Have yourselves a sustainable little Christmas

Have yourselves a sustainable little Christmas

By Elise Catterall  December 10th, 2019

Internet searches for terms like ‘eco-friendly Christmas’, ‘sustainable Christmas’, and ‘environmentally friendly Christmas’ have peaked this year at an all-time high, so here's a guide to ensure you have your most sustainable holiday season ever.


With internet searches for terms like ‘eco-friendly Christmas’, ‘sustainable Christmas’, and ‘environmentally friendly Christmas’ peaking this year at an all-time high (according to Google trends), we have compiled a guide to some of the best ways to ensure you have your most sustainable holiday season ever.



For many of us, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a tree and decorations. Our first piece of advice is to use what you have. If you have an artificial tree and a box of baubles and tinsel in your shed, don’t feel bad about using it. If you don’t, then consider some of the following options:

The tree

  • Buy a potted tree that can be enjoyed inside, then planted when the season is over. It’s sustainable and will sequester carbon when planted. Even better, choose a local native tree that will support your local ecosystem. Read more here.
  • Rent a tree – companies like The Christmas Tree Company will come and install a tree and then take it away when it’s no longer needed.
  • Forage for some branches and pop them in a large vase – makes for a more rustic, minimal feel, but when its decorated it absolutely does the job.
  • Consider a OneTwoTree tree – beautiful minimal ‘trees’ made from sustainable pine and made to last.


  • Go minimal – there is beauty in a bare or nearly bare tree.
  • Go edible – once upon a time, decorating a tree with edible items was the norm – strings of popcorn, apples, candy-canes, cookies, etc.
  • Go homemade - use items from home and you’ll not only save money, but you’ll give discarded items a new life. Our Festive Recycled Arts and Craft Guide has all the inspiration you need!
  • Go wooden – Like most things, if you are buying new, buy to last and buy with minimal impact. OneTwoTree also make beautiful wooden tree decorations.
  • Go swapping – find a friend or family member who has a collection of decorations and share or swap.
  • Go without lights, or at least consider non-flashing LED or solar powered lights to minimise electricity consumption.



Gifting is at the core of Christmas so it is not surprising that mindful, sustainable gifting is where you can do the most good and send a message to both recipients and sellers at the same time. Sustainable gifting options are almost endless but there are guidelines you can follow. We recommend buying/giving gifts that are:

  • Second hand/regifted/salvaged – Recent research found that over 75% of Australians would consider buying second-hand or vintage gifts for Christmas. From fashion to toys to crockery and more – you can pretty much find anything you need. Use Planet Ark’s Recycled Products Directory to guide you and read more about shifting to regifting
  • Fairtrade, ethical and/or local – visit a store (like The Fairtrade Emporium) dedicated to ethical, fair-trade items and know that what you buy will be giving back;
  • An experience – gift an adventure, workshop, class, dinner, movie. Even better if it brings people together.
  • For the benefit of others – for example, adopt a koala, donate to a charity empowering girls, to an environmental charity, or to a bush fire appeal, or buy a chicken or a goat for a family in need, all on your recipient’s behalf. Or if choosing a physical gift, support causes like #buyfromthebush.
  • Useful – for example, consider gifts that help switch from single use items like reusable coffee cups, etc or a gift that helps make positive change, like a recipe book for plant based cooking, or a guide to zero waste living.
  • Consumable/edible/homemade – think natural soaps, candles, scrubs, relishes, biscuits, jams, etc; bonus points if it is locally or hand-made.
  • Digital – like a voucher for digital books or a subscription to a podcast or music streaming service.
  • Minimal impact – consider what will happen to the gift when it is no longer wanted or being used. Can it be recycled, or repurposed?
  • Minimal and sustainable packaging – similar to the above, making better packaging choices will minimise the impact of your purchase beyond Christmas.


Wrapping and cards

International agency Care Australia has reported that Australian’s use approximately 150,000 kilometres of wrapping paper each year. Here are some alternatives to minimise that waste:

  • Wrap with fabric - Go through your cupboard, linen closet, visit op shops or scoop up some end of roll fabric. Use ribbon to hold it all together and you have a beautiful gift that is waste free.
  • Wrap with repurposed paper - Reuse any old wrapping paper or craft paper, kids’ paintings, pages from old books (atlases work well), pages from magazines, or even newspaper.
  • Use paper (craft) tape, which is recyclable, instead of standard sticky tape, which isn’t.
  • If you are sending cards, consider ecards; if you are handing out cards or gift tags, make your own by repurposing paper and card you have or source cards that have recycled content, are FSC certified, or have other benefits like containing plantable native seeds.



There are many ways to minimise the waste and environmental impact of Christmas dinner.

  • Avoid disposable/plastic plates and cutlery. If you need more crockery or cutlery than you own, borrow from friends and family.
  • Skip paper serviettes – they aren’t recyclable, especially when soiled. Instead, bring back fabric serviettes, which can be endlessly washed and reused.
  • Lean your Christmas dinner more towards plant-based foods. Animal products emit more greenhouse gasses than other foods. If you do choose meat and seafood, make choices that are sustainable and cruelty free.
  • Buy larger quantities (as needed) to minimise packaging.
  • Buy local and as unpackaged as much as possible (e.g. loose fruit and veg, tray-less meat from a butcher) to reduce transport, packaging and waste as much as possible. Read more about the benefits of buying local
  • When buying packaged items, look for products with the Australasian Recycling Label so you know how to dispose of packaging.

Christmas is a time of massive food waste, so plan your meals carefully so you don’t over-shop or over-prepare. Defrost your freezer and clear your fridge before Christmas day so you can store leftovers. If you have excess food, you can use the Olio app to share food within your community.

There’s a lot of information here, so our advice is taking small steps; tackle what you can. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all things we can do to lower our impact this Christmas but remember that every change is a positive one.

See you next time! - Elise


By Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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