Christmas waste

November 26, 2021

The amount of waste produced in our homes usually increases by around a third over the Christmas period, making it the most wasteful time of year.

This comes at an environmental cost. In the few days between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day we typically manage to rack up over 5% of our annual national carbon footprint.

That’s not sustainable. We urgently need to reduce our carbon footprints and waste less to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

Celebrating Christmas more sustainably and with less waste doesn’t have to be difficult. This guide provides a few tips most people could try this Christmas and New Year.


Online shopping

Christmas cards

Gift wrapping

Christmas lights


Christmas trees



Paper, plastics, glass and metal recycling



Minimise deliveries and packaging from online shopping

Less than 1% of the UK’s online retailers currently offer more sustainable delivery options, so it’s worth investigating the credentials of your chosen retailer before you make a purchase. Although not every retailer currently offers zero-carbon deliveries, or promises to offset the associated emissions, you’ll likely find that many online retailers offer the option to combine individual purchases into single deliveries. This reduces the number of delivery vehicles on the road, cuts down on the amount of packaging required (a single large box typically uses less cardboard than several smaller boxes) and can reduce the amount you pay in delivery charges too. You might need to actively select ‘combined’ delivery when placing your order. If you know you are likely to make several purchases from one online retailer, try to place your order in bulk at one time to achieve the same outcome.

If you feel that a company is sending you too much packaging the best thing to do is give them feedback via their customer services. Businesses rely on feedback from customers in order to change their practices.

Many online retailers use cardboard boxes for online deliveries, which may be filled with air pockets or other materials to prevent your items being damaged in transit. Recycle these if you can.

Cardboard boxes are accepted in all kerbside recycling collections in Leicestershire. If you have a lot of cardboard to dispose of, keep in mind that flattening the boxes reduces their volume and takes up less space in your recycling collection. If the flattened boxes don’t fit inside your recycling bin / box, check to see if your council will accept the cardboard separately at the side of your bin. Many councils will collect cardboard left at the side of your bin / box if the cardboard is clean and dry but do check first. You might need to store the cardboard somewhere sheltered and put it out just before collection if the weather is wet, so it remains recyclable. Alternatively, cardboard is accepted at all Recycling and Household Waste Sites in Leicestershire.

The air / gas filled pillows that many retailers use are a type of plastic film. Check to see if your council accepts plastic film and if so, pop the air pockets before placing the film into your kerbside recycling collection.

Polystyrene foam packaging isn’t accepted in kerbside recycling collections in Leicestershire. If you can’t repurpose / reuse the polystyrene, it should be placed in your general waste collection or be taken to a recycling and household waste side for disposal.

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Christmas Cards

The first Christmas card was sent in England in 1843. Before then, people would send handwritten notes conveying their seasonal sentiments. Civil servant Sir Henry Cole is credited with the invention of the Christmas card after commissioning an artist to paint a festive scene with a pre-written Christmas greeting on it. The cards just required a quick signature before being sent to the recipient. One thousand cards were printed and sold in shops in London in 1843. The idea quickly caught on, giving rise to the greetings card industry as we know it today.

Sir Henry Cole wasn’t just trying to save himself some time – he was involved in the creation of the UK’s postal service, the penny post, and is often credited as the designer of the world’s first postal stamp the penny black.

With the cost of postage increasing, people’s habits of sending Christmas cards are gradually starting to change. Many people now opt to send ‘e’ cards instead. A Christmas phone / video call could also be a good alternative that has less of an environmental impact.

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, avoiding 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 any cards you receive by turning them into gift tags for next year?
  • Although some Christmas cards aren’t recyclable, remember to recycle all the envelopes.
  • If you receive a card with flashing lights or one that plays a tune, you’ll need to remove the battery before you recycle the card. Hidden batteries are a major source of fires at waste processing facilities as they can explode or catch fire if crushed or damaged.

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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. Alternatively, consider investing in reusable cloth wraps which can be used repeatedly for many years and can make an excellent additional gift in of themselves. There are lots of free online guides on furoshiki, the art of using cloth wraps beautifully and effectively.

However you choose to wrap, remember to remove the sticky tape, string, 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 and avoid the need for sellotape altogether.
  • Why not save any good quality paper to reuse next year?
  • Don’t forget the scrunch test to check if paper is recyclable.

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Christmas lights

500 tonnes of Christmas lights are discarded every year, and the vast majority aren’t recycled. If you find your lights aren’t working it’s worth the effort to fix them before buying replacements. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly to replace bulbs / LEDs and fuses than replace a whole string of lights. If you have to replace your lights please donate unwanted working lights to a charity that accepts electrical items, and look for new ones while you are there. Non-working / unfixable lights should be recycled at a suitable location; check to see if and how your local council accepts waste electrical items for recycling, or take them to a WEEE disposal point near you.


When it’s time to pack up your lights, storing them effectively means they are much more likely to be in working order ready for next year.


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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.

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 mixed 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. It is possible to make your own reusable crackers and hats.

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Christmas trees

Ninety percent of UK households have a Christmas tree on display during the festive season. There are so many types of tree available, but  according to the Carbon Trust buying a real cut tree can have a significantly lower carbon footprint than an artificial tree (36.5kg on average), particularly if it is grown and sourced locally and disposed of responsibly.If you are planning on buying a real Christmas tree this year you can reduce the environmental impact further by investing in a potted tree that’s still growing. These can be grown in your garden the rest of the year and will absorb carbon as they get bigger. If that’s not possible, consider hiring a potted tree that you return after Christmas. You may need to book your tree hire in advance so plan early.If you purchase a real cut Christmas tree, it’s important to keep it out of landfill when it’s time to dispose of it. Landfilled trees produce methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. Instead it is better if it can be 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. On average, artificial trees need to be used for at least ten years to be as environmentally friendly as real Christmas trees.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. Trees can be kept in pots on a 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 chipped or composted.
  • Alternatively, you can take your tree to a local Recycling and Household Waste 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.

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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.

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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. This comes at a financial and environmental cost.

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.


If you need some inspiration with your planning, these pre-made guides might offer you some inspiration:

Christmas dinner meal plan for 2 people  (opens PDF)

Christmas dinner meal plan for 4 people (opens PDF)

Christmas dinner meal plan for 6 people (opens PDF)

Vegetarian Christmas dinner meal plan for 2 people (opens PDF)

Vegetarian Christmas dinner meal plan for 4 people (opens PDF)

Vegetarian Christmas dinner meal plan for 6 people (opens PDF)

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Paper plastics, glass and metal recycling

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.

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