How to Get Rid of Christmas Waste Responsibly

18th December 2023

By Graham Matthews

Christmas is a wonderful time of year… for waste. There are hundreds of stats out there about how much food, toys, and packaging we chuck out every Christmas. Rather than being a Grinch and focusing on why waste over winter is terrible, let’s focus on the positive steps businesses and homes can take to dispose of seasonal rubbish responsibly.

There are many ways to reduce waste this Christmas – from using leftover turkey in a curry to giving presents in reusable gift bags rather than wrapping paper. However hard you try to have a zero-waste Christmas, it’s likely you’ll still generate some level of rubbish. Disposing of it responsibly is the next best action.

Preparing to recycle, reuse, and recover waste before and after the big day can help ensure as much waste as possible avoids landfill. These are some of the best ways to responsibly get rid of all sorts of waste your household or business will produce over the festive season.

Christmas living room scene.

Advent calendars

Most traditional advent calendars are made from four different parts that are easy to separate and ‘get rid of’ responsibly:

  1. Chocolate treat – after opening the door eat the treat behind, it’s the best way to avoid creating waste!
  2. Cardboard sleeve – once your child (or you) has finished munching through all 24 or 25 treats (hopefully on Christmas day!) flatten the cardboard sleeve/box/cover and recycle it in your household recycling bin or bag.
  3. Plastic tray – take out the plastic tray and give it a clean and dry to remove any remaining bits of chocolate. You can then save it and create your own treats by melting chocolate into each mould either to create a new calendar next year or just for some little treats. Alternatively, check the plastic recycling symbol and see if it’s accepted in your recycling bins.
  4. Foil cover – the foil should be thrown away with general waste. It’s normally contaminated with bits of chocolate and too poor quality and small a size to recycle after being torn to get those treats.

Wrapping paper

Receiving gifts at Christmas is great but unfortunately, we have no control over how they’re presented. You can use recyclable wrapping paper, reusable bags, or old newspaper when giving out gifts but can’t determine what others will use to wrap your presents. Some wrapping paper is recyclable but any with glitter or a metallic shine normally isn’t.

Any pure paper wrapping paper that’s recyclable should go in your household recycling bin. Use this easy wrapping paper test to check whether it’s recyclable:

  • Scrunch the wrapping paper together into a tight ball in one hand
  • Open your palm flat and see if the wrapping paper stays compact or opens up
  • If the wrapping paper stays scrunched you can recycle it with other paper – if not it should be reused or disposed of with general waste

Unwanted gifts

Around £4 billion is spent on unwanted gifts at Christmas every year. These range from toys, books, and games to clothes, paintings, and even experience days. As unwanted gifts come in all shapes and sizes there’s no single way to best get rid of them, but a few responsible ideas include to:

  • Donate unwanted Christmas presents to a local charity shop
  • Find a community cause or charity accepting items for those in need
  • Keep and regift as a birthday or Christmas present (to someone else)
  • Sell online using websites such as eBay and Gumtree
  • Ask for the receipt to get a refund (if appropriate!)
£4 billion is spent on unwanted gifts at Christmas every year

Christmas crackers

Much like advent calendars, Christmas crackers contain different materials and should be separated into their individual parts for disposal. Any bits coated in foil or glitter can’t be recycled and should be disposed of in your general waste bin. Responsibly dispose of the rest of your Christmas crackers as such:

  • Cracker – check the material but most Christmas crackers are made from cardboard so can be recycled alongside other paper and cardboard waste in your recycling bin.
  • Party hat and joke – the colourful party hat that’s always too small and a terrible joke or trivia question are usually just paper, which is easily recyclable.
  • Plastic toys or games – the little prize inside varies but many are made from plastic that’s tricky to recycle. See if there’s a recycling number and symbol on it and whether your local authority accepts this plastic type in domestic recycling bins. If not it might have to go in general waste.
Christmas crackers.

Festive food and drinks

Feasting over the festive period produces lots of leftovers and food waste – both for hospitality and households. Avoid chucking out food with your general waste where possible as there are better ways to get rid of waste Christmas food at home, such as to:

  • Reuse Christmas leftovers – stick slices of turkey in sandwiches, a curry, stir fry, or any other dish as a replacement for chicken. Roast potatoes and vegetables can be saved and reheated or fried to add some crispiness. Christmas cake, pudding, and anything else packed full of sugar should last for days (if not weeks).
  • Compost waste food – any inedible food can be composted, which is a natural way to recycle such organic materials if you’ve got a home compost pile. If not, see if any of your neighbours or a nearby allotment wants your food waste for composting.
  • Arrange food waste collection – some homes have separate food waste bins. For any businesses or households with lots of waste food over Christmas you could book food waste collection to ensure it’s disposed of away from landfill.

Drinks also create waste at Christmas with lots of empty bottles and cans. Simply rinse them out and leave them to dry then crush and recycle aluminium and steel cans at home. You can take empty glass bottles and jars to a nearby bottle bank or your local HWRC.

Chocolate boxes and wrappers 

Most Christmas chocolate boxes are simple to recycle. Once you’ve eaten the selection inside just flatten the cardboard box and put it in your household recycling bin or a cardboard or a dry mixed recycling bin at work. Keep any metal chocolate or biscuit tins to reuse as they make good sturdy storage options, but many are recyclable.

Ways to get rid of sweet and chocolate wrappers vary depending on their type. Any made from paper or foil that scrunch up like in the wrapping paper test are often recyclable in your household or workplace bins. For any made of plastic check if your local authority accepts the recycling number.


The best thing to do with most Christmas decorations is to store them safely and reuse them next year as most aren’t recyclable. Broken baubles made of glass or plastic are often not recyclable due to containing other materials. Wrap any up and throw them away with your general waste.

Tinsel is also not recyclable, so should be kept or thrown away with your general waste as a last resort. Replace any dead bulbs in your fairy lights to prolong their life. If your string of fairy lights no longer works then these can be recycled with other WEEE waste at most HWRCs or electrical waste banks.

bauble on a Christmas tree.

Christmas cards

Dealing with Christmas cards is similar to wrapping paper over the festive period – we can’t control the types we receive. Any with glitter, foil, or plastic on can’t be recycled unless you can remove these materials. However, most other Christmas cards can simply be recycled in your domestic recycling bin in January.

You can ask people not to send them to try and reduce how much waste is produced, but it’s unlikely everyone will respect your wishes. When buying your own Christmas cards to send out look for ones printed on FSC-certified recycled card. These should be recyclable and from a sustainable source.

Christmas wreaths

Most items on natural Christmas wreaths are compostable. Remove any ivy, holly, mistletoe, and pine cones and add them to a compost pile for a natural way to recycle them. Anything covered in glitter or paint should not be composted. You can also dispose of these parts responsibly in a green or garden waste bin.

If the base is made from plastic, wire, or another non-natural material it should be recycled or thrown away with general waste. Ribbons, plastic berries and flowers, and other artificial decorations should be disposed of with general waste.

Read our garden waste guide

Christmas trees

Artificial Christmas trees should be put away and stored for next year as they can’t be recycled. Any real Christmas trees with their root ball could be replanted and used again next year if you have room in your garden. Most don’t so it’s best to arrange Christmas tree collection by a waste management company, such as Divert.

You could also cut off the branches for firewood or use some to make a wreath. Other options include cutting up an old Christmas tree and composting or adding to mulch. Some places will take old Christmas trees and chip them to add to mulch or paths in parks.

For help getting rid of Christmas trees or any other waste over the festive period you’re your home or business get in touch with Divert. Call 0333 444 0118 or contact us online for a free quote to arrange all sorts of waste collection over Christmas.

Christmas tree branches and fairy lights.
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