There is no getting around it, the festive season is a carbon-intensive time of year.

Most of us are shopping, travelling, eating and drinking more than any other time of year – and in fact using around 5.5% of our annual carbon footprint over only three days.

In this blog, we share 12 ways you can reduce your carbon footprint this Christmas.

1. Christmas cards

In the UK we send about 150 million Christmas cards a year. Sending just one card produces 140 grams of carbon dioxide; although that will lessen as the Royal Mail expands its electric vehicle fleet. That’s equivalent to powering 200 average UK homes for a whole year.

Just making a few tweaks to how you send out your greetings this year could make a difference. From making sure you choose 100% recyclable cards, swerving the glitter (it ends up in landfill), and delivering on foot where you can. Emails, e-cards or phone calls are much lower carbon options for friends that live abroad.

2. Christmas trees

Real or fake trees – the age-old question. In terms of carbon it’s much better to go for a real one as long as it is disposed of correctly after Christmas, by woodchipping, burning or better still – replanting. Most local councils and many local charities have a tree collection scheme.

Artificial trees have a carbon footprint of around 40kg. They aren’t recyclable and most are only used for four years before being binned. So, if you are going to go for a fake one, make sure you choose one that will last you a long time (10+ years) to reduce its carbon impact.

3. Wrapping paper

227,000 miles of wrapping paper is used each year in the UK. That’s enough to go around the world nine times.

Unwrapping presents is a true joy, particularly for the young (and young minded). You can reduce your impact by choosing recycled and recyclable options, or reusing what has already been given to you instead of buying more. Make sure that anything you can’t save for next year goes straight into the recycling bin (unless it’s glittery or plasticised).

4. Glass

13350 tonnes of glass is sent to landfill during December and January every year. Recycling all that glass would save about 4,200 tonnes of CO2. This is equivalent to taking 1,300 cars off the road for a year.

We all enjoy a Christmas drink, alcoholic or otherwise. Just make sure that all of those bottles end up in your recycling bin or a bottle bank, and not at the bottom of a black bag.

5. Unwanted presents

People across the UK are expected to get £1 billion worth of unwanted Christmas presents, according to the Royal Mint.

A great way to reduce this waste is to focus on buying the gifts that family and friends have specifically asked for. You could even consider doing a Secret Santa so that everyone gets fewer presents, but ones that they really want.

Shop from small or ethical businesses to take excess plastic packaging out of the mix too.

6. Fairy lights

An extravagant lighting display can cost as much as £210 to power for 12 days over Christmas. On the flip side, LED lights use about 90% less energy than incandescent and last much longer too.

Remember to switch them off before bed and take any old or unwanted lights to your local recycling centre.  

7. Plastic and packaging

The Christmas season generates a huge amount of plastic waste, with an additional 125,000 tonnes collected in January bins. That’s five times heavier than the Statue of Liberty.

Think about ways you can reduce your personal plastic footprint – gifting items without plastic packaging, buying vegetables loose, refilling detergents and recycling everything that you can. It takes a lot less energy and natural resources to recycle than to manufacture from raw materials. Read more about how plastic is linked with climate change here.

8. Christmas dinner

The carbon emissions from all of the UK’s Christmas dinners is equivalent to a car travelling around the world 6000 times.

Christmas dinner is an eagerly anticipated meal. But a traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings has a big carbon footprint, mostly from the lifecycle of the animals.

A grandmother bakes with her granddaughter.

Now we aren’t saying you have to go vegan (although a fully vegan roast has 50% fewer emissions than a meat roast) but there are some clever swaps you can make to reduce carbon with no compromise on flavour. These include making plant-based stuffing, sticking to just one form of meat, and filling up the majority of your plate with delicious, locally grown vegetables.

9. Food waste

We bin 230,000 tonnes of food over Christmas – that’s as heavy as the empire state building.

Not only is it wasteful, but waste food eventually rots which releases methane into the atmosphere. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of greenhouse gases after the US and China.

This Christmas, try to only buy what you think will get eaten. Freeze portions or get creative with leftover meals in the haze between Christmas and New Year. Donate unopened packets and cans to your local food bank and use your food waste bin for peelings and vegetable leftovers.

10. Aluminium

From canned drinks to mince pie wrappers, we use a lot of extra aluminium over Christmas. Manufacturing new aluminium is a very energy and carbon intensive process, but producing it from recycled materials uses 95% less energy. While cans normally make it into the recycling, smaller bits of foil often don’t.

This Christmas, make sure that the foil is free from crumbs and food and scrunch items together into as big a ball as you can before placing it into the recycling.

11. Festive clothes

A man in a festive jumper holds a small child.

Fast fashion is a huge cause of carbon emissions. According to Hubbub, a third of under 35s buys a new Christmas jumper every year.

But it’s not just the throwaway nature of Christmas jumpers that is the problem, it’s also the materials they are made from. 95% of high street Christmas jumpers are made wholly or partly from acrylic, a synthetic material that sheds plastic microfibres into our water streams every time it is washed.

Instead of buying new festive clothing, look for second hand items – they get such little wear that they will be as good as new. Sell, donate or swap clothing you no longer wear yourself.

12. Driving home for Christmas

Last year an estimated 12.8 million cars hit the road on the 23rd and 24th December – that’s a third of all cars licenced in the UK.

Travel in a carbon-conscious way this Christmas. If you’re going solo, it’s nearly always more efficient to get public transport – that seat on a train has nearly 75% fewer emissions than driving a petrol car. If you must take the car, think about filling all the seats or lift sharing for less carbon per person. Travelling outside of peak times reduces emissions, as does cruising in the left hand lane – the most efficient speed is around 55mph.

For more ideas on cutting your carbon footprint, why not check out some of our other blogs?

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