What to do with your waste at Christmas

Christmas Trees

If you have a real Christmas tree the gold star option is to keep it to reuse next year. If that wouldn’t work, the next best thing would be for it to be recycled into wood chippings, as this will return the carbon to the earth. Otherwise, it would be better for it to be burned. The most important thing is to keep it out of landfill, as this will emit far more greenhouse gases than any other option.


Without wishing to state the obvious, you can reduce food waste by being careful not to overbuy food in the first place. Remember to factor in the biscuits/chocolates/cakes/drinks etc that you are likely to receive as gifts – you may not need to buy much more.

If you are preparing food for other people, consider allowing people to choose their own portion sizes by serving themselves from the dish – you will be much more inclined to use up leftovers from the dish than from people’s plates. At this time of year there are always lots of recipe ideas for leftover food, so have a google.

As for things like fruit and veg peelings and unavoidable food waste, the most important thing is to keep anything biodegradable out of landfill (although it’s worth checking where your general waste actually goes – many places incinerate it) as it will release greenhouse gases. If you have a compost heap or food waste caddy, be sure to put all peelings etc in there.

Parcel packaging

It’s the season for receiving things in the post, and with them a small mountain of jiffy envelopes, boxes, bubble wrap and the like. If you don’t expect to reuse these yourself throughout the year, consider donating them to your workplace, or any other business or organisation that would have a use for them. One year I had such a huge pile that I advertised them on freecycle and a local small business owner took them off my hands, so that’s always that option if you have more of the stuff than you know what to do with. Plastic and cardboard packaging that cannot be reused can usually be recycled, and some areas will recycle bubble wrap if you can’t find anything else to do with it.

Wrapping Paper

Any paper that is reasonably intact can be rolled up and stored with the Christmas decorations to be reused next year. This is what I do and I always end up with more than I need. It also removes ‘get wrapping paper’ from my Christmas to-do list.

Anything else can usually be recycled – your local council website should be able to tell you more (although wrapping paper with sticky tape or glitter is often a problem – you may need to remove the tape first). One way to tell whether or not your gift wrap can be recycled is to give it the scrunch test – if it scrunches, yes it can, if not, then it can’t.

Christmas Cards

If you (or your children) are creatively inclined, these can be kept for next year for reuse as gift tags, cards or other crafty projects. Otherwise, they can be recycled, although like the wrapping paper, you will need to remove any embellishments from them first.

Unwanted gifts

We’ve all been there. You’re not sure you’ll really use those bath salts/have never been keen on shortbread/never wear that colour, but getting rid of it feels bad, and anyway, who knows, you might feel like using it at some point in the new year. After many months of cluttering up your cupboards/bathroom, you realise your unwanted gifts have started to smell a bit strange, and you end up throwing them out.

Now is a good moment for some radical self-honesty. Let other people enjoy the things that you don’t want, and you could help to reduce the demand for new things to be produced, as well as decluttering your space. There’s friends/family/colleagues, charity shops, Shpock and ebay, Olio, Freegle, Freecycle, shelters, or the Zero Waste sell/swap/gift Facebook group, any of which could be happy to take your unwanted things off your hands and put them to good use.

There is, of course, another side to all this ‘waste,’ and that is: opportunity. After Christmas, charity shops, apps, eBay etc will be saturated with nice things that have not been used, all available for free or at a fraction of the retail price. Forget about the January sales. Now is the time to scour the charity shops (and the rest) to stock up on soaps, smellies, gifts, and anything else that takes your fancy, all without buying anything new.