How to have a deforestation-free Christmas

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By Angie Kirby, Size of Wales Advocacy and Outreach Officer

Whether you celebrate Christmas or the returning of the light after the winter solstice, at this time of year there is a sense of excitement, togetherness and celebration that can nourish us through the cold, dark days of winter.

However, over the years, advertising, consumerism and overconsumption have contrived to reduce the spirit of the festive season to one of purely economic value. Black Friday deals being a prime example!

In the face of such relentless machinery, how do we rekindle that elemental winter magic, whilst leaving a lighter tread?

Here are some practical suggestions, by no means exhaustive, for reducing our consumption at Christmas, making informed decisions about what we buy, e.g. how it’s produced and where it comes from, and reconnecting ourselves – hearts and minds – to nature.

Festive food

Reduce food waste

On average, the UK wastes almost 270,000 tonnes of edible food every Christmas, including 2 million turkeys, 74 million mince pies and 5 million Christmas puddings.

Unless it’s certified organic, most poultry in the UK is reared on livestock feed composed of forest-risk commodities, such as soy and palm oil. The majority of Welsh soy and palm oil imports come from countries with a high risk of deforestation and social exploitation. So, not only are these numbers shocking in terms of edible food gone to waste, but also by the fact that our traditional Christmas dinner may be linked to increased emissions, habitat destruction and negative social impacts overseas.

The wasted mince pies and Christmas puds can also be viewed under the same lens, as most will certainly contain some form of palm oil.

For more advice, follow these festive food tips from Love Food Hate Waste to reduce your food waste this Christmas.

Choose ethically produced food

Whether it’s your Christmas turkey or an after-dinner cheese board, buy certified organic or 100% grass-fed animal products, such as those certified by the Soil Association or Pasture for Life. These certifications remove or significantly reduce the risk of embedded deforestation and habitat destruction through the use of nature-friendly farming methods. Or, why not go completely plant-based and make an alternative Christmas feast?

Buy festive treats, such as mince pies and Christmas puddings, that are either palm oil free or contain palm oil physically certified by the RSPO. This means the palm oil used can be traced back to a single, identifiable mill.

For a wider range of RSPO certified food products, check out Chester Zoo’s RSPO shopping list. You could also have a go at making your own delicious mince pies using organic butter or a sustainable plant-based alternative.

Logos for Pasture for Life, Soil Association, and RSPO


Buy less: Ask your loved ones if there’s anything they really need, instead of giving unwanted presents. In the UK, around 21 million people will receive at least 1 unwanted gift each Christmas, with around 5% going directly to landfill. These unwanted gifts use up precious resources and come with packaging, which has a direct impact on the world’s forests, people, and biodiverse habitats.

Give a gift to help people and nature thrive: Our Trees for Christmas campaign is raising money for the Boré Community Forest Project. Give a tree as a gift or buy an eCard from our website – every £3 raised will support the community to plant 10 trees in schools and family farms, securing forests across the area.

Invoke the spirit of creativity with gifts of homemade seasonal edibles, such as preserves and ferments, or make DIY decorations from upcycled materials, like this simple, festive wreath. You could even make an alternative Christmas tree out of foraged branches and twigs, or simply decorate an existing house plant.

Photo: Angie’s foraged festive tree

Buy second-hand or refurbished items:

  • Who doesn’t love a good story at Christmas? Books are an incredibly popular Christmas gift, but why buy new when there are so many books just waiting to be enjoyed once more? B-corporation companies, like WoB, sell second-hand, pre-loved books suitable for all ages and interests.
  • Electric gadgets and technology make for popular gifts, but mining for minerals like gold and copper, which are used as conductors in circuit boards, has devastating impacts on forests, biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples. Buying refurbished technology means you can save money, reduce your impact and still have a top-of-the-range product to play with.
  • Fashion has a high social and environmental price tag, with certain materials, such as viscose and rayon (made from wood pulp) and leather (mostly imported from South America) taking their toll on tropical forests. So, take a ‘pre-loved’ approach to gift-giving and find someone a truly unique gift. Try apps like Vinted and Depop or browse your local charity shop for one-off items.

Check the label:

  • Around 70 per cent of cosmetics and bath products contain ingredients derived from palm oil, so again, look for products that contain RSPO physically certified palm oil. You can use the GIKI app when shopping or check the ingredients list if shopping online.
  • Cocoa butter from cacao can also contribute to tropical deforestation, so look for products containing sustainably sourced cocoa butter. Certifications include Fairtrade and the Soil Association Organic COSMOS-standard.
Some delicious Fairtrade chocolate. Credit: Howard Lake

Buy Fairtrade chocolate: Between 1988 and 2008, cacao production caused 2-3 million hectares of deforestation – an area the size of Wales. Fairtrade not only supports fair prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in the Global South, but also supports local sustainability and environmental protections. Since 2019, Fairtrade has also included a no-deforestation criterion.

Reduce packaging and paper waste: According to recycling advisors WRAP, the amount of Christmas wrapping paper waste for the UK alone could stretch to the moon. Furthermore, the UK buys an estimated 1 billion Christmas cards every year – just think of all the trees needed to produce them. To reduce your forest footprint:

  • Avoid buying gifts with lots of unnecessary packaging and look for items that use recycled or reusable materials.
  • Use recycled paper and collected materials, such as string, ribbon and fabric to wrap your gifts. Why not try the Japanese art of furoshiki using upcycled scarves and fabrics that can be re-used and re-gifted the following year?
  • Send eCards or make your own from old cards you have received.

Do what you can, if you can

While we can’t always do everything we would like and the climate and nature crises aren’t ours to solve alone, we can all do something.

And that simple act of doing can help us feel empowered to tackle these challenges, as well as help to ease that very modern phenomenon that is eco-anxiety. So, feel free to use the above steps for inspiration and have a very merry Christmas!

This blog was written as part of our 2021 Trees for Christmas campaign. Learn more and get involved by clicking here.


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