- Hugo Douglas-Deane
The Ultimate Eco-Friendly Christmas Gift Guide
Updated: Dec 16, 2022
The Christmas season is a great opportunity to take some time off and spend it with friends and loved ones. And as a nation, when it comes to the big day we sure do love to give gifts!
Sometimes these are things we know they need and will make great use of, and that’s great! It can be so rewarding seeing the scarf you bought a friend worn years later, or your dad still making recipes from the Jamie Oliver couscous cookbook you bought him seven years ago.
Unfortunately, many of us will know how common it is to get something you don’t need or will make use of. That awkward feeling of unwrapping something someone bought in a last minute Christmas sale plagues people across Britain.
Reducing Waste At Christmas
Unfortunately, presents like these often end up in a drawer or somewhere – or worse, in landfill. As the Grinch says…
“Gifts, gifts... gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts, gifts! You wanna know what happens to your gifts? They all come to me. In your garbage. You see what I'm saying? In your garbage.”
Each year we throw away approximately £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents which end up in landfill. If you ask us, that’s way scarier than the Grinch himself!
There are plenty of ways to switch up how you do things at Christmas, and there are loads of great eco-friendly gifts you can buy to reduce waste, show you really care, and save money, too!
There are loads of other places you can reduce waste at Christmas, like the dinner table with more sustainable christmas crackers made from recycled materials.
For now though let’s start with a few ways of switching up how you do Christmas gifting to begin with.
👉 Go straight to the gift guides 🎁
1. Sustainable Secret Santa
OK. It’s a bit of a marmite one. But instating a Secret Santa decree to your family or friend group can save you from gift inertia. Everyone saves money, and doing a Secret Santa makes the process of sweaty and stressful Christmas shopping infinitely more manageable!
Having just one person to buy for will naturally lead to better gift choices, fewer last-minute dud presents, and ultimately less waste, since you’re choosing more considered gifts.
Secret Santa also saves you from the pain of trying to consider the likes and dislikes of ten different people while you’re in a to buy something for each of your cousins, aunties and uncles – or the boyfriend of your mate, who you’ve only met once in a loud pub.
There’s also a great sense of fun, mystery and surprise to the experience of doing a Secret Santa. Of course, there may be a few instances of devious colluding and person-swapping behind the scenes, but if you promise to play by the rules it can be a real surprise on Christmas Day! Even better if you choose to keep the secret until after everything’s opened.
2. Buy Local & Independent
Instead of shopping at large chain stores, consider supporting small and local businesses. These businesses often have a more sustainable approach to production and packaging, and smaller supply chains, leading to fewer land, air and sea miles before it arrives in the lucky hands of your gift recipient.
If your giftee lives locally, it’s an even nicer touch to show you picked a present personal to them. Local and independent shops often offer unique, hand-crafted and high-quality goods, leading to a higher Christmas Satisfaction Score and back-pats for you for picking jolly-good gifts. The experience of shopping locally can also be a bit more tailored, so if you’re not really sure what to choose, you tend to get more help, making your life easier. Your purchase will help to support the local economy, too!
3. The Land of Secondhand
You don’t always have to buy new. Embrace secondhand steals by encouraging friends and family to buy used. You’ll help save items from landfill, while reducing the footprint of your Christmas gifts. Second-hand items have a story to tell, and can create whole new stories for the recipient in the future – kickstarting a new interest, hobby or collection that could give them joy for a lifetime.
Charity shops, vintage shops and boot sales have no end of unique pre-loved gifts. They can be much cheaper than buying new, as well as being truly one of a kind!
If you’d rather shop from home check out secondhand apps like Depop and Vinted where you can often find everything from designer brands to handmade picks for a fraction of the price new.
You can even get second-hand tech, with refurbed items like phones, laptops and tablets available on Backmarket, while mpb buys and sells used and refurbished camera gear.
4. Handmade Christmas
Making a personal, handmade gift for a friend or family member is a great way to reduce the impact of your Christmas gift shop. Make use of natural, sustainable, and recycled materials, without excess packaging and waste.
You could even buy a kit to allow them to make their own gift – less work for you, and they get exactly what they wanted!
There are some accessible and easy options for make-at-home kits, like Sculpd’s clay kits and The Workbench London’s ring mould kits.
5. Gift An Experience
Not every gift has to be wrapped in a box with a bow. And as much as we may not wish to admit it, many material gifts tend to fall a bit short when compared to a memorable experience, exploit or adventure!
Gifting an experience can show you’ve really taken the time to give it some thought and choose something personal according to their preferences. It also helps you avoid those unwanted gifts that get left in a cupboard or drawer somewhere. While a physical item may be forgotten or discarded over time, an experience can be remembered fondly for years to come.
Try tickets to a gig or the theatre, a voucher for that great new restaurant run by the latest and greatest chef on the block, or even a taster class for a new potential hobby. If you’re stuck for ideas, platforms like buyagift can help.
6. Give The Gift Of Time
No, we’re not suggesting a time machine, and we’re sorry but there currently aren’t any ethical skincare creams that rollback your age by ten years (we have looked.)
Instead, we’re talking about giving a personal ‘voucher’, redeemable for you to cook a meal for them, do a bit of gardening or DIY, or fix up their bike if you’re handy with a spanner. As with gifting an experience, you can make up a homemade voucher so they have something to open, giving a nice personal touch.
Then it’s down to your recipient to book in at a time that suits them – just make sure not to leave the country on a six month holiday to the other side of the planet.
Eco-friendly gifts by theme
For The Stocking
The stocking is one of the biggest culprits for unwanted Christmas presents and wasteful plastic packaging.
For more eco-friendly stocking-fillers, start by making small handmade gifts, food and drink (a big batch of jam or chutney can go a long way and use up loads of leftover fruit or veg) or simply choose better, lower waste gifts like these…
Tikauo – reusable tote bags
Kabloom seed bomb – turn your giftee into a revolutionaree
Wxy – sustainably scented candles and incense
Indigo Jamm – quality sustainable wooden toys
Playing For Peace – bio-plastic toys that support children in Ukraine
Eco Glitter Fun – plastic-free biodegradable glitter
For The Choc-aholic
Who doesn’t love chocolate at Christmas? A true crowd pleaser, a luxurious bar of chocolate is a great option. But there’s lots to think about when it comes to the ethics of a bar – this sweet treat can have a dark past.
Great ethical and sustainably made chocolate is often made with lower impact, organic ingredients, wrapped in plastic-free (and generally reduced) packaging, and supports fairer working practices with certifications like Fairtrade.
Here are a few of our sustainable chocolate Christmas gifts:
Gnaw chocolate – ethical chocolate in compostable packaging
Knack Snacks – zero waste chocolate snacks
Boojabooja – luxurious vegan and organic chocolate
For The Caffeinated
After the third day of seeing long-distant relatives you might need a little bit of a pick-me-up, so a bag of specialty and ethically-sourced coffee might be just the ticket.
Here in the UK we drink around 95 million cups of coffee, and 200 million cups of tea every day! Unfortunately growers and their workers are not always treated or paid fairly.
Here are a couple of tasty options for eco-friendly and ethically-grown tea and coffee gifts.
Pact Coffee - specialty-grade coffee delivered
Volcano Coffee Works - coffee that supports a good cause
Kib tea - planet-positive herbal teas
Alpaca Coffee - carbon neutral coffee in compostable packaging
For The Style-Conscious
Buying more eco-friendly clothing is a win-win. Clothing made with care, from better materials usually means you end up with a better quality, better-made item.
There’s a whole world of great ethical clothing brands out there. Here are a few of our recommendations.
Neem London – recycled material menswear
Lucy & Yak – colourful and conscious clothing for all
YesFriends – ethical, affordable jeans, t-shirts and pants
For The Sporty
Talking about their latest PB, comparing Strava times, and discussing the latest wearable tech. We all have that sporty friend or family member, who is always planning out their next marathon, watching for the latest Nike drop, or ranking Yoga With Adriene videos.
But many of the well-known sportswear companies have big issues when it comes to labour practices and supply chains. Try these low impact companies making eco-friendly and responsible sportswear.
EYO Activewear and Girlfriend Collective – activewear, from waste to wardrobe
Ecological Yoga Mats – for sustainable stretching
For The Sneakerhead
Eco-friendly footwear is on the rise – there are loads of great stylish and sustainable footwear brands out there now. Many eco-friendly footwear companies have good labour practices and work to improve the working conditions of their employees. Sustainable footwear is often produced in a way that minimises waste and pollution, and uses recycled and upcycled materials to create new.
From vegan and cruelty-free leather to recycled plastic bottles, check out these great eco-friendly footwear brands to gift your sneakerhead friend or family member.
Elliott footwear – carbon positive sneakers
TRASHPLANET – vegan and recycled
Allbirds – carefully curated materials
Good News – conscious footwear
VEJA – recycled materials made new
For The Adventurer
A love for the outdoors goes hand in hand with caring more about our environment, so a great item of clothing, bag or accessory is a great gift for a friend or family member who wants to be a bit more eco-friendly and sustainable in life.
Outdoor wear can often be very high impact, with thick, chemically-treated materials made for warmth and wet weather. Opting for more sustainable outdoor clothing and accessories can therefore help you greatly reduce your impact, with recycled and upcycled materials, organic cotton and fabrics used wherever possible. Many eco-friendly outdoor clothing brands manufacture their products locally in the UK and prioritise better working conditions.
Check out these great brands for the great outdoorsy, eco-friendly style.
Finisterre – clothing cut in Cornwall
Rapanui – clothes circular by nature
Billy Rainwear – festival tents made into raincoats
For Being On The Go
Travelling often leads to lots of waste, with difficult to recycle disposable coffee cups and cutlery filling up bins and ending up in landfill, and plastic bags filling up your cupboard at home.
Reusable coffee cups, lunchboxes and cutlery are therefore great places to start for someone who is starting to think about being a bit more eco-friendly.
Black and Blum – lunchboxes from sustainable materials
Ocean Bottle – keep hydrated and keep plastic out of our oceans
W&P Porter and Auklett – Beautiful reusable cutlery
Cora + Spink – natural, vegan backpacks made to last
For The Squeaky Clean
The bath bombs. The deodorant variety pack. We’ve all been stung before with those last-minute toiletries gifts. In plastic bottles and difficult to recycle composite aerosol cans, they’re a nightmare when the time comes to getting rid of the empties.
Luckily, we have you covered. Check out these beautiful, eco-friendly skincare products, deodorants and soaps, packaged more sustainably and made with better ingredients.
Dr Jackson’s, Urban Veda and Whitfords – skincare made plastic-free, natural or organic
Wild, Fussy and Scence – low-waste deodorant for purposeful pits
kind2 and ETHOSA – luxurious and refillable soap & scrubbing
For The Subscriber
Signing someone up to a magazine subscription is a gift that keeps on giving! It’s also a great last-minute gift that you can grab online. Make a handmade card or ‘voucher’ with the details for extra flourish.
We’d recommend one of these sustainable living staples which regularly feature in our Canopey magazine rack.
Ethical Consumer Magazine – for detailed product guides, news of ethical products and campaigns, in-depth features, opinion
Tortoise – for slow-living news, with a focus on more ethical journalism and pushing companies to make commitments to net zero
Positive News – for a magazine of good journalism about good things, focused on independent reporting and ‘constructive journalism’
For The Bookworm
Books are proven to help the reader relax, improve concentration and memory, and of course learn. Here are a few recommendations for the best books to give someone who cares about the planet and wants to lead a more eco-friendly lifestyle.
Instead of Amazon, try Bookshop.org, which brings together books from independent bookshops across the UK, and pays into a fund which gets given out each month.
Greta Thunberg, The Climate Book
Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing
Tamsin Omond, Do/ Earth
Martin Dorey, No More Rubbish Excuses
Georgina Wilson-Powell, Is It Really Green?
Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis
For The Furry Companion
They may not really know what’s going on, but dressing your pet up in a Christmas outfit and giving them some bribes (food) is great fun for Christmas Day.
But did you know there are better alternatives – not just for your pet pal but for the planet? Just like human food, ingredients in pet food can come from unsustainable sources, and it’s estimated that pet food is responsible for a quarter of the environmental impacts of meat production.
Check out these sustainable pet food brands:
Omni – vegan, plant-based biscuits for your dog
HOWND – 100% plant powered superfood for dogs
Lily’s Kitchen – wholesome food for cats and dogs
Tangle – dog leads and toys made from fishing nets
For the techie
We love our gadgets, and no doubt the latest phones and devices will be under trees across the country this year. But did you know 45% of UK homes have between two and five electronic devices sitting in a drawer? What’s more, the production of electronic devices can generate a significant amount of waste and pollution, so make sure that if you’re buying tech it’s definitely wanted!
There are a couple of great brands making tech more responsibly. We’d recommend choosing better options like these for the techie in your life.
Backmarket – for refurbished tech
Fairphone – for a responsibly-sourced phone
That's all, folks!
There's a whole low-waste winter wonderland out there – these are just some of our responsible recommendations for Christmas!
Make sure to check out our other blog posts for more tips on sustainable and eco-friendly living.