Resource Use

How to waste less this Christmas

Amidst the festivities, the amount of waste being produced by your family and friends is easily overlooked. With around 57.8 million people in the UK celebrating Christmas, the nation generates an average of 688,000 tonnes of waste over the festive period every year, making it the most wasteful UK holiday – championing every other holiday fifteen times over.

Christmas tree

Many may not know where to start with Christmas waste, met with competing and conflicting information on what can and cannot be recycled, or sustainable alternatives to traditional festive items.

Below you can find Resource’s summary of simple tips to reduce waste in each area of festivities.

The tree

‘Real’ Christmas trees can be recycled and turned into chippings for parks. Certain local authorities have special collections or organise drop-off points, or they can be taken to your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC). Remember to remove all tinsel and decorations before disposal, as well as any pots or stands.

For more information on ‘real’ tree recycling, check your local authority website. You can find out details of your local authority, including their contact details, by entering your postcode into Recycle Now’s Recycling Locator tool.

Artificial trees are made from a combination of materials, and therefore cannot be recycled. Unwanted artificial trees in good condition may be accepted by charity shops for reuse.

The decorations

If, like many up and down the country, you’ve chosen to decorate your tree with lights, you might be wondering how to dispose of broken or unwanted lights once the festive period is over. Christmas tree lights fall into the category of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), with such items unable to be disposed of in general waste. Instead, they should be taken to your local HWRC.

Some local authorities collect small electricals as part of their recycling collections and may also provide special collection bins at other sites too, e.g. supermarket car parks. For more information, refer to your local authority’s website.

Another common decoration is the Christmas bauble – unfortunately, not so commonly recyclable. Neither glass nor plastic baubles are widely accepted by local authority recycling collections.

The best thing you can do is look after your baubles and reuse them year-on-year – if, however, you smash a glass bauble, it should be disposed of by wrapping and putting in with general waste. If you’re really tired of them and they’re still in good condition, you can donate them to charity shops for resale and reuse.

Similarly, tinsel is not commonly recycled. If your tinsel has finally lost its sparkle and can no longer be reused, it should be disposed of in your general waste bin.

The presents

Every year, Britons generate 227,000 miles worth of waste in Christmas wrapping paper. In the interest of reducing this figure, avoid any wrapping paper which is laminated or made from materials such as plastic or aluminium. If you’ve received a present from a friend, relative, or colleague, and are unsure whether the paper is recyclable, do the ‘scrunch’ test – if it stays scrunched, it can be recycled.

Wrapping paper with glitter is best avoided – glitter is almost impossible to remove in the recycling process and can cause problems when being transformed into a new product. If you receive wrapping paper decorated with glitter then it will need to go into the refuse bin, along with any sticky tape.

Received toys or gadgets for Christmas? That’ll mean more batteries to recycle. Some local authorities collect batteries bagged separately with household recycling, but battery recycling points can also be found in many shops. Shops selling more than 32kg of batteries a year (approx 345 x four-packs of AA batteries) are required to provide battery recycling collection facilities in-store – this means there are now lots more places where you can take your old batteries for recycling.

The meal

For every two tonnes of food produced globally, one tonne goes to waste. In the UK, 70 per cent of food waste comes from our homes, valued at around £14 billion per year. At Christmas, the freezer is your friend in the fight against food waste, pausing food decay.

Poultry is the eighth-most wasted food in the UK, with 100,000 tonnes ending up in the bin every year. Most poultry waste is chicken, but at Christmas, it’s all about the turkey. Leftover turkey can be stored in the fridge for up to two days, but turkeys usually produce more than a couple of days’ worth of leftovers. Excess turkey can be frozen, to be defrosted either in the fridge or the microwave. For more information, check the Love Food Hate Waste website.

What about all those side dishes? Love Food Hate Waste recommends swapping highly-wasted fresh foods for frozen options to reduce waste.

Pulling Christmas crackers around the table is a time-honoured tradition for many families. However, many traditional Christmas crackers contain packaging and plastic which cannot be recycled. Opt for recyclable Christmas crackers, and avoid single-use plastic gift crackers and, again, those covered in glitter.

The party

Although most Christmas parties look set to be cancelled, you might still be celebrating with your family. Looking to buy a new outfit for the party but concerned about the environmental impact of your clothes? You’re not alone – according to WRAP, over 50 per cent of the UK public are with you. Shoppers are looking for inventive new retail options that prolong the life of clothes including vouchers for clothing exchanges (46 per cent), and pre-loved clothes (41 per cent). These options are particularly popular among younger and high frequency (weekly) clothes shoppers.

If you’re looking for a more environmentally-friendly Christmas party outfit, you have a few options at your disposal. You could rent your outfit – a win-win situation for your bank account and the environment. WRAP’s Love Your Clothes has compiled a list of recommendations for clothing and accessory rental sites. Alternatively, you could purchase your outfit second-hand. Recent research suggests that the second-hand fashion market is growing, and fast – set to boom to twice the size of the fast fashion market over the next ten years.

If you’ve received unwanted clothing and accessories for Christmas, you can dispose of them in these same ways – via charity shops, resale platforms, collection points in high-street stores, or, alternatively, recycling banks.

Taking part in a Christmas jumper competition? There’s no need to break the bank – by repurposing and decorating old jumpers or cardigans, you can extend the length of time you’re wearing your clothes, you can reduce carbon, water and waste footprints. You also won’t be caught wearing the same Christmas jumper as someone else – an added bonus.