Avoiding excess this festive season

by Chris Warburton Brown

Seasonal cookiesThis article focuses on Christmas but of course many people don’t celebrate this festival. You can apply the same thinking to your big annual festival, be it New Year, Diwali, Eid, Solstice, Vaisakhi, Hannukah, Thanksgiving or another festival.

A ‘traditional’ Christmas is a perfect storm of carbon consumption: excessive shopping, long distance travel, lots of meat eating, buckets of food waste, mountains of packaging waste, unwanted gifts that go straight to landfill, and energy-hungry fairy lights. All of this can add up to between 3% and 10% of your annual carbon emissions in a single day.

But if we unpick that word ‘traditional’ we find that Christmas was originally about family and friends getting together, a day out of the business of normal life, time to play games and make music, gifts that would be treasured all year, communities coming together in shared celebration, care and thought for those less fortunate than ourselves. And aren’t those the things what we all want at Christmas?

Christmas puts a big strain on our carbon budgets, our wallets and our stress levels. So why not try a low-carbon, low-budget, low-stress Christmas? It might actually be more fun.

1 Million Women have calculated what would happen if we reduced our Christmas waste by just 1 kilogram per person. "If a million people did that, we could save approximately 10 billion litres of water waste (that's 4000 Olympic swimming pools), prevent 8 million kgs of carbon dioxide pollution (growing a forest of approx. 45,000 trees) … and we would collectively save millions of dollars!"

Ideas for a low-carbon, low budget, low waste, low-stress Christmas

Don't agonise about trying to get every gram of carbon out of Christmas. Instead, think about the things that make a big impact. Maybe start with one of these suggestions and then add one more each year. Or do them all at once; friends and family may be delighted to do it differently this year.


Stay close to home. Instead of crossing the country, think about who you know locally that you could share Christmas Day with. If you really want to get a far flung family together, choose a host location that reduces total travelling distances. If you’re travelling between big cities, ride share. Avoid flying (Santa is an exception: he’s carbon free).


Plan carefully and avoid excess shopping, especially foods with a short shelf life. Swap some of your meat dishes for a plant-based option. Freeze leftover meat for use later. Learn a few simple leftover recipes, like turkey curry or sprout hash.


Make DIY gifts like home-baked cakes or homemade toys. Buy second hand gifts like books or vintage fashion. Set a maximum present budget. We all like surprises, but as 30% of presents are unwanted, maybe check first. Ask for the present you really want. Give money or vouchers so people can choose their own gifts. Give tickets to a musical/ theater/ cinema/ concert/ stand-up show. Buy high quality, ethically-sourced stuff that will last. If buying gadgets, choose energy efficient. Give to charity instead.

Read this article, Help! I Don't Want More Stuff for Christmas, to learn about how to say "no".


Choose LED fairy lights (they use 15% of the energy of traditional lights), and switch them off when you’re out or asleep. Make your own decorations out of scrap paper. Avoid fan-powered yard inflatables. Instead of filling your house with battery-operated lights or animated gadgets, consider simple wreaths, ribbons and bells. Buy a living Christmas tree, plant it afterwards, and reuse it next year; or, decorate some driftwood or a fallen branch.

This #seasonsgreentings guide has many more suggestions.

Some suggestions for a really different Christmas

  • Invite isolated neighbours to Christmas lunch
  • Make all your presents
  • Do the whole thing on 20% of last year’s budget
  • Volunteer at a homeless shelter or food bank

Whatever you decide to do, we wish you a Happy Low Carbon Celebration!