How to give sustainable Christmas presents

It has been found that around £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents are thrown out in landfill each year. This year, why not focus on giving thoughtfully and responsibly – it’s easier than you think!

Present wrapped in paper and twine against a christmas tree background
The problem of waste at Christmas

Christmas is a time for giving, but our seasonal urge to be generous has got tangled up with a consumerist, throwaway lifestyle that is harming our environment. In the UK, we spend about £25 billion on Christmas presents every year: around £500 per adult – that’s a lot of money, and a lot of potential to be very wasteful. Often, the pressure to give presents can be stressful for families struggling to make ends meet.

“The UK produces an additional 3 million tonnes of waste at Christmas and fills 100 million bin bags every year. Landfill produces high-levels of methane gas and CO2, as rubbish rots in the ground, causing global warming. And just one single tonne of landfill costs us £56 in taxes, which can pay for more than a few mince pies.’’

Jade Brenner, The Independent
Suggestions for a more sustainable Christmas

Here are some ideas for how you can have a more sustainable Christmas that is good for your wellbeing, your budget and our planet.

  • Give your time. Instead of giving a physical gift, offering your time is a great way of showing how much you care about someone. You can offer your labour or a skill – for example, help with the gardening, with babysitting or with a decorating task. You could suggest a walk together or an evening watching a favourite film or cooking together. Making a nice card to accompany your offer will make it even more special and personal.
  • Give an experience. If you can’t give your own time, you can give your loved ones the chance to spend theirs in a fun or rewarding way. This could be a voucher for a two-hour introduction to playing an instrument, tickets to a spa, a special meal out in a restaurant, or membership of a group or charity they have an interest in. This is not a zero-carbon option, but it’s often less resource-intensive than a physical gift, and usually involves a lot less packaging!
  • Give something second-hand. Buying new doesn’t necessarily mean a better present. With plenty of options such as charity shops, websites such as eBay, and vintage shops, you can pick up a thoughtful gift often at a cheaper price. By buying second-hand instead of new, you are more likely to find unique items or items that might end up in landfill otherwise.
  • Make your own gifts. If you have a creative skill, your friends and family will appreciate the time you have put into your gift. Cooking or baking is often a sustainable gift idea, for example. This also gives you the opportunity to learn a new skill for making future presents, and can often work out cheaper than buying the item!
  • Buy responsibly. You can reduce your environmental impact by shopping locally and from small businesses where possible. You should also consider whether the gift you are buying will be valued and used by its recipient for a long time, as this will reduce the chances that the item will end up in landfill. Or you could buy local food and drink, or even make your own themed gift hamper. Browse your local independently owned food stores and see what you can find.

If you’re going to change your present-giving habits, start talking to the people around you early on in the season. Be prepared for some resistance, be flexible and sympathetic, and reassure them that you still care for and value them. Encourage them to join you on your mission to create a better Christmas that can also help to build a better future for our planet.

We’ve written a guide on talking to people of different ages about why it’s important to be sustainable at Christmas, despite what we are told by big corporations each year!

We would love to hear from you about what you are doing this year to have a more sustainable festive season. Use the hashtag #candosouthyorkshire on social media to share your tips!