Nov 29, 2021

Easy ways to have a less wasteful Christmas

Words by First Mile

If you’re dreaming of a green Christmas this year, you’re not alone.

Increasing concern for the environment means a lot of us are turning our backs on the consumerism and waste of the festive season. We want to celebrate, but we don’t want it to cost the earth.

Luckily, there are ways that we can be kind to the planet, as well as each other, at this time of year.

Unwanted gifts

It’s been estimated that over 21 million of us receive at least one unwanted gift every Christmas. And one in ten of us admit to deliberately buying a gift for someone even though we know they won’t like it. By Boxing Day, around 20% of our gifts are on already on their way to landfill .

How can you avoid giving (or receiving) unwanted gifts?

  • Think twice before buying clothing, cosmetics or fragrances – these are the most unpopular gifts.
  • Ask friends and family what they want before buying them anything. If you want to surprise them, ask for a few ideas and then pick one.
  • Consider reaching an agreement to only give presents to the children in the family (and make sure you ask what they want).
  • Tell people what you want. Maybe ask for experiences instead of things – such as tickets or vouchers, subscriptions or annual membership. If you don’t want anything at all, suggest a donation to a charity of your choice instead.

Remember that presents don’t necessarily have to be brand new. Play your part in the circular economy and support reuse by choosing unique gifts from second-hand shops and online stores.

And if you still end up receiving unwanted gifts this year, here are some ideas about what to do with them instead of throwing them in the bin.

Paper and cardboard

We throw away roughly 227,000 miles of wrapping paper every Christmas. Add to this all the cardboard and packaging material we use up at this time of year, plus the cards we send (around 150 million), and that adds up to a lot of rubbish.

How can you make sustainable choices with cards and wrapping paper?

  • Send e-cards to friends and family instead of paper cards and donate the money saved to charity.
  • Stop wrapping presents in paper and switch to fabric instead (like these reusable cotton fabric wraps), or use reusable paper gift bags, newspapers, magazines or recycled brown paper.
  • If you can’t imagine Christmas without the paper wrapping, choose recycled paper. Avoid the glittery, shiny stuff because it’s full of microplastics that can’t be recycled. The same goes for cards.
  • Take a look at First Mile’s Cut the Wrap campaign that encourages people to make more sustainable wrapping choices.


In the UK the average family throws away the equivalent of four million Christmas dinners. As well as being bad for our pockets, this is really bad for our planet.

What can you do to avoid food waste at Christmas?

  • Don’t panic buy. Remember that supermarkets generally stay open for most of the festive period, apart from the Bank Holidays.
  • Make a list and stick to it. Limit the ‘just in case’ food.
  • Be mindful of ‘use by’ (not to be confused with ‘best before’) dates on meat, dairy and other fresh products. Will they still be safe to eat when you need them?
  • Store food properly. For example, a festive fruit bowl might look lovely, but all that fruit will last much longer if you keep it in the fridge instead.
  • Leftovers are actually tasty ingredients for your next meal. Use them up, don’t throw them away.

Take a look here for more tips. And consider using First Mile’s food-waste service to transform your uneaten mince pies and leftover turkey into renewable energy.

Christmas trees

Artificial trees are made from a mixture of materials, including plastics, so they can’t be recycled. But can it ever be eco-friendly to cut down trees? Surprisingly, real trees tend to be the more planet-friendly choice as they absorb carbon while they grow, as well as being renewable and offering a home to wildlife.

Real or fake tree?

  • If you already own a fake tree, the best thing you can do for the environment is to keep using it for as long as possible (and then give it to a charity for resale and reuse when you decide to get rid of it).
  • If you want a real tree, buy one from a sustainable source, ideally with an FSC logo or approved by the Soil Association. And make sure it’s recycled later, rather than sent to landfill.
  • Consider renting your real tree. There are lots of farms that rent out trees, then replant them once the celebrations are over.

First Mile can recycle Christmas trees into compost which can be used to grow next year’s trees.


Plastic can be really useful, but plastic pollution is a huge problem for the planet. There are an estimated five trillion pieces floating in our oceans, which are killing around 100,000 marine animals every year.

How can you celebrate Christmas without adding to plastic pollution?

  • If you want to send cards, avoid the glittery ones: they’re full of microplastics that will end up in landfill and the ocean (not to mention, us).
  • Tinsel and baubles are often made of plastic. Keep reusing the ones you already have, but, if you need new ones, you can buy (or make) plastic-free decorations, such as dried orange garlands and origami stars. Etsy have a great range of plastic-free Christmas decorations available.
  • Avoid Christmas crackers containing plastic toys that will just end up in the bin. Ideally, choose crackers made of recycled materials. You can even buy fabric crackers that you can reuse year after year.
  • Buy wine bottles with corks, not screw caps (which normally contain an inner plastic seal). And buy beer in boxes to avoid the six-pack plastic rings.
  • Look for vegetables and meat that isn’t wrapped in plastic (visit your local butcher and take your own container for the meat).

One of the best things we can do for the planet this Christmas is remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Let’s all do our best to keep Christmas wonderful this year, not wasteful.

By First Mile


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