Planning a low waste Christmas

November 13, 2020

The amount of waste produced in our homes usually increases by around a third over the Christmas period and in just the few days between Christmas Eve and Boxing day we manage to rack up over 5% of our annual carbon footprint in the UK, making it one of the most wasteful and environmentally damaging times of the year.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and as awareness of our impact on the planet grows so does the movement towards a greener Christmas, with more and more people making the effort to search out sustainable alternatives.

This year, Christmas may well be a quieter affair, with far fewer social gatherings and festivities, providing us with the ideal opportunity to rethink our Christmas habits and nudge us towards a low waste Christmas. Planning is key and we want to help you prepare in order to reduce the amount of waste produced in your household over the festive season. We’ve included a range of information to suit a variety of households and we’re hoping there’s something for everyone. The menu below should help you to navigate around the article. You might also find our video guide useful:

Christmas cards

Gift wrapping


Christmas trees



Christmas Cards

1 in 4 Christmas cards go unrecycled

With the cost of postage increasing, people’s habits of sending Christmas cards are starting to change with many people now opting for sending ‘e’ cards. A Christmas phone / video call could also be a good alternative. Why not make a list in advance and consider if there is another way that you could pass on your season’s greetings?

Tips for buying and receiving cards:

  • When buying cards, look out for ones labelled with the FSC logo. This means the cards have been sourced from sustainably managed forests and/or have a high recycled content.
  • Choose cards that are clearly marked recyclable and avoid cards that are very shiny, covered in glitter, bows, metallic finishes or other embellishments as these aren’t recyclable and will contaminate your recycling.
  • If you are sending an ‘e’ card check that you have the correct email address first.
  • Why not re-purpose your favourite cards by turning them into gift tags for next year?
  • Remember to recycle all the envelopes!

Return to menu

Gift Wrapping

Wrapping paper or gift wrap isn’t always made from recyclable paper. Increasingly it’s made from plastic laminated paper or foil and it isn’t always obvious at first glance. Metallic papers aren’t recyclable, but even non-metallic shiny wrapping paper is usually coated with a layer of plastic. Tissue paper and some very thin wrapping papers can’t be recycled because the fibres are too short and not good enough quality for the recycling process.

This year, look out for wrapping paper that is labelled ‘recyclable’. There is a growing movement to provide this information on the packaging so keep an eye out when choosing yours. Looking for something a little different? Get creative with alternative gift wrap ideas – there’s plenty of options to choose from. However you choose to wrap, remember to remove the sticky tape, ribbons and bows before recycling.

Tips on wrapping for a low waste Christmas:

  • Select your paper wisely and opt for the less shiny, standard paper, devoid of any glitter or metallic finishes or extra decorations and embellishments. Look out for the ‘widely recycled’ logo on the packaging.
  • Ribbons, bows and other accessories can’t be recycled but they can be reused, so keep them safe for next year. If you know the recipient won’t reuse them perhaps leave them off or consider asking for them back. The same goes for gift bags!
  • Have a go at making your own gift wrapping from newspaper and magazines, out-of-date maps or even try your hand at Furoshiki, the Japanese art of wrapping in cloth, avoiding the need for sellotape (it’s very on trend this year).
  • Why not save any good quality paper to reuse next year?
  • Don’t forget the scrunch test to check if paper is recyclable.

Return to menu


While tinsel, baubles, artificial trees and most decorations aren’t recyclable, they are reusable and if you look after them well will last for years to come. When you do eventually have to give them the heave-ho, you’ll need to dispose of them responsibly. When buying, consider second-hand in preference to buying something new. Alternatively, buy something durable that you think will stand the test of time.

The most frequently replaced decorations are Christmas lights. They’re often easy and cheap to fix but if you really can’t salvage them you’ll need to recycle them at your local Recycling and Household Waste Site (RHWS) or at the kerbside if your district collects electrical items. Never put them in your recycling bin. When buying replacements, choose LED lights which use considerably less electricity than older incandescent types.

Top tips for Christmas decorations:

  • Store ornaments well, to protect them for next year, especially fragile baubles and decorations. Breakages should be carefully wrapped and placed into your general waste bin.

  • Remove batteries from anything that’s likely to be in storage for extended periods of time, as this will prevent corrosion and prolong the life of the battery and the item itself. The batteries can be used elsewhere until they run out of power and then, if they’re not rechargeable, can be recycled. It’s very important to recycle your batteries responsibly.They can be a hazard and need to be kept separate from the other waste materials. Never put batteries in either your recycling or general waste bin but instead recycle them at your nearest battery collection point.
  • Fed up of your decorations and fancy a change? Consider asking family, friends and colleagues if they’d like to do a swap. If not, then see if your local charity shop will accept them for reuse.
  • Have a go at making your own, such as these salt dough Christmas decorations, or a lovely wreath or swag for your front door. If you are using natural materials (such as fir, spruce, pine, ivy, holly and mistletoe) make sure to forage for them sustainably. After use, remove the natural greenery and put it in your home compost bin or your garden waste collection, but remember to remove any artificial decorations, ribbons and wire beforehand and dispose of those in your general waste.
  • Christmas crackers aren’t generally recyclable and need to be thrown out with your general waste. To be recyclable they need to be free from very shiny or metallic card, glitter, bows, wire, ribbons and any other decorations. Tissue-paper hats and the toys inside aren’t recyclable either.

Return to menu

Christmas trees

6 Million Chrisatmas trees are discarded every year.

Ninety percent of UK households have a Christmas tree on display during the festive season. There are so many types of tree available and according to the Carbon Trust buying a real tree can have a significantly lower carbon footprint than an artificial tree, particularly if it is grown and sourced locally and disposed of responsibly.

The important thing is to avoid it going to landfill where it will produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Instead it is better if it can be replanted, chipped or composted. Leicestershire councils will chip, or compost Christmas trees collected through their garden waste subscription service or if taken to your Recycling and Household Waste Site (RHWS).

There is a wide range of artificial trees on the market and so if you are thinking of purchasing an artificial tree this year, it’s worth researching it well beforehand and selecting one that you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Our tips for managing and disposing of your tree:

  • If you have a potted tree, with roots intact, consider planting it outside and reusing it again next year. Or keep it in a pot on the patio or balcony.
  • If you have a ‘cut’ tree, Leicestershire’s district and borough councils offer a Christmas tree collection as part of their garden waste service, where collected trees are usually be chipped or composted.
  • Alternatively, you can take your tree to a local Recycling and Household Waste Site, but you’ll need to book an appointment before you visit the site. Trees need to be cut to 1-metre lengths or less and the trunk should be no more than 15cm in diameter. Remember to remove the pot or stand and all decorations and accessories beforehand as these can’t be composted or recycled.
  • Fed up with your artificial tree and fancy a change? If it’s in good shape, don’t throw it away. Instead offer it for sale, donate it to your local charity shop or pop it on Freecycle, where it can hopefully find a new home. If it’s not usable then it will need to be dismantled and go into your general waste bin or taken to your RHWS for disposal. Artificial trees and Christmas decorations do not belong in your recycling bin.

Return to menu


60 million unwanted presents are given each Christmas.

A good way to minimise waste at Christmas is to think carefully about the gifts that you plan to give and don’t be tempted to over buy. A simple way to manage this is to write a list of who you are buying for, set a budget and stick to it.

If you’re one of the 20% of people who 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 and lack of planning can lead to overbuying (and overspending) as Christmas draws closer.

Choosing gifts for someone else can be tricky and if you’re finding it difficult it might be worth asking for some ideas to point you in the right direction. If you’re buying for adults consider the option of an experience rather than a ‘thing’ or even plan to spend some quality time together over a treat that you’ll both enjoy.

Have a look at our Christmas gift tips below:

  • Write a list and set a budget to keep finances on track.
  • Where possible give a gift receipt so that the item can be swapped or returned if necessary.
  • If you’re buying online, check the returns policy and know your consumer rights. Hold on to any cardboard boxes you might need for returns (or can otherwise reuse) but flatten the rest and put them in your recycling bin, making sure to keep the cardboard as dry as possible.
  • Buy in moderation and try to give gifts of quality which are likely to be more durable and long lasting.
  • If you’re buying token gifts, opt for items with minimal waste that won’t impact too heavily on the environment.
  • Want to be creative? Try making your own edible gifts, but check any dislikes or dietary requirements first. Choose recipes with a reasonably long shelf life to ensure that the recipient will have time to enjoy it and don’t forget to label it clearly.
  • Or if time spent in the kitchen isn’t really your thing, consider other crafts – there’s plenty of inspiration online.
  • If you have a feeling that Santa is going to be generous this year, make some space in advance. Having a clear out early provides a chance to pass on unwanted toys and items in good condition to charity, and perhaps someone else can enjoy them this Christmas.
  • Try to avoid buying novelty Christmas clothing as gifts, such as Christmas jumpers, pyjamas and socks. Although they may seem jolly, research shows that they only tend to be worn once or twice before being thrown out. Instead, opt for something that is more likely to be worn again and again and give or keep a receipt just in case.

Return to menu


75 million edible mince pies are thrown away each Christmas

Household food waste increases dramatically over the festive season, with households buying far more food than usual, which is generally more than we can store or eat.

We also tend to buy foods that we wouldn’t necessarily consume at any other times of the year – like mince pies. Not only does this cause us to overspend, we end up throwing around 20% of it away.

The secret to avoiding this food waste? Plan ahead…

  • It’s a good idea to free up some space in your freezer in the run up to Christmas. Freezers are such a useful tool, acting as a pause button and giving you more time to eat the food you’ve bought. Check out these top freezer tips.
  • Planning your meals in advance can help to prevent food going ‘out of date’ before you have a chance to eat it. Also consider how you’ll store and use up any surplus food.
  • Use a portion calculator to help you determine how much food to buy, prepare, cook and serve. This will help you to avoid unplanned leftovers.
  • Make a shopping list and remember to use it. This will help you resist ‘special offers’ that you aren’t likely to eat or be able to store. It’s also a good idea to check the space in your fridge beforehand and do keep in mind that the shops are only closed for a couple of days.
  • Store your foods well to ensure they keep in top condition before you use them and remember to follow any on pack labelling and instructions. It’s a good idea to check your fridge is at the correct temperature too.
  • Don’t forget to label your leftovers and store them in the fridge or freezer, depending on when you’re going to use them.
  • Compost your peelings. Compost bins continue to work through winter. You can find more information here.
  • And finally, don’t underestimate how long it takes to defrost and cook a turkey.

Return to menu

Last of all…

Remember to keep recycling all of your clean and dry glass, paper, plastics and metals throughout the Festive Season as normal! You’ll find a useful guide here.