How to Reduce Waste This Christmas: Tips & Advice

December 2, 2019
Clock Icon 5 min read

Christmas is traditionally a time to celebrate with family and friends, and that can involve a lot of extravagance. We frequently celebrate during the festive period by dining out and going to Christmas parties. We can spend excessively on gifts for friends and family members, and often send Christmas cards to everyone we know. The high street lures us in with ‘Christmas offers’, encouraging us to buy shiny new giftware, home decorations and festive treats all wrapped up in expensive looking packaging.

However, all this Christmas excess comes with a cost, and not just to your pocket and your waistline!

As consumers, we are increasingly concerned with sustainability and the environmental impact our actions have, with Christmas proving to be no different. You might be surprised at how much waste is produced at Christmas each year. Last year, we threw away 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, almost enough for us to paper our way to the moon!

Waste bin full of wrapping paper infront of Christmas tree

In addition, we waste a staggering 4.2 million Christmas dinners, which includes 17.2 million sprouts. Much of this ends up in landfill, but this wasted food could be recycled through Anaerobic Digestion – a natural process in which micro-organisms break down the organic matter found in waste food to produce heat and electricity.

Recycling the sprouts alone would produce enough energy to power a home for 3 years.

Our article will offer some tips on how best to participate in Christmas recycling, and advice on how you can avoid producing so much Christmas waste.

Reducing Food Waste at Christmas

Each Christmas, we produce 30% more waste than we do in the rest of the year. This includes 1,315 tonnes of wasted turkeys and 375 tonnes of wasted mince pies. Not only is the wasted food a huge problem for landfill sites, but the production of these items and their packaging produce vast amounts of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, as well as creating tonnes of packaging rubbish.

Many people admit to buying more than they need on purpose from fear of running out of food, and then not knowing what to do with the leftovers.

Supermarkets have taken steps to help consumers use up their food by publishing free recipes for leftovers. Similarly, the Government’s food waste awareness service, Wrap, suggests ideas for reducing food waste at Christmas. Recipe ideas include creating sauces, pickles and soups, many of which can be frozen and used at a later date.

Of course, the biggest way to reduce food waste at Christmas is to only buy what you need, so if no one likes Brussel sprouts, don’t buy them!

Sprouts cooked with chestnuts and bacon

Reducing Christmas Wrapping Paper Waste

Wrapping gifts up nicely with ribbons and bows is part of the ceremony of gift giving, as much as we enjoy tearing it all apart when we receive a gift ourselves! However, much of the wrapping paper we use is not recyclable, due to glitter, ribbons and plastics in the paper.

To reduce the amount of wrapping paper that we currently send to landfill, you could use biodegradable paper to wrap your presents. Most brown paper is recyclable and compostable, and as it is unbleached it undergoes minimal chemical treatments during production. You could also get creative with packaging by using newspapers or magazines, or reusing wrapping paper and gift bags you already have. These will look great under the tree and help you reduce waste this Christmas!

Wrapping presents up in brown paper and tieing with string

If you do need to buy wrapping paper this year, look to buy paper that can be easily recycled. Recently, Marks and Spencer announced that they were removing all glitter from their entire Christmas celebration range this year. This includes their greeting cards, wrapping paper, tags and gift bags. If you are not sure whether the paper you have is recyclable, Wrap recommend doing the scrunch test. Scrunch paper up into a ball and those that stay scrunched up can go in the Christmas recycling.

Reducing Christmas Card Waste

Each year, we buy over one billion Christmas cards and on average send 18 cards each. Meanwhile, Royal Mail deliver around 150 million cards all around the country over the festive period. The majority of these will be thrown away once Christmas is over, causing a huge amount of environmental waste.

You can reduce this impact by encouraging friends and family not to send you a card. Instead, you could even donate the money you would normally spend on cards to a charity, such as the rainforest alliance. With the cards you do receive, how about upcycling them? Get crafty and make your own Christmas cards and gift tags, saving money as well as reducing waste.

Children making christmas cards

If you do have to get rid of your old cards, try and recycle them whenever possible.

Recycling Christmas cards would provide enough power to light 340 Blackpool illuminations!

10 Tips to Try & Reduce Your Christmas Waste

We hope you can take some ideas away from this article. Here are our top tips to help reduce waste this Christmas:

  • Send Ecards to friends and family, or choose to donate money to a charity instead of sending paper cards that will be thrown away.
  • Consider renting a tree this year as there are companies and garden centres across the country now offering this service. Alternatively, you could buy a potted tree that you can keep year after year. Last year, over 7 million Christmas trees went to landfill, producing 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas. If you do have a tree to get rid of after Christmas, see if your local authority will collect it. Some councils will shred trees into chippings, which they then use in parks.

Used Christmas trees piled together with a couple of bin bags

  • Natural decorations can look just as good as shop bought ones, it can be a great festive activity that can involve the whole family. See what you have in your garden already, using things like fresh holly, pinecones and mistletoe can bring festive cheer into your home without costing the earth. The bonus is, when you are done with them, they can go back into the garden and be composted.
  • Reuse, recycle or compost wrapping paper wherever possible. If you think creatively, there are some unique ways to wrap presents that still look amazing. Also, by gift wrapping in a more thoughtful way, you might inspire others to do the same, reducing waste even more!

pinecones with scissors and string to make decorations

  • Look for recycled, plastic-free packaging, or even package-free presents when shopping for gifts.  It is estimated that 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging are generated at Christmas time, with advent calendar trays and plastic packaging for toys being the worst culprits. Check items for environmentally friendly logos such as Rainforest Alliance, or Fairtrade. It is not just giftware that comes in plastic packaging, when doing your food shop, buy loose food items wherever possible. Many supermarkets will fill up your reusable containers if you ask them. Every bit of packaging you avoid is less that you will have to dispose of.

During the festive season, we consume 175 million mince pies. In terms of packaging, one million mince pies are equivalent to one tonne of aluminium material.

  • Experts say that each year, consumers spend around £700 million on unwanted presents. Do you have items you don’t want? Regift them instead of wasting them. Also check out charity shops – many people have big clear outs at home at this time of year and you can find nearly new items looking to be rehomed. Remember gifts don’t always have to be things, give the gift of time spent doing activities, or make vouchers for experiences like bungee jumping.
  • Ditch the Christmas crackers, or make your own! Follow the lead set by John Lewis and reduce your amount of single-use plastics used. Many high street shops now sell plastic free crackers made from recycled materials. You can also buy kits to make your own crackers, or how about scrapping them altogether and telling jokes instead?
 What did the snowman say to the other?
 Do you smell carrots?
  • One in seven consumers admit to buying more food than they need. When you go food shopping, write a list and stick to it! This will prevent you from impulse buying those little bits that you didn’t need and won’t use.
  • If you do buy more food than you need, try to make the most of your leftovers. Take spare snacks round to friends’ houses when you visit, and use up fresh produce in soups or sauces – both of which can be frozen. At the start of the festive period it might be useful to go through your freezers and make sure there is space for leftover food. If you organise effectively, you can prevent food from being thrown away, and leftovers could keep you fed well into the new year!

Large family of sitting round table after Christmas dinner talking and smiling

  • Often families will get together over the festive period and share a meal. Consider dividing responsibility for the meal between family members and have each person contribute a dish, or a course. This will help prevent one person from buying too much, is a great way to share leftovers, and will hopefully encourage everyone to avoid waste.

We hope you have learnt some useful tips about how to reduce your Christmas waste this year. We are all becoming more aware of our environmental impact on the planet and with each of us taking little steps we can make a big difference.

Let’s keep Christmas the most wonderful time of the year, and stop it becoming the most wasteful time of the year.

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