In the movies, Christmas is always perfect. The kids keep their matching festive pyjamas clean, the tree is perfectly decorated. All the adults get along fine and no one gets stroppy drunk.
The presents are perfectly wrapped, the roast potatoes are perfectly crisp. Outside it snows, bathing perfect streets in a perfectly soft white light. Everything is happy and harmonious.
But in reality, the kids fight, the adults argue, the potatoes get burnt and it rains.
The thought of Christmas is enough to send many of us running for the hills and willing it to be January already. Added to that, all the over consumption and excessiveness makes us feel frustrated.
Particularly so when it comes to plastic. Plastic is everywhere, especially in December. So the idea of a plastic free Christmas can feel like an unattainable dream.
Plastic toys, decorations, unwanted Secret Santas and Christmas cracker crap is ubiquitous. Not to mention all the food and drink that comes in jolly coloured plastic.
But it’s still possible to have a plastic free Christmas. Here’s our guide to removing plastic from your gifts, decorations, cards, food, drink and more. Perhaps you’ll try them all, or you’ll take things one step at a time and tackle a new area each year.
Whatever you do, you’ll be making a difference and having an impact. Here’s how!
De-Plastic-Ing the Decorations
In my circles, my wooden Christmas tree is infamous. Some love the simplicity of its wooden planks arranged in a two dimensional tree shape.
But most people think it’s a copout and have a distinct look of disappointment when they see it. One friend even said she felt cheated by a Christmas soiree I once held because the “tree isn’t even 3D, let alone green”. (I think she was only joking.)
My completely fabulous sustainable Christmas tree isn’t to everyone’s taste. But each year I drag it down from the loft, I feel virtuous knowing that it’s made from sustainable wood and is plastic free.
I bought mine from Culture Vulture, an online ethical marketplace. But I’m told by my carpenter brother a similar tree could be made from branches or cutoffs you might find in a garden shed.
You don’t have to go down the wooden route. Real trees are beautiful – lookout for a pot grown tree that has roots. If you have green fingers, you’ll be able to reuse it next year. Also, try to buy one that’s been grown locally, or at least in the UK, in a responsibly managed forest.
When it comes to decorations, don’t throw out all that tinsel and old baubles because they’re made from plastic. Keep them going as long as possible before buying anything new.
If you’re in the market for new ones, Etsy has a great range of plastic free Christmas decorations. Many are traditional wooden decorations that will last for years. There’s plenty of contemporary options too, all free from plastic.
Looking for garlands and greenery? Try a natural Christmas wreath and decorate to your own tastes.
Failing that, you could always make your own decorations. Get the kids involved or get some friends round for a crafternoon of making and creating. You can use old sweet wrappers to cover wine corks. Or used (clean) tin foil, eco glitter and twigs, berries and other greenery from the garden.
I recently saw a wreath made using all manner of old kids toys and broken stuff. It’s amazing and has given me a few ideas!
Sorting out the Stocking Fillers
Ah, the ol’ Christmas stocking. Every kid (or grownup kid) has to have one, but does anyone really know what to put in them? I always got a satsuma and an apple, and usually a pencil and notepad.
Now, the internet is awash with images of stockings filled with expensive gifts. And that’s without the piles of presents under the tree. (The social media humble brag is particularly noticeable at Christmas.)
I think stocking fillers should go back to basics. A plastic free Christmas morning can begin with some fruit and eco pencils.
You could also pop in some homemade chocolates. Little notes that promise a day out at the seaside or a trip to the cinema can also go down a treat.
Plastic Free Christmas Gifts for the Kids – Help!
In my day, it was all about the Argos catalogue. Circling all the things we thought Santa was going to bring us brought my siblings and I such joy.
Now it’s more of an online thing, but the premise is the same. Kids want the latest toy or gadget that is inevitably going to be made of plastic.
Convincing your child that they want a wooden train instead of whatever the must have this year is, will be hard. In fact, it might prove to be the trickiest part of your plastic free Christmas.
But if you do, or you manage to win the battle of the grandparent who wants to buy the biggest amount of plastic – well done!
Eco friendly toys are becoming much more popular. Choose from wooden toys and instruments or fun grow your own herb sets. Books and fabric dolls are also a safe bet, as are cars and trains made from metal. As much as you can, opt for British made to reduce shipping related carbon emissions.
Experiences are also great ideas for older kids. Promise to take them to a festival, on a camping trip or to a museum or art gallery. Make sure they have a say in where you’re going and hopefully you’ll all have a grand time!
Plastic Free Gifts for the Adults
Buying thoughtful, considered plastic free gifts for adult loved ones is fairly easy.
There are plenty of zero waste gift ideas. Look for reusable coffee cups, cutlery sets and water bottles to spread the eco message.
Homemade gifts are thoughtful and usually well received. Hampers are great but usually come wrapped in reams of cellophane, so have a go at making your own.
Fill a basket with homemade jams and chutneys or even your homebrew beer. Add in some plastic free chocolate and fancy bath products and it’s a hamper to be proud of.
Promises to go on day trips and other outings, or to spend more time together is great for adults as well as kids.
Saying No to Secret Santa
Nothing screams “pointless waste of money on a piece of plastic” than the office Secret Santa. Try to encourage colleagues to choose eco friendly or homemade gifts. Or you could all write dares on a piece of paper instead, but that could be risky…
Good luck though. I’m not sure who will be harder to convince – kids without stockings or colleagues without Secret Santa.
Plastic Free Christmas Cards and Wrapping Paper
So you’ve bought all your plastic free Christmas gifts and now you need to wrap them all. But wait, what’s that? Glitter all over your wrapping paper, aaargh!!
Glitter is made from plastic, and glittery wrapping paper can’t be recycled. It’ll either end up in landfill where it’ll stay forever or it’ll contaminate batches of recycling which will mean it all gets sent to landfill.
A good rule of thumb is if you scrunch up some wrapping paper and it stays scrunched up, it can be recycled. If it’s shiny, plastic-y or glittery, and bounces back when you’ve scrunched it, it can’t be recycled.
If you still have some glittery paper leftover from last year, use it rather than throwing it away. If you need to buy more (who doesn’t, every year?) then look for plastic-free wrapping paper.
Gift bags are a good option. Just watch out for the shop bought ones, they often have a little piece of plastic at the top to hang them from the shelves. They’re more likely to be reused though, and negate the need for Sellotape.
Reusable wrapping paper is actually a thing too. I’ve been wrapping presents in new (100% cotton) tea towels for a while now. I tie the package together with the string that I save each week from my veg box. It doesn’t look as neat, but who’s looking at the wrapping?
Tea towels aside, you can use old scraps of fabric or reusable cotton shopping bags. Or you can buy reusable wrapping paper from places such as Etsy.
I’ve also been known to wrap gifts in the paper wrapping from my plastic free toilet paper. Although be careful if you buy yours from Who Gives a Crap. There’s always going to be a few relatives who get offended by sweary gift wrap.
Eco friendly Christmas cards are now widely available. Look for cards that are free from glitter and other plastic adornments. Or look for cards made using plastic free eco glitter.
The All Important Christmas Food and Drink
Second only to all the plastic toys, what we eat and drink at Christmas accounts for a helluva lot of plastic.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. From the turkey to the trimmings and beyond, you can take a step further towards a plastic free Christmas.
‘Meating’ Your Expectations
Buying a turkey from a supermarket inevitably means buying it in plastic. The same goes for all other meats you might have as your table centrepiece.
Buying direct from the farm or farmers market means you could collect it in your own packaging. You may also be able to do this if you pre order from a supermarket.
Plastic Free Fruit and Veg
Ordering a veg box from somewhere such as Abel & Cole means you’ll be reducing plastic consumption.
Supermarkets are getting much better at offering plastic free veg options too. I find Sainsbury’s really good for this.
Snacking Free From Plastic
When it comes to nibbles, it’s tricky. You can buy walnuts and peanuts loose from farmer’s markets. But if you want something more exciting, you’ll need to be more creative.
Home baking is always a winner. This mince pie recipe from everyone’s favourite baker Paul Hollywood is a Christmas cracker (sorry).
If you have a zero waste shop near you, you can buy most baking ingredients plastic free too. Our zero waste shop directory will help you find your nearest plastic free store.
Zero waste shops are also great for finding treats such as chocolate covered nuts and crystallised ginger. Old fashioned style sweet shops are also good for buying sweets in paper bags.
The Perfect Plastic Free Drinks Trolley
As if the wine gods were answering our plastic free prayers, most alcohol comes in glass bottles. This includes bubbly, wine, mulled wine, gin, vodka and beer.
If you have a retro cocktail cabinet like I do, you’ll also know that drinks that are only acceptable at Christmas come in glass bottles. I’m talking martini, advocaat and Babycham. (You know you drink them. We all do, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.)
The only thing to watch out for is the new style wine cork made from plastic rather than cork. It can be tricky knowing which bottles have a plastic cork, but once you find one you like with a real cork, stick to it. Or, opt for bottles with metal screw top lids.
Packs of beers in recyclable cans are great. But watch out for the plastic casing that can hold them together. Buy beers in cardboard boxes instead.
Many soft drinks and mixers come in metal cans or glass bottles, but others tend to come in plastic bottles. Where possible, try to stick to cans and glass. Or try making homemade lemonade!
Going Crackers for Plastic Free Christmas Crackers
In the autumn, I was witness (on Facebook) to two friends discussing a frantic festive search. The must have? Plastic free Christmas crackers from homeware store Dunelm.
Thinking about Christmas crackers in the autumn fills me with horror. But the thought of 100% recyclable crackers fills me with joy. As does the thought that they were so popular, they’re now sold out.
But never fear, Etsy has a great range of plastic free Christmas crackers. The range includes reusable fabric crackers that you can fill with goodies each year.
You could write your own jokes too – the more terrible the better. Or make up a game of charades or Who Am I? Then you can pop in some boiled sweets from a tin, nuts or homemade truffles.
You might struggle to find paper hats. But who wants to fall asleep after lunch in a paper hat anyway? Especially in the age of social media where pictures can be seen by everyone.
Your Plastic Free Christmas Doesn’t Have to Be Hero or Zero
Going plastic free is a huge challenge. Especially so at Christmas, the season of excess plastic and high expectations.
Even if during the rest of the year you limit your plastic consumption, it’s going to be a tough call at Christmas. So you don’t have to do it all.
Nor should you think that if you can’t find plastic free Christmas crackers, you have to give up and dive into a bargain bin of plastic stocking fillers.
Perhaps this year you could concentrate on avoiding plastic toys? Or maybe you’d like to buy your turkey and all your vegetables free from plastic?
Then next year, add eco friendly Christmas cards before looking for those elusive plastic free crackers. (Without going crackers in the process. Sorry, again.)
Eco goodies are generally more expensive than mass produced, plastic versions. So only do what you can.
There’s always going to be outside influences. In your quest for less plastic, plastic will be brought into your home. But in time, and with your influence, you may sway others to make more considered purchases.
You never know, the battle of the grandparents might even turn into one where they try to out green each other.
You can also use the run up to this Christmas to learn for next year. Join local crafting groups and learn a new skill now, so that you can begin making homemade gifts for next year. Who cares if your knitted scarf is a little wonky or your woodcraft skills aren’t quite to Hamley’s standards?
Each year, even with the best intentions, some plastic will be inevitable. Either during the last minute shopping or because an alternative isn’t available.
So don’t punish yourself for ‘bad’ purchases. Revel in the knowledge that in other areas of your eco friendly Christmas, you’ve been amazing.
Now give yourself a festive high five and pour yourself a mulled wine. You’re most definitely on the nice list this year!