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By  Natalie Kikken 11 December 2023 3 min read

Key points

  • The amount of waste produced at Christmas is 30 per cent higher than the rest of the year.
  • We asked our scientists for their top tips to reduce plastic waste this festive season.
  • Ideas include re-usable wrappings, rethinking gift ideas and considering plastic alternatives.

In Australia, 76 million tonnes of waste is produced every year. During the festive season this amount can increase by a significant 30 per cent! 

To wrap Christmas gifts, Australians use more than 150,000 km of wrapping paper during the festive season. That’s nearly enough paper to wrap around Earth’s equator four times! It’s also estimated $900 billion worth of presents will go to waste.

Small changes can add up to big differences. Here are some ideas to reduce waste this Christmas.

That’s a wrap on wasteful wrapping

Tired of the mountain of torn wrapping paper destined for the bin on Christmas morning? Use fabric to wrap gifts instead. You can also re-use paper and gift bags. Re-decorate the bags with previously used wrapping. If you have kids, you can use their drawings to wrap gifts for a unique and special touch.

Using cloth ribbons to tie up packages can avoid the plastic-based varieties. Presenting gifts in glass, such as homemade jams and bath salts, can avoid wrapping altogether. Or what about making your own Santa sack? This means gifts don’t need to be wrapped.

You can also add some extra pizazz to the wrapping material of your choice with our recipe for biodegradable edible glitter!

Sustainable decorations: plastic alternatives

You don’t have to take the sparkle out of your holiday when going waste free. When it comes to bon bons, look out for plastic-free bon bons for the table. If you’re into crafting or sewing, you can even make your own. This is a good activity for the family, and a good way to recycle your dad jokes!

If you’re tree-shopping this December, there are a few options to consider. If using a plastic tree, consider purchasing a tree that can be used for many years, rather than just once. Or purchase a real tree or collect branches to build your own. 

For decorations, you could make your own using other materials, such as paper and clay. Making and painting baked dough Christmas ornaments can be a fun and creative approach for the whole family.

Furthermore, instead of tinsel, try feeding popcorn onto thread to decorate your sustainable tree.

Instead of plastic baubles, make your own tree decorations out of paper or other materials ©  Unsplash / Beth Macdonald

Plastic-free gift ideas

One way to significantly reduce waste is to consider alternatives to physical gifts. For example, buying 'experiences', memberships, gift vouchers or donating to causes for your loved one. This eliminates gifts made of plastic, reduces waste, and is less likely to be left forgotten in the corner of a cupboard. 

You could spice up gift-giving for large extended families and groups by adopting Secret Santa, which means you only need to buy one gift. Or get everyone to pitch in for a larger longer-life present.

Another approach is through re-use. Encourage family and friends to buy second-hand gifts. There is no shame in giving pre-loved items as gifts for loved ones. You might find a one-of-a-kind gift too! 

Gifting plants is an environmentally friendly option. Baked goods could also be a tasty and well-received pressie!

One of our scientists recycles timber to make personalised gifts such as chopping boards, chess boards, and jewellery boxes. 

If purchasing gifts, buying at a shop rather than online reduces the need for packaging.

What a treat! Baked goods can make for a tasty present for your loved ones. ©  Unsplash/ Monika Grabkowska

Recipe for a merry festive season

When it comes to Christmas dining, our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs. As we stock up on traditional Christmas goodies such as (sustainably produced) prawns, turkey and pudding, a large amount of food ends up in the bin.

It's estimated nearly 7.6 million tonnes of food across the food supply chain ends up as waste every year.

Meal planning can help. Only buy enough food for those you need to feed. Leftovers for the next day can use up any excess food, providing you store it safely.

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