Sustainable living

5 ways to have a sustainable Christmas

From the tree to the dining table, it’s easy to reduce your festive footprint.

Asian family at christmas dinner table little girl smiling food

In the City of Sydney's area, we fill about 70 extra garbage trucks with waste over the holiday season. To help reduce this, we’ve put together a sustainable guide to all your Christmas consumables.

A potted native Christmas tree can last you a lifetime.
A potted native Christmas tree can last you a lifetime.

1. Keep it real – a potted native Christmas tree is the most sustainable option

Real Christmas trees are better for the environment than plastic ones.

Most plastic trees are imported, break after a few years and end up in landfill. If you already have a plastic Christmas tree, continue to use it for as long as you can. If it breaks, try and repair it with wires, tape and glue.

A potted native tree, like a Woolly bush or Wollemi pine, has a similar look to the traditional pine tree and is widely available at local nurseries. They can last a lifetime if you take good care of them and are the most sustainable choice of Christmas tree for the environment and your wallet, too.

A fresh-cut tree is a good option if the supplier plants more than one seedling for every tree they cut. After Christmas, you can recycle them in your green lid bin or book a free pick-up.

A fun alternative that’s great in small spaces is a hanging branch tree for your wall.

2. Memories make the best gifts

Experiences make memorable, sustainable gifts. Check the City of Sydney’s official event guide, What’s On, for great local options like art workshops, concerts and cooking classes.

Earn brownie points from your loved ones with thoughtful IOU vouchers. You can get creative with what you ‘owe’ – a sunset picnic on Observatory Hill, a game of pickleball or taking the bins out all year. Try making vouchers from scrap paper or print your own – there’s plenty of free templates online.

Reusable water bottles, coffee cups and beeswax wraps are perfect presents to help your friends and family reduce their waste all year.

For big family gatherings or the workplace, gift-giving games like White Elephant Secret Santa are fun and mean you only buy one gift instead of many. Use an app like Elfster or draw names where everyone can create and share wish lists – a great way to avoid unwanted gifts.

Get help from experts

For more sustainable Christmas ideas, have a chat to our waste avoidance experts, who are holding pop-up stalls in December:

  • Town Hall House, Level 1, 456 Kent Street Sydney, Thursday 7 December, 11:30am-2:30pm
  • Customs House Library, 31 Alfred Street, Circular Quay, Tuesday 12 December 10:30am-1:30pm
  • Glebe Library, 186 Glebe Point Road, Glebe, Wednesday 13 December, 10:30am-1:30pm
  • Green Square Library, 355 Botany Road, Zetland, Thursday 14 December, 10:30am-1:30pm.

Decorate paper bags with a potato stamp to make beautiful wrapping.
Decorate paper bags with a potato stamp to make beautiful wrapping.

3. Wrap it up with a food delivery bag

Instead of putting them in the recycling bin, save those brown paper bags you get from food deliveries or the supermarket and use them to wrap your gifts. And if you’ve got any old potatoes that look a bit worse for wear, have fun making potato stamps to decorate your bag.

Or try your hand at furoshiki, the Japanese tradition of fabric wrapping.

Finish them off by making gift tags by cutting off the front of last year’s Christmas cards.

Cut out the crackers for a more sustainable Christmas
Cut out the crackers for a more sustainable Christmas

4. Cut out the Christmas crackers

Christmas crackers are fun for about 1 minute – then the dad jokes, torn paper crowns and plastic gifts are left behind and swept into the bin.

If you can’t bear to forgo the tradition, choose the most sustainable option and make your own Christmas crackers. You can also search online for where to buy reusable, recyclable or plastic-free options.

5. Feast on leftovers

If you find yourself with a fridge full of leftovers on Boxing Day, you can preserve them for longer using these simple tips. You may be surprised how many foods you can freeze. And if you’re fed up with ham and turkey sandwiches, try these recipes to give your leftovers a new flavour or use a recipe tool like KitchenHand for creative, customised ideas.

A guide to Christmas recycling

If you have unwanted wrapping, trees or gifts, find out how to dispose of them responsibly in our Christmas recycling guide.

Published 18 November 2021, updated 8 December 2023