5 sustainable ways to celebrate Christmas

A Christmas gift wrapped in fabric

Blanche Clark

Posted November 24, 2021

Bring joy to the world with these simple eco-friendly tips for a sustainable Christmas.

Christmas is a time for celebrating together with festive decorations, fancy food and fun-filled presents. It’s also a time when we tend to overindulge, with barely a second thought for the planet. Many of the things we buy at this time of year end up in landfill, which isn’t ideal, but it’s easy to make small changes and reduce your environmental footprint. 

So, if you’re dreaming of a green Christmas, here are five eco-friendly ways, including sourcing sustainable seafood for your festive meal and gifting an experience, that will bring joy to your friends, family and the planet.

Sustainability tips


To tree, or not to tree - real or recycle?

Nothing says Christmas like the smell of fresh pine tree. But what’s better for the environment: artificial or real?

According to industry experts, real trees have a much lower carbon footprint than artificial trees, but you can even the score if you use the same artificial tree at least 10 times.

Better yet still, a living tree from a local nursery is the best option. When your tree gets too big for the pot, you can plant it and help take CO2 out the atmosphere. Other alternatives include using any kind of tree or a hardy perennial such as rosemary as your festive centrepiece.

If you’re hankering for that pine smell, there are scented room sprays that can do the trick.

Children at a Christmas tree farm

Real trees grown especially for Christmas have a much lower carbon footprint than artificial trees. Image: Getty. 


Sparkle and shine

Decorating the tree is one of the joys of Christmas, and it doesn’t need to come with an environmental cost. Before running to the shops for the latest trends and themes, consider what you already have at home that can be repurposed. Dusting-off last year’s decorations or snapping up some op-shop bargains is far more sustainable than buying the latest bling.

Baubles can be made of old Christmas cards or paper mâché. Origami can turn pages of old magazines into festive figurines. Better still, make edible treats such as honey biscuits with a hole near the top to hang on the tree until Christmas Day – just try to keep the kids away.

LED lights use less energy than incandescent bulbs, and can be recycled as e-waste. Whichever you choose, having renewable power in your home is the best way to reduce your emissions.

Keep it under wraps

A local survey found Australians use an average of eight metres of paper each year to wrap Christmas gifts – roughly enough to wind around the Earth’s equator almost four times. Most of that paper ends up landfill, but there are a few ways to avoid that outcome.

Consider using cardboard and paper wrapping instead of foil or plastic, which either take a long time to break down or aren’t biodegradable. Draw inspiration from the Japanese tradition of furoshiki fabric wraps. You can have fun sourcing colourful fabrics, which can be washed and used again next Christmas. If you want to be crafty, use a scarf, tea towel or bag as the wrapping and make that part of the present.

Christmas table setting

Make your festive feast sustainable by including more plant-based dishes, using local suppliers and avoiding food waste. Image: Getty. 


It’s the thought that counts

An estimated $400 million is spent on unwanted gifts, with a 2017 survey revealing novelty items, candles, pamper products, pyjamas, slippers, underwear and socks were the least appreciated gifts.

Shopping for eco-friendly, sustainable gifts is becoming easier with the increased availability of items such as reusable cups, wooden rather than plastic toys, and clothes made with recycled materials. But increasingly people want gifts that keep giving. Purchasing gifts or donating for essential services from charity organisations can help vulnerable communities, while your recipient receives a card acknowledging the donation.

Treating a loved one to a bucket-list experience is another eco-friendly gift idea, whether it be tickets to the movies, a theme park, zoo or walking tour. 

Feast local, with less

The festive feast has a greater impact on the planet than the average dinner for several reasons: a higher consumption of meat, an increased transportation of food, and the rise in food waste.

The key considerations for all Australians is to have more plant-based dishes, use local suppliers, buy seasonal fruit and vegetables, and don’t over-cater. When choosing a main course, consider that turkey farming has a lower carbon footprint than ruminant livestock animals, and you can further boost your eco-cred by ordering an organic free-range turkey.

While many farmers markets sell local and seasonal produce, plant-based dishes that pack a punch include whole-roasted cauliflower, a nut roast or lentil salad. It’s also easy to find a sustainable seafood guide online.

As for food waste, a survey found that 90 per cent of Australian families discard a quarter of their food over the festive season, so get creative with your leftovers. It can be as simple as making a frittata with the left-over roast vegetables, soup with the ham bone, or a bread-and-butter pudding out of panettone. Give your garden a gift this Christmas by composting your scraps and use the green waste bin for that finishing touch.