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How to Have an Eco-Friendly Christmas: Gifts and Cards

Published on December 13th 2019
a package wrapped in brown paper and string
Christmas is one of the most challenging times of year to be environmentally-friendly – and cutting your carbon footprint during the festive season can sometimes seem like an impossible task.
But it is possible to celebrate – and have fun – without putting extra pressure on our planet. Here are some tips for a more eco-friendly Christmas.


Christmas is the perfect time to support local businesses – and in doing so, you will help boost the local economy.
Support local businesses this Christmas
Locally produced food and drink make welcome gifts. You could even put together a hamper of organic goodies from your local farmers' market or farm shop. Or try making your own food gifts, such as chutney, chocolates, cakes or cookies.
Every Christmas, thousands of tonnes of plastic packaging are sent to landfill. Choosing presents that are free from packaging – and need no wrapping – is one way to avoid adding to the waste mountain.
a wheelie bin after christmas
Cinema tickets, theatre tokens, magazine subscriptions or a day at a spa all make welcome gifts and need no wrapping.
English Heritage membership can provide a whole year’s worth of family days out; RHS membership is great for gardeners; and BTO offers a gift membership, including books and a magazine subscription, that would be ideal for birdwatchers.
Gifts from charity shops and catalogues can help wildlife or people in need. The RSPB shop, for example, has a great range of gift ideas for wildlife gardeners, while WWF offers the opportunity to adopt a tiger, dolphin or polar bear.
A WWF sign on a pole
Adopting an animal with WWF comes with a gift package that includes a cuddly toy and fact pack containing bookmarks and stickers.


A pile of beautifully wrapped presents under the Christmas tree is a heart-warming sight. But while unwrapping a gift takes just a few seconds, the discarded paper could end up spending years in a landfill and is one of the largest sources of festive waste.
Thick, glossy paper (which is often coated in plastic), and paper containing glitter or foil, can’t be recycled. Neither can sticky tape, or plastic ribbons and bows.
But if you want to wrap your gifts in an eco-conscious way, there are plenty of alternatives to traditional wrapping paper.
Old road maps or Ordnance Survey maps make great wrapping paper.
Magazines are another option, especially if you match the subject to the gift – for example, packets of vegetable seeds in the pages of a gardening magazine, or baking equipment in a cookery magazine.
Even newspaper can look festive when fastened with a colourful, fabric bow (which can then be saved and reused).
When only traditional wrapping paper will do, look for 100% recycled wrapping paper – this is usually recyclable as well. Or choose plain brown parcel paper to create simple packages – tied with natural string and adorned with sprigs of fresh greenery, these can look lovely.
In Japan, presents are wrapped in Furoshiki – beautiful cloths, that can be reused over and over again. You can make or buy Furoshiki – or why not wrap a gift in a tea-towel or scarf, so that the wrapping is part of the gift as well?
If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can create simple drawstring gift bags.
There are lots of lovely fabrics to choose from, including festive designs – or search in charity shops for suitable fabrics and secondhand clothes to upcycle.
You could also look out for attractive, reusable bags when out shopping. Inexpensive shopping bags made from cotton or jute are easy to find – and packing a gift up in one of these will give the recipient two gifts in one!


Millions of Christmas cards are bought in the UK each year – and many of these will end up in the bin.

An electronic alternative

While it’s lovely to send and receive Christmas greetings, there are more sustainable options than traditional cards.
Charity e-cards are available from many organisations, including WWF and Macmillan. E-cards can be sent right up to Christmas Eve, and can be sent all around the world – so they’re great if you’ve missed the last Christmas posting date.

A tasty alternative

If you have kids at school, they could be exchanging 30 or more cards with their classmates.
Taking in a bag of sweets, chocolates or homemade cookies to share is one (often popular) alternative. And at work, you could have a similar arrangement with colleagues – or suggest that everyone donates to charity instead.
Ty trading cards in for cookies

New life for old cards

Once the festive season is over, cards that don’t contain glitter or other embellishments can be recycled – or you can transform them into gift tags for next year.
You can reuse old cards for decorations and wrapping next year

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