The institute's executive director, Richard Denniss, said unwanted presents represented a staggering $798 million waste of money, time and resources.
''The growing culture of obligatory giving only brings joy to the big retailers and the big banks whose credit cards are largely funding the annual splurge,'' he said.
The survey also found about one quarter of Australians expect to give presents to people they would prefer not to. And about a quarter of these reluctant givers were unable to pay their credit card in full each month.
''Around one million Australians are spending money they don't have to buy presents they'd rather not give,'' Dr Denniss said.
On a more positive note, nearly four in five respondents would be happy for a donation to be made to a charity on their behalf instead of getting a present.