Simple steps to a low waste Christmas

How far is the moon from earth?  It’s about 239,000 miles – and amazingly, we could cover that distance with the wrapping paper we’ll get through this Christmas. That’s over 8,000 tonnes of additional paper waste in just one day, and it’s not all recyclable – sparkle, glitter and laminate finishes mean your beautiful wrapping paper may be destined for the bin and landfill.

“Not all wrapping paper is paper,” says Simon Ellin, the chief executive of the Recycling Association, pointing out that some is actually plastic, not to mention the tags, bows and Sellotape, none of which can be recycled. “It’s a nightmare for paper mills this time of year”. 

The scrunch test is apparently the way to tell – scrunch the paper into a ball and if it stays that way, it’s recyclable. 

Simon Ellin wishes more gift wrap was manufactured with a thought for the recyclers. “It’s a crusade we’ve been on all year – do you really need to design a non-paper wrapping paper? Make paper with recycling in mind!”

This year, more etailers and retailers have taken note – according to the Sunday Telegraph, retailers including Paperchase, Next, Debenhams, John Lewis, M&S and Sainsbury’s have all made efforts to reduce glitter in single use Christmas items this year. Etailers such as have made it easier to identify more environmentally friendly products – search for “recyclable Christmas wrapping paper” and you can filter by  “eco-friendly” and “made in Britain” (cutting down on air miles!).

But what about the huge number of trees cut down to meet demand?  

Some paper and cards are certified under the Forest Stewardship Council scheme and are available from major retailers and supermarkets.   “FSC is the only wood certification scheme endorsed by the major environmental charities, including WWF, Greenpeace and The Woodland Trust” – – so your choice of wrapping paper will not only be recyclable but ethically sourced too. 

Or you can always create your own designs using recycled brown wrapping paper available in post offices and online at  Remember potato printing from primary school?  An option if you don’t want to buy a stamping kit but using an old potato past its best of course!

No-one wants to be a grinch

But, packaging aside, gifts themselves, particularly toys can be a real problem – hard plastic is the least recycled plastic of all – so it’s good to see retailers rising to the challenge with appealing and eco-friendly toys for kids that include products made from recycled plastics – and

The leftovers

In the UK, a typical Christmas sees us wasting

  • 5 million Christmas puddings
  • 74 million mince pies
  • 17.2 million brussels sprouts
  • 2 million turkeys

Let’s be honest, there’s a tendency to go overboard, so start with the basics – shop using a list, avoid impulse buys and store vegetables correctly (generally in the cold and dark).  If you still overdo it, check out Love Food Hate Waste’s tips on how to reduce the amount of festive food that ends up in landfill every year.

Food banks will accept not just non-perishable food donations within date limits but also toiletries – a great way to share if you’ve been given a few too many bath sets!

Then there’s the Nightmare after Christmas

Plastic packaging – a whole other ballgame.  Estimates for last year’s festive plastic packaging waste binned rather than recycled weighed in at 114,000 tonnes.  On the upside, 2018 seems to be the year of heightened plastic awareness with initiatives from government,campaigners and documentary makers bringing the message to the fore  –

Talking of trees…

What happens to the UK’s 7 million Christmas trees when it’s all over for another year?  The Woodland Trust advises:

 “Perhaps the most environmentally-friendly option is to buy a tree with roots. This means you can plant it in the garden afterwards, store it in a pot and bring it back into the house next year.

If you want to buy a felled tree, choosing a local grower with FSC accreditation is best. The FSC certificate ensures that the trees have been grown sustainably and ethically.After Christmas, you can recycle your felled tree, which will be turned into compost. Many local authorities run Christmas tree recycling schemes. If not,you can take it to the garden waste section of your nearest disposal centre.

Some garden centres and tree nurseries now offer a Christmas tree rental scheme. This allows you to rent your Christmas tree in a pot and return it to the growers afterwards. The tree is then reused in future years”.

New year’s resolutions

They’re easy to make…and break.  Most of us are motivated to reduce, reuse and recycle but sometimes it’s not that easy to know what to recycle where and when.  The Christmas tree, the cardboard,the batteries that didn’t work, the cards – where do they go and when will your council collect?

Download Agile@HOME, a smart app that gives you a quick and easy visual guide to what you can recycle and when.  If your council is an Agile partner, they can also send you updates if collection is disrupted – you never know, there may be snow!

And in 2019, we’ll be keeping you updated on new initiatives in recycling – find us on Twitter!

The carbon footprint of our food