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Christmas baubles

Biffa's Simple Guide For Recycling At Christmas

Posted in Recycling
On 10 Dec 2020
By Jessica Keynes

If you’re fretting about being on the naughty environmental list, there’s are three simple steps you can follow – Refuse, Reused and Recycle.

Sustainable Christmas

70% of Brits are going green at Christmas thanks to increased awareness of global issues and will increase their recycling efforts during the festive season, including buying gifts made from recycled material.

Although two out of five of us feel guilty about how much waste our festivities will produce almost a fifth said that they wouldn’t bother despite having a separate food bin at home.

christmas infographic


If you’re fretting about being on the naughty environmental list, there are three simple steps you can follow – Refuse, Reuse and Recycle.

Refuse: This year we’ve all become experts in living in a digital age. So this year, refuse the mountain of Christmas cards and organise a virtual catch up instead.

Reuse: Many of us are already doing it but reusing gift bags is a simple way to reduce waste, and high-quality wrapping paper can often be reused. (If you can refrain from ripping presents open!)

Recycle: For anything that can’t be "refused" or "reused", making every effort to use recyclable materials can make a massive difference to the environment.

With Christmas Day just two weeks away, we’ve put together our easy Christmas recycling guide of what can and can’t be recycled.

What do we put in bins over Christmas?

Christmas trees

‘Real’ trees are recyclable and can be turned into chippings used in parks or woodland areas. Of course, they can’t be put into recycling bins, but local authorities and charities can often advertise special collections of ‘real’ trees for early January.

Artificial Christmas trees are not recyclable as they are made up of multiple materials, including metal and plastic. Trees in good condition can be donated or sold; otherwise, they are disposed of as general waste through local household recycling centre or private waste collection companies, like Skoup.

Turkeys and food waste

Two million turkeys and 74 million mince pies are left uneaten over the Christmas period. Food waste can be used to power homes and businesses through anaerobic digestion. Some local authorities offer separate food waste collections while organic matter (excluding meat) can also be composed at home to make excellent fertiliser. Donate unopened food and long-life products at food banks, but the easiest way to reduce food waste is to plan how much food you need, rather than impulse buying.

Christmas dinner

Foil trays

Foil trays are made from the recyclable material, aluminium and therefore are recyclable. However, if the tray is contaminated with food, and it can’t be rinsed clean, then it is no longer recyclable. If put into recycling, it will contaminate not only your clean recycling but may mean the contents of other recycling bins collected alongside yours is also now unrecyclable and will be disposed of as general waste.

Wrapping paper

277,000 miles of wrapping paper will go to waste over the holidays. For wrapping paper that can’t be reused an easy way to tell if wrapping paper can be recycled is the “scrunch test”. Screw up the paper, and if it unfolds, it can’t be recycled but if it stays neatly scrunched then can be popped into your recycling bin. Before disposing of your wrapping paper, make sure all bows, sticky tape and gift tags have been removed.

red wrapping paper

Fairy lights

Christmas lights are filled with lots of recyclable elements such as glass and metal. However, they are electrical items, powered through batteries or a mains plug meaning they can’t be recycled through kerbside recycling. Electrical waste, also known as WEEE, should be taken to a local household recycling centre or collected through private waste collection companies, like Skoup. If the lights still work with the original packaging, they can be donated or sold.

Ribbons and bows

Bows and ribbons can’t be recycled and must be removed from any recyclable wrapping paper and disposed of with general waste.

Christmas cards

Plain Christmas and other greetings cards can be recycled as they are made from paper. Cards with glitter are not recyclable and must be disposed of with general waste. A top tip for any unrecyclable cards: Cut them up into smaller rectangles and use them next year as gift tags.

Christmas cards

Gift bags

Plain paper gift bags can be put in the recycling bin unless they have plastic, foil-coated paper, fabric or other materials used for decoration. This makes them unrecyclable and will need to go in the general waste if they can’t be reused.


Tinsel cannot be recycled and should be thrown away as general waste. As an alternative to tinsel, try wool or paper garlands for an eco-friendly pop of colour.


Although our glass bottles are recyclable, household glass, like baubles are not recyclable. Broken glass baubles should be disposed of by wrapping and putting in with general waste.

Plastic baubles are usually made from rigid plastic that isn’t widely recycled in the UK and often decorated with glitter so should also go in the general waste.



Crackers that are plain and do not have glitter or foil on them can be recycled along with other paper materials. Make sure any ribbon, toys and jokes have been removed first.

Paper napkins

Napkins that have been used and are contaminated with food or drink can’t be recycled and pose a threat to whatever else you’re recycling this Christmas if mixed. Reusable napkins that can be cleaned provide a more sustainable alternative to paper napkins.

Wine bottles

Bucks Fizz, some bubbly and or a nice bottle of wine not only make a great gift idea but is enjoyed by many over Christmas. Once the content has been emptied, the glass bottle can be recycled through kerbside recycling while many restaurants will have a separate collection for glass to ensure higher quality recycling.



About the author

Jessica Keynes

Jessica Keynes

Jess works with Biffa’s communications team to create interesting and diverse content for the industrial and commercial industry. Her favourite subject is sustainability, so keep an eye out for helpful tips!