Get festive this year without leaving an environmental footprint the size of the North Pole. Check out our sustainable Christmas tips and if you’ve got a green tip of your own, we’d love to hear it in the comments section below.

Christmas trees: fake or fresh?

For a lot of us, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree, so should you fake it or go fresh?

Fake plastic trees tend to be re-used for between six to 10 years, but they eventually get tossed. Once they’re in landfill, they never degrade. Plus they’re usually made overseas and it takes energy and resources to make and transport them to our lounge rooms.

Real trees have a footprint too, but that’s relatively offset by the carbon soaked up during their time in the ground. The greenest option is to make your own arrangements with branches or grab a potted Australian native pine like a Wollemi or Cypress that can be used year after year – decorate with homemade trinkets and recycled goodies. Or if you want to buy some, make sure they’re manufactured to last.

DIY, homemade or vintage gifts

Instead of buying all your gifts new, choose vintage or pre-loved items from markets, op shops, Etsy or garage sales. Even better, there’s a bevy of online stores that specialise in homemade and local products.

Why not try a DIY gift? You have a chance to indulge in a ‘crafternoon’, and your lucky recipient will have a truly unique gift. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Try these sites for inspiration:

Work with items you already own or have access to, or check op-shops, vintage stores and markets for supplies:

How to find sustainable and ethical store-bought gifts

If getting crafty is not for you, then give some thought to what you buy, where it came from, who made it and how far it travelled. Shop local and buy Australian-made where possible (try independent maker markets like Carriageworks’ Twilight Market or Australian Design Centre’s Christmas Market). Look for certifications, like Fair Trade and cruelty-free such as Good Spender. Check your favourite charity sites for more options such as Give Now – a commission free website listing a huge number of charities and options for non-monetary giving. You could also give the gift of an experience or a workshop to learn a new skill. The feeling will last much longer than a throw-away material item. Some ideas might be:

Cards and wrap: time to get crafty

Beautifully wrapped presents quickly turn into a depressing mountain of ripped paper. Cut the waste with material off-cuts, old scarves or vintage hankies.

You can reuse your cards too. Try chopping up last year’s cards and turn them into gift tags, or cut off the picture side and send them as Christmas postcards. E-cards are a great way of saving money and trees, but if you prefer sending them the traditional way, go for cards made from recycled paper or ones that support a charity.

Decorations: deck the halls with recycled goodies

Choose durable baubles and trinkets that will last for years. Instead of using paper napkins, tablecloths, plates and cutlery, go for fabric ones that can be washed and used again. Decorate the table with flowers or pine cones and get the kids to make name tags and place settings out of last year’s Christmas paper and cards.

If you have old decorations that you won’t reuse, donate them to an op shop or online through sites like Gumtree or OzRecycle. Finally, when it comes to lighting up your tree, make sure you choose LEDs.

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Food: buy seasonal, local and watch the waste

Many of us are guilty of stuffing ourselves at Christmas, but unfortunately we also end up throwing away tonnes of perfectly good food. This is really bad for the environment: when wasted food breaks down in landfill it generates methane – a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide.

Instead of chucking your leftovers, freeze them for a rainy day or get creative and turn them into something else. If you need inspiration, check out tips from OzHarvest, Food Wise, National Leftovers Day, Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Food Waste Tips and this list of 100 ways to use your left overs and scraps.

Shopping local and buying seasonal produce helps support local businesses and cuts down on unnecessary travel miles.

Find which suppliers stock local meat and fish in our article here, by Youth Food Movement, or see our list of the best local farmers markets in inner Sydney.

And when it’s all over?

Don’t let your unwanted gifts end up in landfill. If you have a receipt then hotfoot it back to the store for an exchange, store credit or refund. Or you could re-gift it, donate it or sell it online using services like Gumtree, Ziilch, The Freecycle Network or Ozrecyle. Check Garbage Guru if you’re tossing, to see where more tricky items should go.

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