Give Yourself the Gift of a Sustainable Christmas
Words by Melanie Grevis-James
Christmas is a wonderful time of year, and we all want to celebrate it with abundance and gift-giving. But we also know the pressure that our consumption is putting on the environment. That doesn’t mean we have to give up on Christmas traditions. There are a lot of ways we can be more sustainable and low impact without losing those feelings of joy and plenty with our family and friends.
Here are some of our favourite ways to give yourself the gift of a low-impact, sustainable Christmas.
How to Have a Sustainable Christmas
Give the Gift of Experiences
One fantastic way to reduce your consumption and impact on the environment is by giving vouchers for experiences instead of physical presents. Sadly, many families can’t be together to celebrate Christmas this year due to Covid-19 restrictions – so gift vouchers for an experience are also an ideal way to send a special gift to loved ones who may be interstate or overseas. This could be family movie vouchers, or tickets to the local theatre or a football game, beauty treatment vouchers, or even handmade ‘coupons’ (the kind kids have been giving parents for decades). And experiences leave you with memories that can last a lifetime. A great local experience gift idea here in Brisbane is “Mystery Picnics” for the family.
Upcycle Your Gifts
Upcycling gifts is a wonderful way to give beautiful, thoughtful items that not only reduce consumption, but waste as well. An upcycled gift can be almost anything. I know a father who created a garden play-house shop out of old wooden packing crates, and the children enjoyed years of fun and use playing in it. And I know a woman who had some gems from an old ring turned into earrings for her daughter. Both show thought, creativity and care for both the recipient and the environment.
Consider Your Wrapping
The swathes of wrapping paper, bags of bows and adornments of gift tags can lead to an awful amount of waste. But there are just as many ways to create a beautifully wrapped gift, without the impact on the environment.
Using homemade wrapping paper is one fantastic way. And there are as many ways to do this as you can imagine. Have your kids draw on butcher’s paper, or use the wrapping off of other products (we love the cool designs from Who Gives a Crap). Decorate the gift with natural touches – leaves, seed pods, flowers – our Australian native plants are perfect for long-lasting decoration. You can also wrap your gifts in old scarves or shirts sourced from an op shop. It’s a little like a two-in-one gift, as well.
Use a Potted Christmas Tree, and Reuse it Every Year
Many people believe that a plastic tree is the most sustainable option for Christmas. But it turns out that’s wrong. In fact, a two metre artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40kg of CO2E which is more than twice that of a real tree that ends up in landfill and 10 times that of a real tree that is burnt.
Even better than a cut tree, the best and most sustainable option is a beautiful, potted tree. A live Christmas tree can be kept in your own garden and brought in for a couple of weeks at Christmas time. So not only do you get a lovely, live tree, but one that can be used year after year. Make sure you water it regularly if kept inside – and provide fresh air (try to avoid air-conditioning).
You’ll want to ensure that your tree is an Aussie native, however. Native plants are adapted to our environment and that means they use less water and provide a valuable habitat for native birds and insects. Check here for Australian Geographic’s 6 native Christmas tree suggestions.
When you do decide to buy a gift or a service, make it a local one. Supporting local businesses is great for the economy and will almost certainly have a lower impact on the environment than products made overseas and shipped to Australia. It also feels really good to contribute to the success of your neighbours and friends.
Have a Low Impact Christmas Lunch (or Dinner)
Having a low impact Christmas meal is as easy as piling the table with vegetarian options. That doesn’t mean cutting out meat completely (unless that’s something you want to do), but meat production and consumption have a big impact on the environment. When you do use meat, go with free range or organically managed farms. And make sure that no matter what you serve, you send leftovers home with loved ones so there’s no waste.
Put a Charity on Your Christmas List
When people ask what you’d like for Christmas ask for a donation to charity instead of a gift. This helps avoid unnecessary consumption for yourself, and can help others as well. It is only truly Christmas when everyone can share it and it is, after all, the season for giving. Young people experiencing disadvantage need your help this Christmas and organisations like The Smith Family believes supporting a child’s education is the best way to help break the poverty cycle. Another lovely idea is to support organisations like The Salvation Army with their Buy a Christmas Wish Campaign where you will find a beautiful range of festive season gift ideas to be delivered to the more vulnerable people in our community. For other unique charity gift ideas this Christmas click here.
Just be aware that not everyone may appreciate this, so you might want to have a secondary smaller gift in mind that still allows you to achieve your goal of a low impact, sustainable Christmas while still giving Grandma or Auntie Kerstin something little to open on Christmas day.
Sustainability is Worth it
Shifting our mindsets and perception about what is important at Christmas is part of building a sustainable holiday season. But there’s no reason that a low impact Christmas can’t still be filled with just as much abundance and joy. In fact, I think a low-impact and thoughtful Christmas brings more joy – to both the giver and the receiver. And it’s worth it for the planet.
Melanie is the editor and publisher of Our Planet Travel. She has travelled extensively throughout Australia since a young child – exploring and camping in many remote places. Her love of nature, photography and travelling continues to this day. She feels most at home in the desert and the wild open spaces of Outback Australia. Although she won’t say no to an eco 5-star hotel every now and then, too!
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