The reality of Christmas gifts and landfill

Aussies are a pretty generous lot, having been ranked the second most generous country in the world. However, during the Festive Season our generosity may be doing more harm than good, with many Christmas gifts ending up in landfill.

The average Australian household spends around $963 on Christmas presents each year. But it may shock you to know that $620 worth of these gifts will be unwanted by the recipient.

So where do these unwanted gifts go? Well some are re-gifted, some become unwanted clutter, but many end up in landfill.

Add these unwanted Christmas gifts to the extra packaging, food waste and batteries that we throw away each year, you can see we have a big problem. Here are some scary statistics about what ends up in landfill every Christmas:

  • 90% of Australians throw 25% of their food away over the festive season.
  • More than 97% of batteries end up in landfill, which may leak lead, cadmium and mercury and contaminate our groundwater.
  • Lithium metal batteries may also lead to explosions or fires, if not disposed of correctly.
    We generate an extra 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging, most of which can’t be recycled.
  • In addition, many decorations that can’t be recycled, including LED lights, tinsel, foil and plastic-based wrapping papers, and artificial Christmas trees find their way into landfill each year.

But you can do your part and help reduce the amount of landfill each year, by being wise when gift-buying, and finding a new life for your unwanted gifts.

What should you do with unwanted gifts to avoid creating waste?

It can be a little bit awkward when you receive a gift that you don’t really want. But if you’re wondering what to do with it, consider what Mother Nature would like you to do. Here are some great options.


You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘one man’s trash is another one’s treasure’, which means that what you don’t want, someone else probably will. And by donating these gifts to other organisations and charities, you can feel good about helping the planet and other people. Some places where you can donate your unwanted gifts include:

Op shops. Op shops receive most things including unwanted clothing, shoes, books, toys, homewares and furniture.

Homeless or women’s shelters. Donating to homeless or women’s shelters are a great way to help other people and give a new life on an unwanted gift. Consider donating excess toiletries, socks, jocks and other clothing items or accessories.

Animal shelters. Have you been given new blankets, towels or bedding for Christmas? Consider donating your old Manchester to an animal shelter.
Hospitals. Donate unwanted toys, books or puzzles to the children’s wing of your local hospital.

Libraries. Got a book you won’t read? Donate it to your local library or school.

Churches. If you don’t want all the tins of biscuits, boxes of chocolates and other boxed Christmas goodies you’ve been given, pass it on to a local church that puts together food hampers for needy people in the community.

Other charities. There are many other charities you can donate unwanted gifts to. You’ll be able to find one near you, via an internet search.

It always pays to check with a charity before donating goods. Some charities may not be able to accept all goods (i.e. some can’t accept electrical goods due to safety issues), or they may already have an excess supply of donated goods. In some cases, it may be necessary to arrange for the charity to pick up your item, particularly in the case of furniture or whitegoods.

It may be a bit of a hassle for you to find a second-home for your unwanted gift, but Mother Nature will be eternally grateful.


Once seen as a huge faux pas, re-gifting is the new trend, with etiquette experts even giving it the big thumbs up. However, you should keep a record of what gifts you pass along, to save you the embarrassment of giving someone their own gift back!

A few rules about re-gifting:

  • Remove all gift tags and wrapping from the gift.
  • Ensure there are no signs that the gift has been given previously.
  • Make sure the gift you’re passing on is in excellent condition, and in its original packaging.
  • Check that any books you’re re-gifting haven’t been written on inside.
  • Make sure the person you’re giving the gift to will actually enjoy, appreciate or use it.

Another trend that is becoming more socially acceptable is to re-sell your unwanted gift online. While it may sound distasteful to some, ensuring someone else will use your gift is preferable to it ending up in landfill. The money you make by selling it can be used to buy something you need, or you could even donate it to your favourite environmental charity. Winning!


If you can’t donate your gift, and you can’t re-gift it, then aim to recycle it so it has a new life if possible.

However, before you go ahead an open your recycling bin, know what you can and can’t recycle. You may be interested to know that recycling is largely up to your local council, with responsibility for waste lying with each State Government. What you can put in your kerbside bin is largely determined by the types of recycling centres nearby.

But as a general rule, the following applies:

Plastics. Rigid hard plastics and moulded plastic packaging can be recycled. Soft plastics (e.g. plastic bags, soft plastic wrap, or any plastic that can be scrunched) usually get caught in the conveyer belt, and so can’t be put in your recycling bin but can now be recycled in Woolworths who have a relationship with REDcycle. More on that here.

Paper and cardboard. Generally, paper and cardboard can be recycled.

Metals and glass. Glass is 100% recyclable, as is steel and aluminium. While cans and containers can be placed in your recycling bin, the following can’t:

  • Batteries.
  • eWaste (TVs and electronic equipment, including mobile phones).
  • Household appliances.
  • Pots and pans.
  • Scrap metal (e.g. bicycle and car parts).
  • Umbrellas.
  • Whitegoods.

You should contact your local council to find out where you can recycle these products.

Because batteries contain toxic substances which can leak into landfill (gulp), they shouldn’t be placed into your bin. Instead, you can take them to some major chains (including Aldi, Officeworks, IKEA and Battery World). Your local council will also be able to advise you on where to take them.

How to avoid unwanted Christmas gifts

As you can see, there are many ways you can reduce the likelihood of unwanted gifts heading to landfill, and clogging up our planet. But wouldn’t it be better to avoid this situation in the first place?

Here are some tips to giving gifts this Christmas:

  • Ask the recipient what they’d like and buy that.
  • Give a gift voucher, so you know whatever they buy won’t be discarded quickly.
  • Give an experience — sky-diving anyone? — rather than a thing.
  • Set a limit to the number of gifts you give your children and avoid buying things for the sake of buying them.
  • Buy non-toxic, ethical and sustainable Christmas gifts that can be recycled at the end of their life.
  • Buy battery-free gifts.
  • Give a sustainable gift such as a tree or a shrub.
  • Give your time (e.g. take a friend out to lunch, or a movie).
  • Donate money to your favourite charity on their behalf.
  • Buy a goat! Yes, a goat! Many charities that work in third-world countries have the option to purchase a goat for a community, on behalf of someone else.

As you can see, there’s a lot we can do to drastically reduce the number of gifts headed to landfill this year. All it takes is a bit of thoughtfulness, and a desire to look after our environment.

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Nerissa Bentley

Nerissa Bentley is a Melbourne-based health writer and blogger. As a mum of 2 (a teenager and a pre-teen), she understands the challenges involved in raising children, balancing work, and making time for yourself. Through her writing, she aims to inspire and empower families to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. Nerissa is also working on her first novel. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her reading, drinking coffee, lifting weights, or enjoying the odd sneaky red wine.

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