Episode 7: A Low-Impact Christmas (Part 2)

Welcome to 3 Changes a Week: your weekly update on how to save the planet?

Last week, we started talking about how we can make our Christmas have a little less of a negative impact on the planet. However, trust me there is more to go.

The main focus of the article will be how to make your decorations eco-friendly – avoiding plastic and disposables. Next, we will talk about Christmas cards – are they necessary? What can we do instead? – and finally, crackers. Crackers are a bit of an issue for me; I love them, but they tend to be unrecyclable treated cardboard and bits of plastic that get thrown away. Not exactly ideal to avoid excess waste.

With that, let’s jump right in.



Ease: ****

Cost: Most of these eco-options are second-hand or homemade, so very cheap!

There’s a lot we can talk about here. Let’s start with the tree.

Natural or fake is a raging debate in the eco-community. Cutting down young trees and using them for a couple of weeks and then ditching them (even though they biodegrade or can be burned) uses a lot of resources. But of course, growing trees is always good to reduce carbon emissions. Compare this to fake trees, which can be used for years without taking any resources, but are ultimately still plastic at the end of their lifetimes, even if this is in decades. The third choice is to have a real tree in a pot that keeps growing and is used year after year and kept outside between Christmases. This is widely thought to be the eco-friendliest option, but it does take effort, and requires space, so might not be doable if you want a large tree.

Therefore, a choice of tree is mostly up to personal opinion and situation. I much prefer having a real tree, and we always source our tree from a local, family-run tree farm, so I feel it is a responsible choice. However, for our student home, we decided it would be much, much easier to have a fake tree, as we can’t really transport a real tree easily. We bagged one from a charity shop for £4.50. Bargain!

When decorating the tree, think about the longevity of the decorations you are using, and where they will go after you are done with them. Tinsel, for example, doesn’t actually last very long. It sheds like crazy, and these bits end up in the bin, then breaks apart into smaller pieces that become unusable and have to be chucked away. These pieces can’t be recycled, and have to go to landfill. Why not make a garland from pieces of Christmassy paper, or, like this one, from origami stars? Even if it tears (which if stored well it shouldn’t) the ripped-off pieces can be recycled and replaced. These garlands can be strung all over the house, and give a much more tasteful Nordic feel than the glitzy tackiness of tinsel.

As for baubles, look for ones that will last, even if this means getting plastic – in all likelihood these decorations are going to last for a long time anyway. We went to a charity shop, asked to see all the baubles they had, and dug through a massive box for an hour to choose all the ones we liked. They simply asked us to make a donation at the end, so this was a ridiculously cheap way of getting decorations. String baubles onto ribbon to make another garland, or hang them from varying lengths of string to make a beautiful and tactile display.

To make an even smaller impact, you could also look for wooden decorations - they might last even longer and can be biodegraded at the end of their life. You could pair these with natural homemade decorations (see below) and the homemade paper garlands I mentioned earlier.

Make sure your table decorations and accessories, such as tablecloths, and napkins, aren’t disposable. Even if it means more washing up after a Christmas party, use proper tableware and plates, and washable cloth napkins and tablecloths. Again, check charity shops for a variety of cheap (and second hand, so doubly eco) options.

Decorations made from plants are the real lifesavers in a low-impact Christmas. Forage bits of greenery and tie together with string or floristry wire (untwist this and save it for the next year) to make into long garlands to drape over mantlepieces and wrap around banisters, to fill vases and plates to make table centrepieces, or to tie onto a reusable wreath base to make a beautiful decoration for the front door. You can also dry out slices of orange in the oven, like this (I found you need to slice the oranges pretty finely), and use them to decorate the wreath alongside sticks of cinnamon and star anise. Or, simply string the oranges and spices together to make a beautiful, wonderfully scented garland in their own right.

Lastly, stay away from anything coated in glitter. Whilst biodegradable glitter is now widely available, glittery baubles and cards and wrapping paper won’t use this. They’ll use normal glitter – a damaging microplastic that sheds everywhere and gets into the ecosystem very easily. Instead, go for the glimmering of candles in glass jars, and fairy lights on the tree.



Ease: *****

Cost: If you decide to ditch cards, this will save you £££

Christmas cards do have a lovely sentiment, and are a good way to keep in contact with distant friends and relations. But they do get thrown out, and usually cannot be recycled – they have been coated in plastic, or have embellishments made of plastic. There are plenty of options here – make your own cards, or choose the least shiny option you can find. Bonus points if the card is already made from recycled paper. You could also send a letter, an email, make a phone call or a pay visit - bring a gift, like a homemade cake, instead! Try not to send cards to people you are going to see at Christmas anyway.

If you get sent cards from people, save them and cut them up the following year to make into gift tags to go on presents. They make a lovely, unique and recycled accessory to a brown paper parcel.


Ease: ***

Cost: Making your own will be just as cheap as buying cheap crackers, and the eco-friendly ready made crackers are £1.35 each

Shop bought crackers are undeniably bad for the environment. Filled with plastic crap, made of unrecyclable plastic-coated card, and supplied in a plastic box. But they’re also an essential part of Christmas. So, what can we do?

The cheapest option is to make our own, using card that can be recycled, and ribbon or string that can be kept and saved for next year, rather than the plastic stuff. See this guide here on how to make them, but choose better materials than they suggest. You can buy the ‘cracker snaps’ to make the fun noise here. Write out a few jokes, make your own hats out of tissue paper and use these to fill. You could either go without gifts in the crackers (the hats are best bit anyway), pop in a small chocolate (but try to avoid those wrapped in plastic), or buy small gifts. Several times at our house we have done a Secret Santa kind of deal, with each getting one person a small gift to go in their cracker. This can be great fun!

There are also a few places that sell eco-friendly crackers, if you want an easier option. Take a look at these ones, which have a snap, hat and joke, although no gift.

Lastly, you could always go without, and simply have a paper hat and a small wrapped gift or chocolate on everyone’s plate when you sit down for Christmas dinner. This is still great fun!


Made these changes our already doing them? Post a picture to Instagram or Twitter and tag it to #3changesaweek to spread the word!