How to be more eco-friendly when you're gifting this Christmas

Clara V.
Clara V.Published on 30 Nov 2021

The holiday season is all about spending time with the people you love, but this time of year takes a huge toll on the planet. Australians produce 30 percent more waste over the holiday season - that includes food waste, unwanted presents, and all the single-use plastics used in gift packaging and decorations.

This staggering number is why more people are starting to switch up their consumption habits during Christmas. Luckily, now there’s more choice in sustainable and ethical gifts than ever before to meet this consumer demand.

We have some tips to help you gift more sustainably these holidays, so that you can do the right thing by the planet, minimise financial stress, and feel better about the gifts you give.

Two hands wrapping a Christmas gift in a piece of fabric and tucking a few pine branches in the packaging.

1. Give yourself time.

Often panic-bought gifts are the ones that are most likely to be thrown out or given away first. Planning your gift-giving early will ensure you have enough time to find a unique gift for a loved one.

Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they have specific items on their wishlist, as these gifts are less likely to end up in landfill. There’s also less chance of you wasting your hard-earned money on something that won’t be used or appreciated.

2. Consider doing a Secret Santa.

Also called Kris Kringle, doing a Secret Santa gift exchange means you can focus on getting one great gift for someone instead of spreading yourself thin and getting average gifts for a lot of people. It means less stress for everyone involved and the layer of mystery can add a bit more fun to your Christmas. What’s not to love?

3. Give quality gifts that are designed to last.

Skip stuffing the stocking for stuffing the stocking’s sake and invest in gifts that your loved ones will really enjoy.

Read reviews to see how durable a product you're thinking of buying is. A gift that gives years and years of use isn’t just more environmentally friendly, but will be better appreciated by those who receive them.

Look for products with long warranties (or even lifetime guarantees) and the option of repair if things go wrong, as well as products that seem to be well-designed.

Avoid novelty gifts altogether.

If you’re trying to be a bit more eco-friendly during the holidays, don’t get your friend a T-shirt with their face plastered across it, or a wine rack bra. These things won’t even be re-gifted; they’ll just be thrown out once the joke gets old.

4. Look for ethically and sustainably made presents.

There are plenty of products, from personal care to beauty products, that are ethically made and created with sustainable materials and production processes.

Makeup and cosmetics are popular Christmas gifts, and there are plenty of beauty brands with a focus on sustainability to choose from.

Inika Organic uses 100% certified organic and vegan ingredients in their makeup and skincare, and they use fully recyclable product packaging. Ethique is a brand that offers hair care, skincare, and body care products in plastic-free, compostable packaging, while Mukti Organics uses eco-friendly ingredients and native Australian extracts in their skincare. These brands are just the tip of the sustainable beauty iceberg.

When shopping for clothes, look for clothes brands that are Fair Trade or that try to minimise waste. Bamboo clothing, such as Step One Bamboo Underwear or the garments sold by Boody, is increasing in popularity among planet-conscious consumers, as it uses minimal water and is fast-growing.

5. Check retailers’ returns policies.

There’s always a chance that even the most thoughtful gift won’t be appreciated as much as was hoped. Make sure that you check with a retailer before buying a gift if they allow exchanges. If it’s a bigger purchase that may not be used straight away, then a lengthier return period will ensure your loved one has enough time to see whether the gift is right for them.

You can often get a gift receipt with an item you purchase. A gift receipt won’t display the price; the recipient will only find out the price if they choose to return it.

Remember that under Australian Consumer Law, retailers are obligated to allow a refund, replacement, or repair at no cost for purchased goods that are faulty.

A man helping a young boy open a Christmas gift in a dimly lit room surrounded by family.

6. Skip the gift wrapping or get crafty doing it.

Over the Christmas period, we go through roughly 150,000 kilometres of wrapping paper, almost all of which goes straight to landfill on Boxing Day. Whatever you decide to gift, consider wrapping it in a zero-waste or reusable alternative.

Here are some of our sustainable gift wrapping tips:

  • Get the creative juices flowing by wrapping gifts in a page from a newspaper, magazine, or calendar of the year that’s just gone by.
  • Reuse gift bags, tissue paper, and ribbon from previous Christmases and birthdays, and make a point to keep any salvageable gift wrapping you receive this year too.
  • Wrap a gift in a fabric scarf. This serves as a 2-in-1 present, as your loved one will also get a stylish accessory. You can buy these for cheap from charity and second hand stores.
  • If you do need to buy wrapping paper, choose something free of foil, glitter, or anything that can’t be recycled. Brown paper works well and will make your gift look great.
  • Skip Christmas-themed stickers and gift packaging and pick a small branch off a tree in your garden to accompany your gift - your gift will look festive without you needing to spend a cent.
  • Recycle last year’s Christmas cards. You can cut the front off and write on the back of them like a postcard - save money and paper!

7. Consider gifting experiences, not just things.

Instead of adding to the deluge of material gifts given this Christmas, you could give an experience to a loved one.

You could get a gift voucher for their favourite restaurant or beauty salon, or a Ticketmaster voucher so that they can see a gig or show of their choosing.

Group buying sites like Scoopon, Groupon, and Cudo let you buy anything from a pottery class or a comedy burlesque show to a full day pass at a bouldering gym as a Christmas gift.

These experiences let your loved ones make new memories, without adding to landfill. Plus, there’s no harm in trying something new.

8. Be thoughtful with the post-Christmas cleanup.

We’ve already mentioned keeping gift wrapping so that you can reuse for the next birthday or Christmas, but you may not have a use for everything.

A lot of gifts - particularly ones that you’ve had delivered - will come in soft plastic packaging, which can be recycled with services like RecycleSmart and Planet Ark. All Woolworths stores also have a REDcycle recycling bin for you to bring in soft plastics that can’t be recycled at home.

9. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

Trying to be more eco-friendly is harder than it looks, especially around the holiday season when you’ve got a packed calendar and you’re spending more money than you usually do.

If you don’t achieve the zero-waste holiday you were hoping for, don’t fret. Small, incremental changes to how you give this Christmas can make a huge difference in the long run if you keep them up.

Environmental benefits aside, being more mindful of your waste and choosing high quality, long-lasting ethical products can make you better appreciate giving and receiving gifts, and in turn better appreciate the time spent with your family and friends.

This article is the first part of a two-part series on reducing waste at Christmas. You can read the second part of this series about how to reduce food waste when planning your holiday feast here.