Planning a #NoWasteChristmas
November 4, 2019
The amount of waste produced in our homes increases by approximately 30% over the Christmas period, making it the most wasteful and environmentally damaging time of year. Astonishingly, festivities over the three days between Christmas Eve and Boxing day account for 5.5% of the UK’s annual carbon footprint, a big portion of which is down to wasted food. It’s probably a good thing that it isn’t Christmas every day.
Excess and wastefulness doesn’t fit with the spirit of the season, so this year we’re urging Leicestershire residents to think about waste prevention when planning and holding festive celebrations.
This article is about preparing for a no waste Christmas and you’ll find tips for things you can do to reduce the amount of waste produced in your household over the festive season in the sections below.
Not all households are the same, so not all the tips will suit everyone, but hopefully you’ll find something that you can try. As there is a lot to cover please use the menu below to skip to the sections of most interest to you.
90% of people in the UK exchange gifts at this time of year, approximately £25 billion worth. An estimated 60 million unwanted presents are given each Christmas with a value of £700 million.
A good way to minimise waste at Christmas is to think carefully about the gifts that you plan to give, and also those you hope to receive. That doesn’t mean that you have to be a scrooge (although limiting consumption is a good way to minimise waste) it just highlights that if you have the money to buy and give presents, whatever your budget, you have the power to be a conscious consumer. The same applies if you are lucky enough to “request” specific gifts from Santa. You have the power to minimise waste and your impact upon the environment by choosing wisely.
The best thing you can do as a conscious consumer is to not overbuy, although that’s easier said than done. A simple way to do this is to keep track of what you have bought using a list. Combine this with a budget (which you will stick to) and you are well on your way to a no waste Christmas.
If you are one of the 20% of people who’s bought the bulk of their gifts by the end of October you might be thinking that it’s too late to make a list. Think again. Buying presents throughout the year is a great strategy for spreading the cost of Christmas, but it doesn’t necessarily protect you from forgetting what you have already bought. Forgetfulness can lead to overbuying (and over spending) as Christmas draws closer.
Lists can also be effective for the 80% people who do the bulk of the Christmas shopping in November and December because you have the opportunity to make your lists knowing what’s on sale, and you’ll also have the opportunity to keep some of the tips below in mind when you write it:
- Buy in moderation and aim to give fewer gifts of higher quality which are more likely to be appreciated, which are durable and longer lasting.
- Give items that are zero waste, reused (or reusable) and which are easily recyclable.
- Prioritise the giving of experiences rather than physical items.
- Don’t give token gifts. An estimated £700 million is spent each year on unwanted gifts in the UK. It’s better to give small amounts to charity on behalf of someone than to give them something they don’t really want. Tell your loved ones that you don’t want to receive token gifts and (if you are feeling brave) that you don’t intend to give them either – ask for and give small donations to charity instead.
- Think about how your gift recipient is likely to deal with any packaging that comes with a gift you give. 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging gets given along with presents every year so it’s worth checking that the packaging you give is easily recyclable.
- Minimise delivery packaging – Using local retailers is a good way of eliminating the packaging associated with deliveries from online purchases. If you do buy online, give your custom to outlets that use widely recyclable packaging, many will have information on their websites.
- When possible, give a gift receipt so that if necessary the item can be swapped or returned to the retailer rather than being discarded. If a gift receipt isn’t available, keep or give a copy of the normal receipt, and be aware of your consumer rights as they vary depending upon where and when items are bought, and also how they are paid for.
- If you have a feeling that Santa is going to be generous to you / your kids this year, make space for the new presents well in advance of Christmas. This gives you opportunity to give your unwanted items to a charity -who can pass them on to someone who needs them in good time for Christmas.
Gift wrap isn’t always made from paper. Increasingly it’s made from non-recyclable plastic laminated foil and it’s often sold as ‘gift wrap’ rather than ‘wrapping paper’. Avoid buying and using non-recyclable, non-scrunchable gift wraps whenever possible.
The materials that go into making some wrapping paper mean it’s not always accepted for recycling. It is often dyed, laminated or contains non-paper additives like; gold and silver coloured shapes, glitter or plastics. These can’t be recycled. Some wrapping paper is very thin and contains few good quality fibres for recycling. These types of wrapping paper should be avoided whenever possible.
Recyclable wrapping paper is often put in recycling collections when covered in sticky tape, glitter, glue, string and bows. These items contaminate recycling collections and make otherwise recyclable materials unfit to go through the recycling process. Recycling collections may be refused if contaminated.
What you can do
- Avoid non-recyclable ‘gift wraps’ and choose a simple recyclable wrapping paper which is free from glitter and other adornments..
- Avoid using excessive amounts of sticky tape. Try using a reusable sticky tape which can be peeled off wrapping paper easily leaving the paper and the tape ready to reuse.
- Don’t decorate parcels using your own glitter (even glitter marketed as being recyclable). Once it goes in a recycling collection it will all be regarded as contamination.
- Minimise the use of bows, ribbons, string and other adornments, especially if you think the gift recipient might contaminate their recycling collection with them.
- Try making your own wrapping paper by using what you have to hand; printer paper, reused kids’ drawings and even old magazines and newspapers can be used to great effect.
- Try reusable fabric gift wraps instead of paper (they are easy to make but can also be bought). Use a furoshiki guide for inspiration
Tinsel, baubles, plastic Christmas trees and the majority of Christmas ornaments and decorations are non-recyclable. If you have these items in your home there’s no need to throw away the non-recyclable stuff and go shopping for recyclable alternatives. It’s better keep using what you have until you absolutely have to replace them. When you do need to replace them, try to buy second hand items (even non-recyclable items) in preference to buying brand new.
The most frequently replaced decoration are Christmas lights. Please don’t be tempted to bin tangled or non-working Christmas tree lights for the sake of convenience. They are are often easy and cheap to fix. If you really can’t get them working they need to be recycled, but not in your kerbside collection (unless your local authority provides a special waste collection service for waste electrical items). Take them to a Recycling and Household Waste site and place them in with the other electrical items. When buying replacements, choose LED lights which use considerably less electricity than older incandescent types.
What you can do:
- Fabric and textile decorations can go into a textile collection bank – that includes your felt decorations, as well as things like Christmas stockings, hats and Christmas jumpers.
- If you are simply bored of your decorations don’t throw them away. Try upcycling them, or ask your friends, family and colleagues if they fancy doing a swap. Search charity shops for second hand decorations and donate your unwanted ones while you are there. You could even bake your own baubles instead of buying new decorations.
- Home made decorations can make great heirlooms – it’s worth investing your time making something you’ll cherish rather than buying something generic from a shop.
- If you are using natural materials (such as ivy, holly and mistletoe) in your decorations please forage for them sustainably. Also make sure you can compost them when you are finished with them; get a compost bin if you don’t have one, avoid spraying compostable items with paint, glitter or fake snow and avoid using excess glue – none of which you want in your compost heap.
According to the Royal Mail, over 1 billion Christmas cards are sent each year in the UK. The average adult sends 18 cards, and 1 in 10 people buy a card for their pet.
Unfortunately at least 25% of the recyclable cards find their way into landfill as a result of being placed in the wrong bin each Christmas.
An increasing number of cards available in shops are unrecyclable because they feature excessive amounts of glitter, ribbons, bows and even electronic components. These adornments make the cards unrecyclable and are also a source of contamination to the rest of your recycling collection.
What you can do:
- Don’t buy or give non-recyclable cards. Avoid glitter, bows and ribbons, and also cards with electronics inside.
- Look out for FSC labelled cards sourced from sustainably managed forests and/or which have a high recycled content.
- Send season’s greetings electronically to avoid waste altogether, and ask your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours to do the same for you. You could combine the giving of an ecard with a charitable donation (in lieu of spending money on a card) via Dontsendmeacard.com
Household food waste increases by 80% over the festive season. At Christmas we tend to buy far more food than usual; more than we can store properly and more than we can eat.
We also tend to buy foods that we wouldn’t necessarily cook and eat at any other time of year, increasing the chances of getting something wrong. Many people also have to cope with feeding unusually large numbers of people and of course we all aim to take into account each individual’s needs and wants.
The result is that the average household spends £170 on food over the three days of Christmas, with approximately 20% of what we buy finding its way to the bin.
What you can do:
- Plan your meals in advance and stick to the plan – knowing what you want to eat in advance helps to prevent food going ‘out of date’ before you have had chance to eat it, and its a good way to make sure you aren’t buying more food than you need.
- Portion properly – Count the number of people at each meal and give them just the right amount of food. Use a portion calculator if you need help. Portioning in advance will help you decide how much of each ingredient you need to buy, and also how much to prepare, cook and serve.
- Make and use a shopping list – You’ll know what and how much food you need because you planned and portioned in advance. Sticking to the list will help you resist ‘special offers’ for food that you aren’t likely to eat (or can’t properly store) and which is therefore a waste of your money.
- Store your foods properly – follow on pack labeling and instructions.
- Make sure your fridge is at at the right temperature to keep your food fresh. This website has instructions for checking and adjusting most models of fridge: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/article/chill-fridge-out
- Don’t underestimate how long it takes to thaw a turkey. Here’s a guide if you are unsure; https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/cooking-turkey-safely/
- Make room for your leftovers in advance – Even with careful planning you might be left with some leftovers. Make sure there’s room in your fridge or freezer to accommodate them. Have your storage bags and boxes at the ready, and label everything so you know what it is and when you need to use it up.
- Plan to use your surplus food – If you know that you are going to be left with lots of turkey (or other food items), plan how you are going to use them in advance. Make sure you have easy access to recipes and the ingredients you need to make the most of every morsel.
- Keep in mind that the shops are only closed for a couple of days. For example, if you are short on fridge space it’s best to buy small quantities of chilled produce when you need to. Anything that won’t fit in the fridge is likely to become inedible before you get round to eating it.
- Don’t forget to compost your uncooked vegetable waste from Christmas dinner. See here for advice on winter composting: http://www.carryoncomposting.com
The clothing industry is the second most environmentally damaging. The Christmas jumper can be a great example of fast fashion at its worst, with 25% of people in the UK admitting that they will only wear their Christmas jumper once before putting it into the bin, or stuffing it into the back of a wardrobe until it’s time for the next clear out.
What you can do:
- Wear clothing until it wears out, and don’t indulge in novelty items that you know you’ll only wear once or twice. This covers clothing you buy for yourself and also any clothing (and novelty slippers) you plan to gift. Give or keep a receipt just in case the gift recipient wants to return them to the shop.
- If you plan to shop for new clothes, perhaps for a party or celebration, it’s a good idea to have a good rummage through your existing wardrobe before buying anything new. A significant portion of people forget what’s already lurking in the back of their wardrobe and end up buying duplicate or very similar items.
- If you really can’t put an outfit together from what you already own then you should consider organising or attending a swish.
- Shop second hand in preference to buying new. Apps and websites like Depop, and ebay cater for the masses. For higher end fashion try some of the sites listed here.
- If you do have clothing to dispose of, you should never place it in your bin (unless your local Council offers a specific service to collect clothing and textiles). All clothing and textiles, however worn out and ripped should either be donated to charity or taken to a textiles collection point.
Each Christmas people in the UK use 300 million single use plastic cups and straws at parties and celebrations. Parties also account for the production of huge quantities of bottles and cans going to waste because they are contaminated with food and drink or because they are discarded mixed in with other non-recyclable party waste.
What you can do:
- Make it easy for your guests and yourself to separate recyclable and non-recyclable waste by having clearly labelled ‘recycling points’ around your party venue. Labels should show guests what can be thrown away in each collection point.
- Avoid using disposable / single use items. It’s better to invest in a cheap set of second hand plates and cutlery etc. and to wash them after use. Some supermarkets offer a free (or low cost) loan service for glasses – you’ll only pay for broken and non-returned items.
- Give everyone a glass or cup and ask them to reuse it. Providing name markers helps people keep hold of their glass and to find it if it is misplaced.
- If you do buy single use plates, cutlery and cups aim to get home compostable items and dispose of them in your home compost bin. If you find the range of compostable items available confusing, use our guide.
- Empty drinks from bottles and cans before putting them in your recycling collection. Leftover liquids make life very unpleasant for the people sorting the waste as part of the recycling process. Leftover liquids are regarded as contamination and contaminated recycling collections may be refused.
- Co-ordinate office bring and share parties to make sure that you don’t have too much of one type of food, or too much food. Ask people to bring containers to take home surplus food at the end of the party so that uneaten food isn’t left hanging round the office for days on end. Don’t put out all the food at once if serving buffet style. People are less likely to take home surplus that’s been on display.
- If you are attending a buffet, don’t be afraid to eat the last remaining item on a display plate.
- Unless clearly labelled as being so, assume that items like party banners, balloons, streamers and party poppers aren’t recyclable. If in any doubt about the recyclability of an item it’s best to leave it out of your recycling collection to avoid contamination.
- Christmas crackers can be recycled only if they are free from glitter, bows and other adornments. Toys from crackers are not recyclable. The jokes definitely are.
Ninety percent of UK households in the UK display a Christmas tree each year, whether a real tree or a fake one. There’s nothing wrong with either choice, as long as you know how to minimise waste and the environmental impact of the tree you have.
What you need to know;
- The best option is a real living tree that you bring into your home for a few days over Christmas and then continue to grow outside. Living trees should be kept inside for 10 days or less to avoid stressing them and potentially killing them. The only waste produced by living trees is oxygen and the odd pine needle on your floor (which can be composted). If you don’t have space to grow your own tree, consider renting a living tree (be sure to book one early) which you’ll return after Christmas.
- If you are going to use a ‘cut’ Christmas tree you can minimise it’s environmental impact by doing everything you can to keep it out of landfill when you are finished with it. Your tree has potential for many creative uses (it’s a piece of wood after all) such as: Crafting, Cooking, A toy for zoo animals, as material to build a habitat for garden creatures.
- Many councils offer a Christmas tree collection as part of their garden waste service. Collected trees are usually chipped or composted. You can find links to all Leicestershire District and Borough Council websites here.
- Some charities offer a Christmas tree collection and disposal service in return for a minimum donation to the charity. In recent years Loros has offered this to residents of Market Harborough. Search for local offerings (although many don’t advertise until December).
- Some garden centres will accept real Christmas trees. Many will shred the trees and then sell the chippings in the coming year. Please check if your garden centre is providing this service.
- Unwanted Christmas trees can be dropped off at Recycling and Household Waste Sites (RHWS) in Leicestershire, but please remove all decorations and lights first. If you are planning of disposing of your real / cut tree at a RHWS after Christmas please don’t spray it with glitter or fake snow as this means that they can’t be composted.
- It’s controversial, but some gardeners have reported that it is possible to replant a cut Christmas tree. If conditions are right some cut trees will take root and re-establish themselves. It might be worth a shot if you have space.
- It is possible to mulch and compost Christmas trees at home. It helps if you have or can borrow a shredder.
- Real Christmas trees burn extremely quickly, and can present a significant fire risk to your home. Never be tempted to burn your Christmas tree in a fireplace or a stove. However, if you have a safe outdoor space to burn an unwanted cut tree on a bonfire, it’s a surprisingly environmentally friendly means of disposal. Sending trees to landfill means that anaerobic bacteria will break the tree down and release the carbon as methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Burning a cut tree releases the carbon embedded in the tree as carbon dioxide. Burning cut trees has no net gain on carbon emissions as typically another tree is planted in place of one harvested for Christmas. Please follow the guidance on garden bonfires here.
- Plastic Christmas trees need to be used between 10 and 20 times to be more environmentally friendly than a real cut tree. If you are looking to invest in one, make sure you choose well. When it’s time to replace your fake tree, offer it for sale or give it away rather than putting it straight in the bin. Fake trees are not recyclable and if yours can’t be rehomed it should be placed in the residual waste bin (if small enough to fit) or taken to a Recycling and Household Waste Site.