults and children alike, but instead of buying new why not shop for a good second-hand or even vintage read? Check out Better World Books that sells new and used books online and donates a portion of profits to charity, or Hive.co.uk who donates a portion of its sales to local independent bookstores. Ebooks.com is our best buy for e-books, where you can buy gift vouchers and give recommendations.

Don’t stress - hit the high street if you're stuck

There’s always a forgotten present to buy which means you might not have the time to spend researching the most sustainable options available. In anticipation of this happening, Ethical Consumer has selected the most ethical high street stores where you could pick up any last minute gifts.

Lush - This company refuses to test on animals and tries to use only natural ingredients. They are Fair Tax Mark certified and an accredited Living Wage employer.
The Co-op Group - The Co-op sells everything from food to electricals. They now have food stores in most town centres and are a leader in ethics. They recently released a new "Co-operative Way" action plan that sets out their commitment to a tackling a number of issues including climate change and waste. They are a Fair Tax Mark certified organisation.
Marks and Spencer - Marks and Spencer is a cornerstone of the British high street. In the Ethical Consumer recent guide to supermarkets it came second to the Co-op Group. It also came second in the supply chain ranking and score table in the Ethical Consumer clothes shops guide.
WH Smith - WH Smith is the only large bookseller to score a best rating in the Ethical Consumer 'Alternatives to Amazon' bookshops guide for both their environmental reporting and supply chain management.

John Lewis - The John Lewis' Partnership is an employee-owned business with the workers sharing in company profits and having a say in how the business is run.

And finally, chocolate - without the palm oil

It’s everywhere, from tree decorations to advent calendars and selection boxes infact its estimated that over 50% of products in our supermarkets contain palm oil, with everything from shampoos and soaps to biscuits and pies listing the ingredient.

Unfortunately the variety there’s a really high  chance that palm oil is going to be an ingredient in your chocolate or selection box . Fillings and flavourings that are involved in creating chocolate bars and boxes of chocolates often contain the ingredient making it hard to avoid. also means that.

Until consumers can be reassured that sustainable sources of palm oil really stand up to scrutiny, more and more ethical shoppers are opting for palm oil free chocolate products.

Our Palm Oil Free list has been hugely popular. With the big brands like Cadbury, Green & Blacks and Nestle still using palm oil, our research has found that many of the smaller, independent companies that are committed to Fairtrade ingredients and a concern for workers rights, are also those that are creating chocolates without the use of palm oil.

A great chocolate brand to try this Christmas is Divine, an Ethical Consumer best buy. It’s co-owned by the 85,000 farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa. Their Fairtrade advent calendars, chocolate coins and chocolate hampers can be bought direct via their online shop, and from a range of high street stores including the Co-op, Waitrose and Oxfam. Also ranking highly in the Ethiscore table is Booja Booja who offers organic, dairy, gluten and soya free, chocolate truffles in beautiful boxes.

Wishing you all the best for a happy, healthy and sustainable Christmas!

This Author

Tim Hunt is a director at Ethical Consumer magazine.

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