Simple Steps Towards a Sustainable Christmas

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Low Waste Lifestyle’s Camille de Burgh shares how to make some simple changes this Christmas that can make a difference to the planet. 

Christmas is almost upon us.  It’s a time for feasting with family and friends and gift-giving –but it is also a time often marked by excess.  

Each Australian Christmas, 150,000 kms of wrapping paper is used to wrap presents, 25 per cent of all food purchased at Christmas is discarded to landfill, 20 million unwanted gifts are received every year, charity shops spend millions to dispose of unwanted Christmas presents dumped at their stores, and over 65 per cent of Australians report feeling some financial strain.  

Is there another way to celebrate that doesn’t cost the earth?  Can we celebrate Christmas sustainably? Sustainability is about using only those resources you need and leaving enough for future generations.  If that sounds like a worthwhile aspiration, then here is the ultimate guide to celebrating a sustainable Christmas. 


Shop from small and sustainable businesses

There are so many amazing small businesses right here in Canberra that produce beautiful gifts. 

Gift an experience rather than ‘stuff’

Experiences are a great way to keep waste out of landfill and to encourage someone to do something that they might not otherwise have done. 

Shop second-hand or vintage

Not everything needs to be brand new from the shop in its original packaging. There are so many amazing shops in Canberra that sell pre-loved goods.  

Give handmade or grown

Before you roll your eyes, hear me out! Growing your own gift can be easy and fun.  This year I grew some native geraniums from seed, propagated a variety of geraniums, potted them up – decorated with a Christmas ribbon and gave them as small gifts to a group of my close friends.  Simple and effective. 

For those of you who are crafty or have crafty little ones, why not try making at least part of your gift. One of my friends gave hand knitted wash cloths in a bag made out of old bed sheets. Thoughtful, gorgeous and something I will use again and again! 

Consider a Kris Kringle approach

For larger family Christmas gatherings, try a version of Kris Kringle: the end result is you give and receive one present only. There are lots of variations, but essentially, pick a price limit, assign the givers and receivers (there are apps that can do this for you – of course!). 

The end goal is to give one gift that someone actually wants rather than multiple gifts that the receiver might feel lukewarm about. You can achieve this by including gift suggestions of things you might like in the price range or even the link to what you want if you are really cheeky!  


So now you have selected your sustainable gift, it needs to be wrapped beautifully to go under the tree ready for the big day! Our main aim here is to avoid the reams of wrapping paper and paper gift bags that get used momentarily and then sent to landfill the next day.  There has to be a better way! And there is! 

Use what you already have

The first thing to do is to use up your existing supplies of gift bags and wrapping paper, whether on the roll or carefully saved from previous years.  

Make or purchase material bags or wraps

These are really growing in popularity, and there are lots available to purchase.  But for anyone with a sewing machine these are easy to make your self.  You don’t even need a pattern – just to be able to cut and sew straight(ish).  

We have been making “custom sized” bags for a few years now (we stand around the pile of presents and then artfully lay strips of material on them to size them up and then we cut and sew – and voila!) My point here is, it’s pretty easy to do, I am not crafty, I assure you, but I do have a sewing machine. 

Now we are getting even more sophisticated and theming the wrapping by colour or print for some added flair!  They look beautiful under the tree and the wrapping becomes part of the present itself.  Some recipients keep them to wrap their presents next year (this is the goal) and some hand them back to us on the spot – which means less work for us next year!! 


Wraps (essentially square pieces of fabric) or Furoshiki are a Japanese style of wrapping presents – there are lots of beautiful ways you can wrap presents using furoshiki.  

You don’t even have to sew the material if you don’t want to, you can simply choose a piece of fabric that you like, cut it to size and secure with ribbon – its just as effective. 

Think minimalist

Lots of shops these days provide paper bags for your purchases.  Many of these are plain and with a ribbon around the handle to smarten them up can look just as good under the tree. And honestly does your Dad really mind if his socks, books, tools don’t come in embossed wrapping paper?

Better yet, once they have been used, you can rip up the bag to go into your compost bin along with your Christmas food scraps – speaking of which…


Food is a key part of Christmas and there are a few key steps to follow to reduce unwanted waste. 

Plan your menu and then stick to it

Try not to over cater as experience tells us there is ALWAYS too much food on the table!

Shop local and seasonal

Shop for your Christmas meal at one of our Canberra’s farmers’ markets, and be sure to buy seasonal vegetables and fruit.


Google recipes to use up leftovers and compost your food scraps! 


Decorating the house and the table doesn’t have to mean buying new and expensive (packaged) items. 

Think preloved

Try shopping at second-hand shops and antique stores – they’re sure to have some gorgeous pieces for your Christmas table.

Or make your own!

It’s so easy to make your own tablecloths, table runners and serviettes for your Christmas table.  Simply choose from the beautiful fabrics available at sewing stores and with a few straight hems you can have new festive table linen every year AND be sustainable.   

TIP: You can always cut up your home made table cloths after you have used them for next year’s Christmas gift bags. 

With a little bit of planning, thought and enthusiasm to be kinder to the planet (and ourselves) you too can create a more sustainable Christmas. Even adopting just one of the above suggestions will help.  

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