ELL’s festive guide to a sustainable Christmas

Photo: Ian Britton

With an overweight, red faced fat man as its commercial ambassador Christmas is undeniably a time of excessive consumption.

Our devouring greed for eating, drinking and present-buying results in an estimated 3 million tonnes of waste being produced in the UK over those few festive days.

Here at ELL we are encouraging people in the four boroughs to approach the Christmas period with the same attitude of re-using and recycling that they do for the rest of the year.

We have come up with a guide to the perfect sustainable Christmas Day.


Almost 83 square km of wrapping paper ends up in UK rubbish bins and as a nation we use will end up an extra 750 million bottles and glass containers, and 500 million drinks cans. When shopping, avoid goods which involve unnecessary packaging or complicated mixed material packaging which can make recycling difficult.

Try to buy food and drink packaged in materials that can be recycled in your area, such as paper and glass. Buy drinks in large containers, rather than in a lot of small ones as one large bottle results in less waste than a lot of small ones.

Almost all packaging and gift wrapping will be collected by your local authority’s recycling team or alternatively you can take your Christmas waste to a large recycling depot. Click on your borough to find further information. Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Croydon, Lewisham.

Almost a billion Christmas cards are sent each year in the UK alone, producing about 20,000 tonnes of waste. Help reduce this by taking your cards to the Woodland Trust recycling points that have been set up in  branches of TK Maxx and M&S. Christmas cards can also be re-used as festive gift tags.

Real Christmas trees have the advantage of being locally produced, naturally biodegradable and smelling nice.  While growing trees every year does take some resources, these are generally renewable and the process does not have the same pollution risks as the production of PVC often used in artificial trees.  Trees can be collected for chipping rather than being left for landfill. Even better, if you have space, keep a tree in a planter in the garden and re-use it every year.


Rather than shop bought man-made presents you can give your time as a gift, whether by making something unique or giving “experiences” such as tickets to events in the local area.

Go “shwopping” instead of shopping – either with friends or at locally organised events you can swap your old items with someone else to create new gifts. See our Christmas guide for details of local events.


Most people value the leftovers as much as the main Christmas meal itself; Bubble and Squeak is a great dish to use up any potatoes, vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, or bits of bacon. A delicious ice-cream can be made from Christmas pudding. Click here for handy recipes to make the ingredients stretch into the next week as well as advice on how to compost any leftovers.

Buying food at markets such as Broadway Market in Hackney is the most sustainable option as the food is often sourced locally and sold with no unnecessary packaging.

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