Your Comprehensive Guide to a Plastic Free Christmas

A plastic free Christmas. Is this achievable at all?

Christmas is that time of the year when it’s much easier to create more waste than usual due to gifting, decorating for the festivities, and over-buying food for overindulging parties and functions …

According to the Stanford University’s Waste Reduction, Recycling, Composting and Solid Waste Program, in the USA alone, household waste increases by 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year. If we add Black Friday & Cyber Monday’s spontaneous online and offline purchases, just before Thanksgiving, that percentage might be even more.

In Australia, the statistics around Christmas waste are no different. According to Australian Ethical the amount of waste Australians produce increases by 30% at Christmas and nearly 5 million tonnes of food goes straight into landfill.

These tips will guide you on how to prepare for a zero waste Christmas or at least one with less waste – a greener Christmas – within these three areas:

  1. Christmas Decorations
  2. Christmas Gifting
  3. Christmas Food


Switch to Eco-friendly Christmas Decorations

In below overview we’ll discuss zero-waste Christmas decorations like:

Christmas Tree
Christmas Lights & Decorations
Christmas Crackers


Sustainable Christmas Tree, Baubles & Tinsel

If you have already a plastic Christmas fake tree, just reuse it year after year!

  • If you need a new Christmas tree, make one out of a wooden step ladder and a few decorations, or out of bottles (find ideas on Pinterest or watch the video listed here below)
  • Decorate an indoor or outdoor plant
  • Buy a real tree, i.e. a living tree with roots that can be planted after, a grown tree that has more chances to survive the festive season and can be used year after year
  • Use a tree rental service but make sure that they offer a potted Christmas tree that has proper roots and can be replanted!
  • You don’t need to buy new plastic baubles and tinsel, try to see if you can find some secondhand deco made of other materials



Please note: instead of the nylon fishing line you can use a compostable cord.


Choose Zero Waste Christmas Decorations & LED Lights

  • Create DIY Christmas tree decorations by using for example:
        • cinnamon sticks macrame Christmas ornaments
        • dry orange peel ornaments
        • salt dough ornaments
        • Mahogany tree seed pods or pine cones that you can decorate as you please
  • Search for secondhand Christmas decorations on the Facebook marketplace
  • If you need new lights, buy some LED or solar-powered ones
  • Make a Christmas wreath using native greenery/foliage, dry orange slices, pine cones, ribbons etc.
  • Use native greenery / foliage as well to decorate your Christmas lunch table instead of plastic decorations
  • Light soy candles made locally that are circular and refillable

Plastic Free Christmas Decorations

 Image credit: Etsy – SaltTribeUk 


Opt for Plastic free Christmas Crackers

Who doesn’t love the excitement and tradition of the Christmas Cracker and the ‘BANG’ with a gift or surprise that gets flung across the beautifully decorated Christmas table?
But the surprise is often met with disappointment as the gift is collected from wherever it landed. There is more than a cheap plastic toy that serves no purpose and is headed directly to a landfill. How about a cracker gift that can be used and enjoyed?

  • Buy plastic-free Christmas crackers that have paper hats and little useful objects free from plastic, including palm oil free little soaps
  • Make DIY recyclable crackers following instructions on Youtube
  • Buy reusable Christmas Crackers kits which include all items needed to build them yourself
  • Use a Christmas BonBons alternative like the BenBens which include a thought-provoking question and a beautiful crystal set with its intention

The Conscious Plastic Free Christmas Cracker

 Image credit: The Conscious Cracker



Switch to Plastic Free Christmas Gifts and Eco-friendly Wrapping Methods

In the following section, we’ll highlight the problem with unwanted gifts, how to avoid them, and how to choose gifts that won’t end up in a drawer of your house or even worse, in landfills! We’ll highlight as well how to reduce waste when wrapping presents by showing some creative methods that can be adopted in every household.


How to Avoid Unwanted Gifts with Lots of Plastic Packaging during the Festive Season

It’s not just the presents we’re wrapping, it’s the presents themselves. We all try to buy thoughtful gifts, but we are not always successful.

Some 52% of Americans surveyed by Finder admitted to getting at least one unwanted gift over the holidays. The total value of unwanted presents is estimated at around $8.3 billion.

According to Finder, this festive season, Australians are expected to spend $27.3 billion. Of that, about $8.2 billion will be on presents, many of them unwanted according to a survey that found for Christmas in 2019, 53 per cent of Australians received at least one unwanted present. That’s a lot of dollars spent on stuff people don’t really want (and a lot of plastic too).

In fact, way back in 1993, then Yale University economist Joel Waldfogel, wrote a paper on the economic impacts of unwanted presents called The Deadweight Loss of Christmas. This now famous paper suggested that between $10 and $33 was wasted for every $100 spent.




So, what can we do to avoid all this waste of plastic and other resources and still enjoy eco-friendly gifts?

Here is a mini gift guide with tips for sustainable gifting and zero waste gift ideas:

  • Gift an experience instead of a material item (i.e. tickets to concerts, sporting events, fun activities etc.)
  • Gift a year membership to a park or museum
  • Gift classes or lessons to learn something new (i.e. cooking, sports, musical instruments etc.)
  • Gift time: time for yourself through wellness vouchers, or for others like helpers around the house
  • Gift consumables, aka food & drinks, particularly with the rising cost of living, this is a great idea. Examples of consumable gifts are: homemade gifts and cooked food like jams, pasta sauce, chutney, pickled food, etc. in nice mason jars with some greenery and ribbons, plastic free chocolate
  • Adopt an animal or subscribe to / buy gifts from a not-for-profit organization whose cause lies with your heart
  • Donate to a charity instead of receiving a present
  • Shop for ethical, plastic-free gifts
  • Buy eco-friendly gifts for pets
  • Buy plastic free gifts for children:
    • Avoid new toys in plastic and opt for handmade wooden toys or second-hand toys from the opp shop
    • If they like dressing up, buy different second-hand costumes from an opp shop and gift them in a nice reusable box

Plastic Free Toys


Opt for Single-Use Wrapping Paper Alternatives, including Reusable Ribbons and Sticky Tape

According to research by the international aid agency CARE Australia, Australians use an average of eight meters of paper for Christmas gifts. That might not sound like much, but it adds up to around 150,000 kilometers of wrapping paper. Enough to circumnavigate the globe four times.




It’s undeniable that there is something magical about wrapping paper and the element of surprise when you open a gift. The pleasure of a wrapped gift, however, is brief and recycling doesn’t solve the problem.

A lot of wrapping paper can’t be recycled because it is plastic lined or has glitter stuck on it, which is also made from plastic. Even if you could recycle more wrapping paper, the production of all that wrapping paper causes unnecessary damage to the environment. It uses up precious resources, that could be better used for something else!

The same is true for single-use plastic ribbons.

So what are the alternatives to traditional wrapping paper, ribbon & sticky tape?

  • For a true zero waste gift wrapping, wrap presents in reusable fabric instead like Japanese do with their furoshiki wrapping, with no sticky tape, no scissors, no ribbon, no waste, unlike plastic gift wrap!
  • Buy already-made reusable cloth wraps with gorgeous prints, or find scarves & tea towels in opp shops.
  • Use old pillowcases with a fabric ribbon string on top to close it
  • Reuse nice reusable bags and boxes from previous shopping or presents
  • Reuse newspapers, maps, book pages, and even brown paper bags from previous shopping as wrapping paper. These are all recyclable.
  • Last resort, buy brown kraft paper with no plastic coating or 100% recycled wrapping paper
  • If you need ribbon, use cord or string that can be composted
  • Instead of sticky tape, use brown kraft paper tape or cellulose compostable tape

Infinite Wrappery

Image credit: Infinite Wrappery


Avoid Holiday Christmas Cards (Often Wrapped Individually in Plastic Sleeves)

According to the Greeting Card Association, Americans buy about 6.5 billion cards a year, with 1.6 billion selling during the holiday season alone. That’s a lot of paper, and associated soft plastics that makes a plastic-free Christmas impossible!

Here is what to do instead:

  • Send e-cards and emails instead of Christmas cards and letters
  • Make lovely DIY Christmas cards with your kids’ school drawings
  • If you have to buy a new card, choose one made with recycled paper with the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) label


How To Avoid Food Waste During Christmas

As well as wrapping paper and presents, food waste is also a huge problem at Christmas. Of the $4.98 billion Australians are expected to spend on food, about one-third will be thrown out. In addition, with only 30 per cent of households in Australia with access to FOGO (Food Organic and Garden Organic) services, most of this excess will go to landfill. This is not good news for the climate, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that food rotting in landfills releases methane 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide.




Christmas Lunch, Dinner & Festivities

We are tempted to buy more food during the Christmas period and also to buy more expensive food for Christmas dinner and Christmas lunch. Follow these tips to avoid food waste following the festivities:

  • Buy food from the bulk food store if available, and not single-use portions that wrap portions individually to decrease your plastic waste
  • Shop at your local farmers market to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables in plastic free packaging
  • Think ahead about who you’re cooking for and exactly what you’re cooking so you buy just the needed ingredients, following the principles of zero waste cooking
  • Freeze asap what you see won’t be able to be used
  • In case of leftovers, find ‘leftover recipes” online, and donate the food to your neighbors or to a local food charity like FoodBank, OzHarvest etc.


Conclusion: A Zero-Waste Christmas, or at Least Nearly?

Are you up for the challenge of a zero-waste, plastic free Christmas as a true zero waster?

Or at least are you up for having a low waste festive season?

You don’t have to implement everything at once, choose a few tips and stick to those first, at least you cut down on waste and you’ll enjoy a green Christmas!

We hope that this eco guide was useful and that you’ll refer to it for many years to come.


Browse our platform to find eco-friendly swaps for a more sustainable Christmas.






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