When was the last time you used that tiny compass keyring? Or the cellophane fish? The tiny screwdriver? (Ok, that’s quite useful). Most traditional Christmas cracker gifts usually get chucked away with the silly hats and the cheesy jokes once everyone has had their two-minutes of fun.

It’s estimated that up to 40 million Christmas crackers are binned every year and are a major source of unnecessary waste, with some calling for them to be banned altogether.

Caroline McPherson knew there had to be another way. The North Devon-based mum-of-two, who works as an educational publisher, started looking around for more eco-friendly versions of the festive accessory.

‘I must admit, I wasn’t very impressed at all,’ says Caroline. ‘I thought there was a lot of green washing about and most of the crackers didn’t really live up to what I was looking for.

‘So, I set about designing a version in my head.’

Caroline had spent her student holidays working for a company that produced hand-made crackers for the likes of Harrods and Selfridges, so she knew a thing or two about what made a cracking crowd-pleaser.

‘It wasn’t really completely leftfield for me to be spending time thinking about how I could make something better,’ says Caroline, adding that this was all part of a ‘lockdown brain worm’. ‘It was one of those things that just occupied my thoughts more and more. In the end, I just went for it and we launched in 2020.’

Great British Life: The crackers are made using recycled materials, sustainable ribbon and have carefully curated gifts from UK suppliersThe crackers are made using recycled materials, sustainable ribbon and have carefully curated gifts from UK suppliers

The Little Green Cracker Company is now well on the way to becoming one of the most eco-friendly options on the market, producing thousands of stylish, uniquely designed luxury crackers, using recycled materials, sustainable ribbon and carefully curated gifts from UK suppliers.

Pulling one of these could land recipients with anything from a seed ball to an artisan tea light – far more appealing that a piece of single-use plastic. Some of the presents are made in Devon, such as the handmade soap from the Natural Spa in Exeter.

Design ranges include Candi Stripe, Silver Star and a lower priced Lil’ Eco selection. Demand is rising all the time, including from some high-end customers.

‘We got picked up by Selfridges in 2021 and then we did bespoke crackers for Highgrove,’ says Caroline, talking about supplying the royal residence one year.

‘That was brilliant,’ she says. ‘There have been some really good moments like that and I’m so pleased with how it’s taken off.

‘I think it says something about a lot of these high-profile companies and organisations that they genuinely want to do the right thing,’ says Caroline. ‘They understand what we’re doing.

‘It’s about following through with the idea of being sustainable and environmental from start to finish, rather than taking any shortcuts.’

Part of that means keeping the production line as local as possible. The Little Green Cracker Company’s HQ is just a small studio in Braunton where the products are prepared and orders taken. The designs are printed by Brightsea Print Group, based in Barnstaple and Exeter.

A team of 10 home-based workers, who all live in the local area, are then tasked with making the crackers before the boxes are delivered to warehouses up and down the country.

‘It’s exactly the sort of model I wanted,’ says Caroline. ‘I wanted to use people who lived close to us, so it really became a sort of local hub.

Great British Life: The crackers are made using recycled materials, sustainable ribbon and have carefully curated gifts from UK suppliersThe crackers are made using recycled materials, sustainable ribbon and have carefully curated gifts from UK suppliers

‘We’ve got 10 people who are currently beavering away making the crackers now and we also use freelance staff in the village for things like photography and design work. We’re really supporting the local economy by putting work into the community.’

Cracker production is not just for Christmas and Caroline begins the planning process way back in February when she visits the spring trade fairs to meet all the major retailers before making and chasing orders.

A great deal of research goes into the gifts which have to be the right price, made in the UK, plastic-free and small enough to fit inside a cracker.

Once that’s sorted, it’s time to get making and by autumn, the business is in full swing. All of the bespoke orders start coming in and the boxes are put together, ready to go out for delivery.

‘That’s our peak time of year because that’s when all the retailers want the stock delivered to their warehouses,’ says Caroline, who can’t quite believe just how well her ‘side-hustle’ idea has developed in such a short space of time.

‘It’s been a bit of rollercoaster, that’s for sure,’ she says, adding that her husband, Noel, is just about to head out to take a batch of crackers up to the Selfridges warehouse. ‘People often think that Christmas is going to be our busiest time of the year but you’re kind of done by then!’ says Caroline. ‘Everything is in the warehouses or the stores, so Christmas is actually fairly chilled.’

Running a festive business has potential to take the shine off the build-up to the big day, but Caroline, who has two children aged 17 and 15, says she still looks forward to it all - even when it’s time to pull the eco-friendly crackers.

‘You just have to separate what the family Christmas is from the Christmas business,’ she says. But at the same time, there is a real joy in having a Christmas business. It’s lovely.’