Five tips for a waste-free Christmas

Living Well | Sarah Marinos | Posted on 02 December 2019

Get into the festive spirit without creating excess waste (or credit card debt). 

What is it about the festive season that makes the lifestyle rules we follow during the year go out the window? We eat too much, might drink a bit too much, and our good intentions around reducing waste and recycling are also cast aside. 

It’s the season of excess and by the time Christmas is over, it’s not only our waistlines and wallets that are paying the price. Festivities take a toll on the environment too, says Abigail Sexton, WWF Australia’s oceans and wildlife engagement manager. 

“Over the festive period the amount of waste we produce doubles thanks to Christmas decorations, presents, packaging and wrapping for presents, food packaging and food waste,” she says.

But some preparation and a little effort can reduce waste without crushing the festive spirit. 

Here’s how to be more eco minded this Christmas


Gift giving 

Choose quality gifts over quantity, says Claire Bell, who is recycling campaign manager at Planet Ark. “Avoid cheaper presents that will end up in landfill a few weeks later. If you’re buying kids’ toys, choose robust toys and quality wooden toys,” says Claire.

“If you’re giving clothes, choose pieces that will last rather than cheaper, fast fashion. And why not give experiences like days out or dinner vouchers?” 

Or why not make your own? A batch of homemade jam or lemon curd, packed into cleaned and sterilised pre-used jars, makes a lovely and eco-friendly gift – you could decorate the jars by tying a pretty fabric remnant over the lid with a length of string or ribbon. 

Or put together a straight-from-the-heart hamper full of homemade treats: a batch of gingerbread biscuits, a round of traditional panforte, a paper bag filled with homemade granola and a bottle of homemade lemon or ginger cordial packed into a pre-loved basket or wooden box will beat a scented candle or electric foot spa every time. 

Wrapping and packaging

If you’re buying gifts in shops, look for choices without excessive packaging then use your imagination with gift wrapping. 

“If it is a gift for the kitchen, wrap it in a tea towel so the wrapping is a gift as well. Or wrap gifts in beautiful pieces of cloth that can be reused,” says Claire. 

Paper and cardboard can be recycled in your council recycling bin, while soft plastics like cellophane and bubblewrap can be dropped off at Woolworths and Coles supermarkets for recycling through the REDcycle scheme to make outdoor furniture, decking, even roads.

Polystyrene can’t be recycled kerbside, but councils have free drop-off centres. You can find your nearest location at Sustainability Victoria’s website or Planet Ark.

Reduce waste this Christmas
Natural Christmas tree
Real Christmas tree


Make your own decorations

“Get together with family and friends, put on a Christmas film and get crafty,” says Abigail. “My Mum used to dry slices of orange with cloves and hang them from the tree with twine. They smelled beautiful and looked stunning.”

Go on YouTube to learn how to make simple origami stars or use brightly coloured craft paper and paint and cut out Christmas shapes to decorate. Peg them on a string and hang them on your tree or along walls.

Or make a rustic Christmas tree hanging. Collect various-sized sticks from the backyard or park – straight sticks work best, says Abigail. Lay out the sticks – biggest at the bottom working upwards to the smallest to make a Christmas tree shape. Tie the sticks together from bottom to top, securing each with a full knot. Decorate with LED lights and paper and cardboard stars and hang on the wall.

You can also create tealight lanterns by cutting out Christmas shapes from the pages of an old book, then light with a soy candle inside. They add a festive feel to a dinner table, or if dining outside tie string around the rims of jars containing tealights and hang four or five from a sturdy branch. 

Or make a simple star from fallen sticks tied together in a star shape and decorate with lights. 

For more DIY decoration ideas go to: wwf.org.au.

Less waste Christmas gifts
Making a natural Christmas wreath


A real or a plastic tree?

The most environmentally friendly option is a ‘living tree’ in a pot. Choose a tree at your local nursery to decorate and once Christmas is over, plant it in your garden or put it on a balcony.

“A real Christmas tree is the next best option,” says WWF’s Abigail Sexton. “It is purpose grown, it has produced oxygen, absorbed carbon dioxide and it is biodegradable.

“Real trees are usually transported a shorter distance than fake trees that are often imported from China. Real trees have a smaller carbon footprint and once the tree is cut down, it’s replaced by another tree.”

While a fake tree can be used for a number of Christmases, Abigail says it would need to be re-used for about 20 years to have a lower environmental impact than a real tree. When your real tree curls up its toes, cut it up and put it in your green bin to be mulched. Some councils run January Christmas tree collections.

Make a natural Christmas wreath

  1. Collect foliage from your back yard or look in your local park for fallen leaves, branches and pinecones. Add herbs like rosemary, sage and lavender for a sweet-smelling wreath.
  2. Buy a wreath base from craft shops or make your own by bending a wire coat hanger into a circle.
  3. Add branches and foliage to the wreath, overlapping them and securing them with string. 
  4. Build up layers of foliage and add flowers and herbs, tucking them into the base or securing with string.
  5. Tie ribbon to the wreath for a splash of festive colour.

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