As we near the end of another year filled with ups and downs, Australians are gearing up to spread a little joy by splurging on loved ones during the holidays. With the growing awareness around the negative effect of silly season waste, consumers are collectively finding it harder to ignore the impact their retail spending has on the environment.

The good news is many businesses and consumers are thinking up new ways to minimise their footprint and still enjoy the holidays with all the trimmings; the movement to find better solutions to enjoy Christmas is growing every day.

Last year Australians spent a staggering $40 million on 10 million unwanted gifts, sending an avalanche of plastic packaging and rejected items straight to landfill. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2020’s Christmas spend was a record-breaking $55 billion with online sales surging past the $5 billion mark. With much of the country expected to remain under the influence of COVID-19 impacts and restrictions in one way or another, e-commerce is showing no sign of slowing down. 

Dubbed “The Most Wasteful Time of Year”, we collectively produce 30% more waste at Christmas time than any other time of year, with nearly 5 million tonnes of food sent to landfill. We use in excess of 150,000km of wrapping paper alone, enough to go around the earth nearly four times. The main offenders at Christmas are packaging, presents and food waste, with single-use plastics taking the crown for having one of the most significant impacts on land and water pollution. 

Australia’s culture of excess during Christmas has a well-documented effect on the environment; as waste materials left over from the holiday season breaks down in landfill, methane is released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming

Online retail is growing at such a fast pace, even more so after the emergence of COVID but you don’t see the full impact of all these plastic packages in front of you. Its devastating effect may be hidden away in the background, but such a big underlying problem must be urgently addressed.

I’m horrified by the excess plastic packaging generated by online shopping, especially around the holiday season.  Confronted by the vast amount of plastic during this time, I  encourage retailers to make the simple swap to packaging materials that are designed to decompose completely, which dramatically reduces the amount of plastic going into landfill.

The message of sustainability is striking a chord with consumers nationwide with one survey conducted by ING revealing that a quarter of respondents said they’d prefer to receive “socially conscious or eco-friendly” Christmas presents this year, with the eco-conscious preferences also extending to packaging too. 

By working to save the planet of plastic waste, you are not only doing your part to be a responsible corporate citizen, you’re also making a wise business decision which will stand you in good stead with the consumers who want to buy from you. In one survey conducted by an independent, nationally represented panel, 9 out 10 Australians are more likely to purchase ethical and sustainable products. The findings also reveal that 85% of consumers want retailers and brands to be more open about the sustainability of their products.

Even during the pandemic consumers are showing a preference for sustainable products. New research conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in 2021 showed the global search for sustainable goods increased by 71% over a period of five years, with continuing growth despite the effects of COVID-19. Sustainability has truly grown out of its niche and has reached mainstream status all around the world.

Consumers have a chance to support this movement by purchasing from retailers who opt for zero-waste packaging, like fashion label Cue, online retailer Beginning Boutique and cosmetics company Lush, to name a few. They are the ones driving the sustainability movement and brands risk being left behind if they don’t get with the times. Businesses big and small can play a part in embracing eco-friendly solutions and reduce plastic waste this Christmas. All it takes is one small swap. For the good of our planet, let’s find a better way forward. Don’t let packaging be an afterthought this year.

Anaita Sarkar is founder of Hero Packaging.