Any day now and the Great Christmas Question will be asked:

“What do you want for Christmas?”

I’m not allowed to ask for world peace any more so I tend to go down the utilitarian route. Clothes, for instance, but my wardrobe and sock drawer are pretty full at the moment. Gastronomic treats are possibility; little indulgences I wouldn’t normally buy for myself and that I can enjoy over a few weeks or so (not dropping any hints or anything, but good quality, fair trade hot chocolate comes to mind). Or maybe some books. Paper versions are fine, especially when they’re printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. They’re recyclable, (mostly) biodegradable, can be shared and reused and even used as biofuel when their time comes. In the meantime they’re a great form of carbon storage. So yeah, I’ll think I’ll opt for a good book or two this Christmas.

But however green you and I may make our Christmases, there’s no hiding the fact that the festive season is the season of waste.

Good wrap, bad wrap

According to Mark Hall of, Australians will throw out over 360,000 km of wrapping paper over the Christmas period. That’s more than 15 metres each! Then there are over a billion Christmas cards to go in the bin along with an incalculable amount of product packaging. Let’s not forget the millions of unthoughtful and unwanted gifts that will quickly be discarded along with all the suddenly obsolete gadgets. And that’s before we even get started on the bottles and cans and excess food that seem to be an essential part of the festive waste stream.

What will you do with your 15m of discarded Christmas wrapping? Image: Adam Wells via Flickr (CC)

Yes, a lot of this can (and will) go into the recycling bin, but gift-wrap is a particular problem. “There’s so much wrapping for sale that can’t be recycled,” says Mark. “It’s a dead-end product that can only be thrown away or burned”. The same applies to Christmas cards with glitter and tinsel and pretty metal foil patterns.

Mark points to a simple solution. Buy recyclable gift-wrap or, even better, wrap that is itself recycled and recyclable. says it is hard for consumers to know what is in their wrapping paper and whether it’s recyclable, and is calling for clearer labelling and a reduction in products that end up in landfill or so-called energy recovery.

Another great option is to reuse last year’s wrapping paper. My (now adult) kids are still quite happy with gifts wrapped in slightly crumpled paper with nicks in the edges where the old sticky tape was pulled off. Or as Mark suggests, opt for reusable gift bags and boxes.

More good ideas

There’s more to an environmentally friendly Christmas than recycled wrapping paper, and the good folk over at Planet Ark have come up with the 12 DOs of Christmas. From homemade Christmas decorations through to giving rechargeable batteries and a charger along with any battery-operated gifts, they have a heap of good ideas. Twelve in fact.

Image of plastic bottle Christmas trees: Passion Leica via Flickr (CC)

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