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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.

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:

  • Finder research shows Australians plan to spend $27.3 billion over the Christmas period across five key categories: presents, food, travel, dining out and alcohol.
  • According to research from Gumtree in 2021, unwanted Christmas gifts cost $574 million in the previous year. With the research showing that there were 18.7 million unwanted gifts, that's a big potential cost to the environment too.
  • The transport and logistics industry (which includes delivery services for online shopping) is responsible for around 18% of all carbon emissions in Australia. And the Australian Climate Council has estimated that it will reach 111 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.
  • In good news, the Finder Green Consumer Report found 1 in 2 Australians were actively looking for greener products and services in 2022.

So, here are some are simple ways that you can enjoy the festive season and also be green.

Decorations

Christmas tree hunt

1. Choose reusable 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 (or a secondhand one). While chopping down a living tree may seem pretty harmful to nature, most are actually sustainably planted for that purpose. Another option is to get a living tree in a pot and decorate it for years to come. But if you do choose a fake tree, try op-shops or online marketplaces first, and take care of it so it can be used again and again.

Presents

Wrapping presents

4. Avoid throwaway gifts. Make sure you're giving people gifts they'll actually use, rather than gifting them something unwanted out of obligation. If you're taking part in an office Kris Kringle or Secret Santa and don't know what to get, things like chocolate, tea and reusable coffee cups usually have wide appeal.

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. It also helps support small businesses that have taken a hit during the pandemic and cost of living crisis.

6. Gift an experience or charitable donation. Instead of something physical that can be thrown away, consider a concert ticket, subscription or a gift card for experiences. 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 whenever you can.

8. Make your own gift. Sure, it might not be perfect, but many people will appreciate 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. Or, if you've been given a perfectly good gift that you don't want, consider re-gifting it – this can be controversial for some people but it can help keep items out of landfill. And you can always donate it to an op-shop or through a gifting group online if there's no one you want to give it to.

Wrapping

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 or decorate some butcher's paper instead. Fabric gift wrap has also become more common in recent years, with stores like Typo and Cotton On often stocking it at this time of year.

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, bag or tin.

Food

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. If you're never going to finish 5kg of prawns before the new year, order a smaller amount – or give some to family and friends who will use them.

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. Cling wrap is easy to overuse for everything, but there are friendlier alternatives. Consider using parchment/baking paper, beeswax wrap or reusable containers instead. Or opt for aluminium foil, which you can often put in the recycling bin if you roll it into a ball (the City of Sydney website says to make it the size of a tennis ball).
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.

Outdoors

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.

Leftovers

Digging composting

17. Food. If, despite your best efforts, you end up with too much leftover food to eat after Christmas, there are plenty of great recipes online. You can often freeze food as well. Or, 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.

Holidays

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

Picture: GettyImages

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