Christmas ‘stuff’ – what can and can’t be recycled?

December 20, 2017

Please be aware that this article was first published in 2017 and some of the information or advice it contains may be out of date. For updated advice and information please visit our homepage, or use the search function for information about Christmas waste and recycling.

It’s traditional to start with a few Christmas waste facts..

  • 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be thrown out, rather than recycled.
  • Six million trees are thrown away after Christmas, creating more than 9,000 tonnes of additional waste.
  • This Christmas we’ll cook around 6,711 tonnes of fresh turkey, the equivalent of 2 million turkeys will go to waste.

In fact, waste in general increases by around 30% over the Christmas period in the UK, making it the most wasteful time of year.

One reason we waste more at Christmas is that that we do unusual things – for many it’s a treasured break from the usual routine and an opportunity to spoil ourselves and the people we love. It’s those unusual behaviours that produce so much waste and which present (pun intended) even the most well intentioned recyclers with a challenge. We’re left wondering how to use up a mountain of leftover turkey, what to do with heaps of wrapping paper (some of which can be recycled, some which can’t), piles of Christmas cards, trees (plastic and real), baubles, tinsel, things covered in glitter, and a lot of packaging. How is best to deal with all this unusual waste?

Although we can’t cover everything, we’ve put together a list of some Christmas waste items that you might not know how best to deal with, or which might require a bit more thought than you perhaps realised:

Advent calendars – Most advent calendars these days are made of a composite of plastic and foil encased in a cardboard sleeve, this mix of materials make them difficult to recycle as a single entity. If possible, separate out the cardboard from the foil covered plastic. Everyone can recycle the cardboard in your kerbside recycling collection. If possible removed the foil from the plastic on the advent calendar to be recycled separately. You can check your district kerbside recycling collection here.

Christmas cards – Most Christmas cards can be recycled, but its worth checking to see if there is anything attached to the card which might contaminate your recycling collection such as glitter or beads. Check with your local district council on whether these materials are acceptable in your recycling collection or if they cause contamination.

Baubles – Glass baubles are not recyclable so must be placed in the general waste bin. Plastic baubles are often made from types of plastic not normally recycled yet in the UK, so its very unlikely you’ll be able to recycle them in your kerbside collection. If baubles aren’t broken, consider giving them away. Some families in difficult circumstances may not have any Christmas decorations of their own, consider advertising them on Freegle or local social media pages such as Wastenot Leicestershire.

Christmas lights – Christmas lights can and should be recycled with other WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) at your local recycling and household waste site (tip). Some WEEE may be collected by your district council at the kerbside, check here.

Glass –  Empty jars and bottles can be placed in your kerbside recycling collection, or can be taken to your local RHWS. However, glass (or ceramic) from things like broken drinking glasses, pyrex bowls, broken ornaments and decorations and window glass can’t be recycled and should be carefully placed in the general waste bin.

Corks – Corks cannot be collected in your general recycling bin but they can be placed in your home compost bin (although they may take some time to break down). They can also be upcycled to be used in a variety of different craft projects. For example, thread some string through the middle and tie valuables to them when spending time around water for a pocket sized float.

Candles – Wax can’t be placed in your recycling collection. If you have a glass jar or suchlike that’s covered in wax you can recycle the jar by first melting the wax off it. Collect the melted wax to make new candles. The wax its self is not recyclable and must go into the general waste bin if you cant use it. Don’t pour melted wax down the sink and run the risk of blocked pipes.

Tinsel – Tinsel cannot be recycled – please place in your general waste bin and think about purchasing a more recyclable decoration as a replacement.

Christmas trees – Real Christmas trees can easily be recycled at your local RHWS. Please remove all decorations before getting rid of your tree to be recycled. Some charities will also collect and recycle real trees after Christmas to raise money. Most plastic trees can’t be recycled. If you are discarding a tree (real or fake) next time consider buying a living tree in a pot that can be kept in the garden until you need it each year. Alternatively, look into hiring a tree next year.

Wrapping paper – Some wrapping paper cannot be recycled as it’s not actually paper. To easily test whether your wrapping paper is recyclable scrunch a piece up in your hand. If it stays crumpled when you release pressure it can be recycled, if it starts to spring back it’s probably a plastic laminate material which can’t be recycled. The metallic papers are the ones to be especially wary of.

If in any doubt, leave it out of the recycling. It’s better to not contaminate your recycling collection, and its always better to err on the side of caution!