10 sustainable ways to celebrate Christmas

A Christmas gift wrapped in fabric

RACV Staff

Posted December 08, 2022

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 10 eco-friendly ways to bring joy to your friends, family and the planet.

Christmas 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?

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 carbon dioxide 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.

More: How to legally carry your Christmas tree on your car.

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 family 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. Reusing last year’s decorations or purchasing new decorations at an op shop is more sustainable than buying brand new tree 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 gingerbread houses or gingerbread 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 solar 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.

sharing salad at table

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

There’s no doubt that ‘giving’ can bring joy. However, while 74% of Australians like buying Christmas gifts, they don’t always consider what the recipient will find useful. An estimated $980 million is spent on unwanted presents, according to a 2019 survey.

Shopping for eco-friendly, sustainable gifts is becoming easier with the increased availability of items such as reusable coffee cups, wooden rather than plastic toys and clothes made from recycled materials.

Increasingly, people want gifts that keep giving. Purchasing gifts or donating to essential services from charity organisations can help vulnerable communities, such as natural disaster victims, while the gift recipient receives a card acknowledging your donation.

Give the gift of experience

Show your loved ones you truly know them by gifting an experience that is tailored to their interests or hobbies. For example, film buffs will appreciate the gift of movie tickets, theatre lovers will enjoy an exclusive experience in Melbourne’s famed East End and a thrill seeker will love a theme park entry ticket.

Treating a loved one to a wellness or bucket-list experience is another eco-friendly gift idea. Choosing to spoil someone with a luxurious experience such as spa treatment or facial or the ultimate foodie experience at one of the state’s most acclaimed restaurants, might hold greater sentimental value than a physical item.

More: Thoughtful gifts and experiences in Melbourne and Victoria

Choose plant-based

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.

Try plant-based dishes instead of meat this festive season: Stuffed spiced butternut pumpkin can make a delicious main dish – plus it’s easy to make. Making zoodles (zucchini pasta) can cater to different dietary requirements, especially if you’re feeding a celiac. Try this gluten-free zucchini pasta with mushroom and tomato sauce for an instant crowd-pleaser.  
Don’t forget your sides: Try a fragrant rosemary focaccia or restaurant-style mashed potato.


Mary Poppins performance

Give a gift of experience - such as theatre - to create lifelong memories. Image: Daniel Boud.


Coordinate cooking and save on catering

Coordinate with friends and family to determine how much food is really required for Christmas lunch or dinner. Nominate people to bring specific dishes to prevent doubling up and food waste.

If you’re left with uneaten food, consider how you can use leftovers in meals over the following days. This can be as simple as making a frittata with the leftover roast vegetables, using ham bone to make soup, or creating 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 disposal.

RACV Members can save money on snacks and ingredients for picnic recipes with discounted Woolworths Store eGift Cards


Mindful and safe travel 

Consider ways to sustainably travel to your Christmas festivities. Plan carpooling with family or friends to reduce the number of cars travelling to the same location. Alternatively, leave the car at home and use public transport to get around. arevo can help you plan an efficient journey to your gathering.

More: How to stay safe on the roads this summer

paper wrapped christmas presents

Consider eco-friendly wrapping of Christmas presents this year. Image: Getty. 


Consider sustainable or locally sourced produce

Make thoughtful choices when shopping for produce and items for your Christmas gathering, shopping for locally sourced goods where possible. The GoodFish Sustainable Seafood Guide provides information to help you choose sustainable-sourced fish, while plant-based meat alternatives can help reduce your reliance on meat. If you choose to eat meat or seafood, consider how much you purchase to avoid overconsumption.

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.

More: Plant-based diet recipes and tips

Thoughtful clean up and recycling

There’s no doubt that after the Christmas festivities conclude, there’ll be lots of cleaning required. While cleaning the house may seem like a daunting task, there are some smart and sustainable ways to clean your home to cut down on time and effort. Finish the year with a clean conscious and consider how you discard waste to avoid making these recycling mistakes.

More: Homemade and eco-friendly cleaning tips for a natural home

Give a gift of experience this Christmas.
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