Have yourself a zero-waste Christmas

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

If you celebrate Christmas, you’re probably familiar with scenes of lounge room floors carpeted in discarded wrapping paper, fridges full of leftovers and the slow passing of your pine tree.

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

A hanging branch tree is great for small spaces

The tree – real or fake?

Plastic Christmas trees come with a big carbon footprint. Most are imported, break after a few years, and end up in landfill where they generate harmful greenhouse gases.

Real, fresh-cut trees are a better option, particularly if purchased from a sustainable farm. They’ll live for a few weeks and you can recycle them into mulch by booking a free pick-up.

A zero-waste alternative is a potted native tree, like the woolly bush or Wollemi pine. They have a similar look to the traditional pine tree and can last a lifetime if you take good care of them.

If you’re feeling crafty, why not DIY a Christmas tree from a fallen branch. You’re more likely to find one if you take a walk after a storm. If space is limited, make a hanging branch tree for your wall.

Memorable – and useful – gifts

While ‘tis the season for giving, you can avoid cramming the stocking with wasteful or pointless presents you’re not sure they’ll even like.

It may seem obvious, but an often-forgotten step is just to ask your loved ones what they want for Christmas. Try and source things secondhand by rummaging through charity or antique stores or shopping online with Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or eBay.

Experiences make memorable gifts. Whether it’s tickets to a show, a massage voucher or salsa dancing lessons, you can make it a no or low-waste gift by sending it electronically or printing it out and popping it in a card. Avoid buying gift vouchers that come on a plastic card as they can’t be recycled.

For big family gatherings or the workplace, gift giving games like Secret Santa or White Elephant are fun and mean you only buy 1 gift instead of many.

Your 4-legged friends deserve a gift too. Especially after supporting you through lockdown. There are plenty of toys you can create from your old clothes and rags, like snuffle mats and sock snakes.

Furoshiki fabric gift wrapping looks beautiful and can be reused countless times

Thoughtful wrapping

Instead of single-use wrapping paper or gift bags, try your hand at furoshiki, the Japanese tradition of fabric wrapping.
Be creative with what’s around you. Wrap gifts in reusable cloth bags, tea towels or a pretty scarf. Or reuse a cardboard box, newspaper or brown paper bag decorated with flowers or leaves. Make gift tags by cutting off the front of last year’s Christmas cards.

If you receive a gift in wrapping paper, resist the temptation to rip it open. Instead, open it carefully and save the wrapping for next time.

A dining table for more than one special occasion

Before you go shopping for your Christmas feast, plan your portions, write a list (and check it twice) and don’t forget your reusable shopping bags. When browsing the aisles, opt for items with no packaging or look for packaging made from recycled or recyclable materials.

When setting the table, it can be tempting to use disposable plates, cups and cutlery to save you washing up. But these often end up in landfill where they can take hundreds of years to decompose. Instead, put out your best crockery and utensils. It’s a special occasion after all. If you need an upgrade, you can often find beautiful complete crockery sets for cheap at charity stores.

Christmas crackers are fun for about 1 minute. Whether you emerge the victor or the loser from the tug-of-war – 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, make your own crackers or search online for where to buy reusable, recyclable or plastic-free options.

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.

A guide to Christmas recycling

Nobody's perfect. If you have unwanted wrapping, trees or gifts, find out how to dispose of them responsibly in our Christmas recycling guide.

Posted . Last updated .

Subscribe for updates

Choose the news that interests you

Sign up
Sign up