Tips for a more sustainable Christmas

By Danel Wentzel, 20th December 2022

Christmas is upon us, and with it comes the seemingly inevitable avalanche of unwanted gifts, glittery wrapping paper, and endless plates of festive snacks. Or at least that’s how it used to be, as many of us now realise how our lifestyles impact our planet.

Enjoying Christmas more mindfully is becoming more appealing.

We all need festive cheer and lovely gifts more than ever, but there’s a way to enjoy all of it that’s less harmful to the environment. From choosing eco-friendly gifts for Christmas to decking the halls more sustainably, we asked our Shark Education Centre staff for their easy-to-follow tips that will make your Christmas no less fun but with a bit less of an environmental footprint.

We asked our Shark Education Centre staff for their easy-to-follow sustainable Christmas tips. Image by Olesya Kuprina | Shutterstock.




Eco-friendly gifts have come so far over the past few years, and now there are some truly gorgeous finds with reduced environmental impact.

Gifting homemade creations or your favourite thrift finds is an even easier way to lower your holiday environmental impact. It goes without saying that choosing to shop local or supporting small brands also goes a long way.

Watch out for fair trade credentials and companies that generally keep their carbon footprint low but love for the planet and people high! Here is a great guide from WWF UK.



First off, you want to avoid using shiny gift wrap as it can’t be recycled. That’s because glossy or foil-like wrapping papers use a mixture of materials that can’t be easily separated for recycling purposes. Choose brown paper instead and add fun and colour with sustainably dyed paper labels. Use brown thread for a cool, natural look or keep it festive with ribbon but be sure to reuse it year after year.

Our centre director, Clova, even uses old newspapers to wrap gifts. By adding a splash of colour, ribbons and some biodegradable glitter, even an old newspaper can be made festive.

Choose brown paper over shiny gift wrapping paper, which can’t be recycled. Image by Bogdan Sonjachnyj | Shutterstock.


Gifting an experience for your loved ones will reduce the demand for physical resources. The gift of time also brings people together, and in Cape Town, we are spoilt with options to choose from that will reduce your Christmas footprint.

You could buy tickets to shows, concerts or events. Gift a homemade coupon book. Make a restaurant reservation or give a gift card. Why not plan a day out to Cape Point or even make a homemade meal? It also means Christmas comes twice for the receiver when they get to go on the experience!

Here are 50 Things To Do In Cape Town.

The gift of time and experience brings people together and is also great for the planet! Image by Joost van Uffelen | Shutterstock.


Reduce waste even further by buying gifts with little or no packaging. Shopping locally can help, especially if you have a local refill shop. If you must use packaging, use recycled or recyclable materials.  Avoid plastic where possible, and don’t forget your reusable bags to carry all your shopping home!





A staggering amount of food goes to waste every Christmas as we all still over-buy ahead of the big day. While having too little food is many people’s idea of a Christmas nightmare, writing a list (and then sticking to it) is a must before hitting the supermarket if you want to avoid panic buying and the waste it incurs.

If you end up with leftovers, use Tupperware, foil and wax cloth covers instead of clingfilm to keep leftovers nice and fresh! And think twice before tossing it in the trash.



According to the WWF UK, poultry is in the top 10 most wasted foods in the UK, and 100,000 tonnes of it is tossed in the trash yearly. Eating more plant-based meals is good for you and the planet. The livestock industry generates 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. It requires enormous amounts of space, water and feed.

Instead, you could be creative and cook an environmentally friendly, vegan Christmas meal! Take a look at Jamie Oliver’s favourite vegan Christmas spreads that will surely leave your meat-loving uncle wanting thirds.

A beautiful vegan Christmas meal. Image by


Make your shopping basket more sustainable by buying locally produced products. Support local farmers by eating produce in season. Or even get yourself a veggie box! Doing so reduces the energy spent growing food out of season or shipping it.





Decorations made from recycled wood, fabric, and glass make great alternatives to plastic or PVC options that are non-recyclable.

When choosing Christmas decorations, we’d recommend opting for classic designs that will be loved for years, as opposed to trendy pieces that you’ll be tired of by next Christmas. Even better, make your own decorations and get creative with what you have.

We love making wreaths out of local fynbos flowers and these cute baking soda dough sea art ornaments that are perfect for a tree.

Fynbos Christmas wreath. Image by A Passion For Flowers


Use LED lights on your Christmas tree. They use less energy, last longer and look just as good! LED lights use an average of 75% less energy and can last up to 25 times longer, meaning you’ll save energy (and money from your pocket). Also, switch off your lights at night – it’s safer and won’t cost the earth.





This year, choose the sustainable option and try using clothing you already own! If you can’t find anything to wear, ask your friends or family. Or try looking around second-hand shops for your new Christmas party outfit.



The festive season is all about spending time with friends and family. Try making one of your festive activities a walk around your local park or nature reserve. Summer is an excellent time for flower-picking and bird-watching! Download the iNaturalist app, which lets you identify and discover more about local species. It also helps scientists to track global biodiversity!

Image by stockphoto-graf | Shutterstock

That’s it for our team’s easy-to-follow sustainable Christmas tips. From our family to yours, we fish you a flappy Christmas and a fin-tastic New Year!