21 ways to make your Christmas kinder to the environment

From sustainable gift wrapping to energy-efficient Christmas lights, it's not hard to make sustainable choices this festive season.

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The BBQ is on, your annual leave is all filed away and the festive season is well and truly upon you. It's time to kick back and relax and hopefully put off all your stress until the new year.

Unfortunately, Christmas isn't exactly a stress-free time, and it can become even more stressful when you stop and consider just how much waste and excess the holiday inspires. Consider the following stats:

  • According to Finder research, Australians plan to spend $17.3 billion over the Christmas period across five key categories: presents, travel, charity donations, decorations and hampers. This averages out to about $893 per adult – but doesn't cover the vast amount of food and drink Aussies consume during the silly season.
  • According to research by ING, Australians spent $400 million on over 10 million unwanted Christmas gifts last year. Think of the environmental impact of all those candles, socks and terrible novelty gifts that end up in landfill, along with the 8,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrap used to package them!
  • 40% of all battery sales take place at Christmas time, to power all the new electronic gadgets people are receiving. But what happens to all the old batteries? Fewer than 2% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, with up to $3 billion of valuable metal components buried in Australian landfill alone.
  • In good news, the ING research also revealed that 57% of the population were aiming to give sustainable gifts.

So, here are some are simple ways that you can enjoy the festive season and show Mother Nature some love as well.


Christmas tree hunt

1. Don't buy single-use decorations. Things like cheap tinsel and other short-lived decorations are likely to end up in landfill once the season's over. Buy good-quality decorations that will last for ages, and ones you won't mind hanging on your tree year after year.

2. Use nature to decorate. With a little bit of artistic flair and maybe some paint, things like pine cones can make very cute decorations. Try getting creative with recycled materials like wrapping paper to design your own handmade decorations.

3. Get a real tree. While chopping down a living tree may seem pretty directly harmful to nature, they're actually sustainably planted for that purpose. Also, fake trees are much worse. They're made almost entirely of non-recyclable materials, are not biodegradable and take up space in storage when not in use.


Wrapping presents

4. Avoid throwaway gifts. It might be funny to give your uncle a singing fish, but as soon as the joke's over it's going in the bin. Make sure you're giving people gifts they'll actually use, rather than gifting them something unwanted out of obligation.

5. Shop local. This can lower the environmental footprint of the gifts you give because they don't need to be imported or shipped from somewhere else.

6. Gift an experience or charitable donation. Instead of something physical that can be thrown away, consider a concert ticket, a short course or a subscription. You could even donate to a charity or sponsor an animal on your recipient's behalf.

7. Source ethical products. Very cheap commercial goods usually involve exploitation somewhere along the chain. A $5 cotton shirt is often the end result of low wages, poor working conditions or environmental harm. Invest in fair-trade items and ethical gifts instead.

8. Make your own gift. Sure, it might not be perfect, but chances are your recipient will value something that you've made for them more than something store-bought.

9. Pass it on. If you're getting a new electronic device and your old one still works, consider gifting it to somebody you know who might benefit from it. This can help prevent you from just chucking the old one away.


Woman wrapping gift

10. Recycle. Try and use old wrapping paper that you have lying around from last year, or use lower-impact brown paper if you really want to go for traditional wrapping.

11. Try some unconventional wrapping. There are tons of things that you can use for wrapping that don't need to be thrown away afterwards. Try scarves, fabric bags or tablecloths, or put the gift in a reusable box or tin.


Lunch at home

12. Buy what you need (but don't go overboard). Think about how much you realistically will eat to avoid going overboard. You're never going to finish 5kg of prawns before the new year. Drink tap water, buy local and opt for free-range food.

13. Look at plant-based options. There is a lot of research that shows plant-based diets have benefits for both the planet and people. In fact, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has reported that emphasis on plant-based diets (along with sustainably-sourced meat) "present major opportunities" for reducing the impact of climate change. By 2050, this could help reduce yearly carbon emissions by up to 8 billion tonnes.

While you don't have to cut out meat completely, there is an abundance of fruit and veg that's in-season in Australia over Christmas. You can roast it, make salads, serve it with (dairy-free) ice cream – there are all kinds of options with fresh food, not to mention nuts and legumes (just check for allergies with these). You can check out blogs, search Instagram for inspiration – you could even gift someone with a vegetarian/vegan cookbook if you think it'll take their fancy.

14. Cooking and storage solutions. Aluminium foil is easy to overuse for everything, but there are friendlier alternatives. Consider cooking your food using parchment/baking paper, and wrap up the leftovers in beeswax wrap instead. In many kitchens, plastic wrap is also a go-to for sticking food in the fridge. Try using a ceramic or glass container and cut down on the waste.

15. Drop the disposables. Plastic utensils, napkins and disposable plates all add up. Try and use the real thing where possible and consider washable cloths instead of napkins.


Modern house

16. Solar lights. Outdoor lights (and Christmas tree lights, for that matter) may look pretty, but they drink up electricity. Invest in a string or two of solar lights and enjoy their free, renewable glow.


Digging composting

17. Food. If, despite your best efforts, you end up with too much leftover food to eat after Christmas, consider investing in a worm farm or compost so you can dispose of the food scraps in an environmentally-friendly fashion.

18. Presents. If you have unwanted or ungiven gifts, try and see whether you can return them to the store or give them to someone else who might be able to use them. Australian stores must accept returns of gifts that don't function in the way that you would expect them to or are of poor quality, regardless of their "no refunds" signs.


Operating airconditioner

19. Drop the air-con. Lowering your thermostat even a few degrees can make a huge difference in how much energy you consume. Saving power helps save the environment, especially considering how reliant Australia is on fossil fuels.

20. Stay eco-minded at the beach. Even when you're out and about, you can make a difference. Pick up any trash you might see, avoid disposable plates and utensils, use reef-safe sunscreen and don't feed the birds. They're fine just as they are.

21. Fix it up. Rather than throwing away stuff that breaks, see if it can easily or reasonably be repaired. Fixing something not only saves it from the dump, but it stops you from having to spend money on a new one to replace it.

Ethical Christmas gift ideas:

Eco friendly Ionic & Ceramic hair dryer
Eco friendly Ionic & Ceramic hair dryer

David Jones

Life Basics Vegan Nail Polish - En Pointe
Life Basics Vegan Nail Polish - En Pointe

Nourished Life

Picture: GettyImages

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