Blog Plastic Pollution

How to have a plastic free Christmas

by Shane Cucow December 1, 2021

After a long and difficult year, many of us are looking forward to a joyous holiday season spent with family and friends. Yet if you are a sustainability conscious ocean lover, you may also be wondering how you can keep plastic to a minimum these holidays and protect our beautiful blue oceans from pollution.

The good news is there are loads of plastic free ways to celebrate the Christmas holidays, without giving up the colour and joy that makes the festive season special.

Whether you’re planning a work Christmas party, a family gathering, or a new years blowout, here’s our helpful tips to enjoy a plastic free celebration.


Hang lights, not tinsel

Tinsel is usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is a type of plastic. This popular Christmas decoration is notorious for shedding little bits of plastic that float away in the air or get washed into drains.

But don’t fret! You can fill your house with colour and light, without filling our seas with microplastics.

  • Opt for reusable solar fairy lights, lanterns, beads or plastic free garlands. It is always better to reuse decorations year after year.
  • Make your own decorations from paper, wood, popcorn or other sustainable materials.
  • Deck the halls with boughs of rosemary! Traditionally wreaths of leaves and berries were used to decorate for the holidays. Use dried flowers, herbs or leaves and design your own colourful wreath!
  • Reuse what you have. If you have tinsel already you can reuse it, but when it starts to fall apart make sure it goes in your general garbage bin as it cannot be recycled.


Decorate with flowers, not balloons

Did you know that balloons are the biggest plastic killer of seabirds? Easily blowing away into the sea, they entangle animals in their strings or get eaten, causing life threatening blockages in their stomachs.

As fun and colourful as balloons may be, with so many sustainable decoration options around we just don’t need them.

  • Use fresh flowers in old jars. Nature is a colourful decorator all by itself.
  • Use colourful rugs and cushions instead. You can create a lot of colour just by using what you have.
  • Look for plastic free Christmas crackers. With more and more people choosing to avoid plastic, you can often find some great crackers that don’t contain plastic toys.
  • Give the kids bubble blowing liquid. You can make your own bubble blowing tools by stretching a wire coat-hanger into a circular wand.  Check out this great homemade bubble liquid recipe from Zoos Victoria!


Choose reusable, not disposable picnicware

Virtually impossible to recycle, disposable plastic picnicware like straws, cutlery, plates and bowls will last for up to 100 years in landfill or the ocean. The good news is supermarket giants are replacing these items with sustainable options made from bamboo or wood pulp, thanks to our successful campaign to ban single-use plastics in many states and territories.

But let’s be honest, we just don’t need them! It is always better to avoid waste by using reusable cutlery and plates wherever possible.

  • Use reusable plates, cups, bowls and cutlery. To help with dishes, set up a washing station and encourage people to wash their own!
  • If using disposables, only use certified home compostable paper plates or cutlery options. Anything else is just greenwashing. It will just end up in landfill or the environment, without breaking down.


Serve naked snacks (not plastic wraps)

Did you know that only 16% of plastic packaging gets recycled in Australia? All those chip packets, lolly wrappers, and plastic food wrappings are notoriously difficult to recycle, instead filling up our oceans and landfills with a tidal wave of trash.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Here’s some great ways to cut the plastic in your holiday food shopping.

  • Buy nuts, snacks and grains from bulk food stores. An increasing number of stores will let you fill your own containers or paper bags with dry goods.
  • Make your own soda or iced tea. A sodastream is a great way to make hundreds of drinks without using a single disposable container. You can also make a cool refreshing iced tea with just some tea leaves and a jug!
  • Choose sustainable food for the table. If you are one of the many Australians who enjoy a seafood lunch for the holidays, find the most sustainable option for your table with the GoodFish Sustainable Seafood Guide.


Wrap with cloth, not cellophane

With the festive season and secret santa come loads of gifts and trinkets often wrapped in plastic. You might not be able to choose the packaging a product comes in, but you can choose how you wrap it!

  • Go reusable with fabric or cloth, tied up with string. Check out this 1min video on the japanese furoshiki bow wrap technique!
  • Avoid metallic or plastic wrapping papers. If it feels like plastic, it probably is. Try a recycled paper wrapping instead – or help the earth twice by reusing the festive paper from Who Gives A Crap’s recycled toilet paper!
  • Reuse your wrapping paper. If you tie it with string, it will be easier to recover the paper without tearing.
  • Consider going gift-free. Avoid waste by discouraging people from giving cheap gifts that more often than not end up going to waste. Focus on experiences, or encourage people to donate to charity.


Give gifts of love, not plastic

For many, gift giving is an essential part of Christmas. Yet have you ever had that moment of horror when you receive yet another pointless plastic toy, puzzle or trinket as your Secret Santa gift? Choosing gifts is hard and too often companies profit from our confusion by selling cheap plastic that is destined to be thrown away.

  • Donate to charity in someone’s name. A small act of kindness for the planet is a gift that keeps on gifting. Why not send a virtual sea lion as your Secret Santa this Christmas?
  • Shop second hand. Op-shops are full of jewellery, books and other treasures looking for a new home.
  • Make an edible gift. You can bake something delicious, or mix up a brownie, cake, or chai powder mix in a jar. For bonus points, use less plastic by getting your ingredients from a bulk food store.
  • Choose low-plastic gifts from the AMCS shop. At AMCS we strive to keep plastic to a minimum by using paper or cardboard mailers and choosing the most sustainable gift options in our shop. Plus – every gift helps save our oceans! Browse the AMCS shop.
  • Give gifts that will last a long time. A beautiful piece of pottery, a thrilling experience, or a piece of clothing or jewellery will be cherished for a long time. Get beautiful gift ideas from organisations that support ocean conservation.


Fill stockings with creativity, not packaging

For those of us with kids, something special to eat or play with Christmas morning is part of what makes the occasion so special. Often we just need something to keep them entertained! Fear not, here are some great plastic free stocking stuffer ideas.

  • If buying lollies, get loose-fill unwrapped lollies and put them in compostable paper sandwich bags.
  • Inspire creativity with puzzles or build-your-own kits. A mini kite kit, an origami guide, or an insect hotel – get creative!
  • Include coloured pencils and paper and encourage people to get artistic!
  • Make your own bubble liquid, and pop it in a small bottle.
  • Second hand books are another great option, with a lot of options for different age groups.


Collect bottles and containers and donate them to charity

Every holiday party comes with hundreds of bottles, cans and containers and too often they get thrown into landfill instead of being recycled. You can do your bit for the environment by collecting up these containers and taking them to a container refund station.

With Tasmania’s cash for containers scheme starting in 2022 and Victoria’s starting in 2023, and  – soon every state and territory in Australia will allow you to get 10c back for every plastic bottle and container you recycle!

Did you know that many Australian container deposit schemes allow you to donate your container refunds to charity? You can double your impact by ensuring your plastic containers get recycled, and donating your 10c refund to our work cleaning up the oceans.

Set up a bag or bin for people to put containers in – and add a ‘save our oceans’ sign! It doesn’t have to just be at home either. If your workplace, hobby group or friends are hosting a party for the holidays, encourage them to do the same.


Find out how to donate your container refunds to charity