How to have a zero waste Christmas

Filed in Blog by on December 24, 2012 5 Comments
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Good morning Radio Gloucestershire listeners and welcome to my zero waste!

Today I’m talking to Kate Justice somewhere between 12 and 1pm about having yourselves a very merry zero waste Christmas.

Kate asked me all sorts of juicy questions such as “Just how much wrapping paper do we get through?”, “What can you do about food waste?” and “How can we recycle more over the festive period?”

Some of my research revealed the following astonishing facts:

  • We use enough wrapping paper in the UK to reach to the moon…
  • We waste 230,000 tonnes of Christmas food over the holiday season
  • The average family creates 30% more waste over Christmas than any other time of year.

So what can you do if you want to enjoy all the trimmings the season of goodwill can offer while not increasing your carbon footprint by 100%?


Contrary to popular belief, many types of wrapping paper, such as foil laminated or that with glitter on, cannot be recycled; so it isn’t a simple case of chuck it in the recycling bin.

If you’re the proud recipient of such paper my advice is to use it as packing material next time you send something fragile in the post or use it to wrap your own delicate Christmas ornaments. Yes, it will end up in landfill eventually, but at least you’re giving it a second lease of life.

Or you could take a leaf from my Grandma’s tree and save the paper for wrapping next year’s presents!

For your own wrapping I admitted I often use newspaper! A bit odd maybe, but if you find a page with a pretty picture on it can be quite effective. And after all, most of us are only interested in the contents of the package anyway…

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping gifts in material. It’s a bit like origami for textiles. You could go the whole hog and wrap gifts in a scarf or tea towel to make the wrapping an extra gift.


lots of party food comes packaged in plastic moulding. It adds to the wow factor, makes you think you’re getting more bang for your buck and stops breakable food such as canapés becoming damaged.

On Christmas Eve there’s no point worrying too much if your fridge is already filled with such overly-packaged delicacies; this isn’t about guilt, but perhaps stop and make a few resolutions for next year.

Could you support a local bakery, get a domestic god/dess friend to whip you up an extra batch, visit your local farmer’s market, barter with someone at your local LETS group or plan ahead and make your own?


Avoiding food waste is one of my passions; the average family in the UK throws away one third of the food they buy, with even more over Christmas.

At Christmas time, make your freezer your best friend. You’ll find all sorts of hints and tips over at Love Food, Hate Waste for which foods are freezable, good portion control and recipes for using up leftovers.

Check out my Twelve days of Turkey leftovers for more recipe ideas.


After the big event be sure to recycle all the materials you can – glass bottles, tin cans, glass jars and tetra pak juice cartons are pretty easy to recycle in most areas.

Some counties will take away your Christmas tree for composting and many supermarkets have collection bins for Christmas cards.

What about you – what tips can you share for a waste-free Christmas?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (5)

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  1. sandy says:

    Just wanted to wish you all a very merry christmas and a happy new year xx
    Just one tip dont buy too much food, the shops are open again tomorrow

  2. Jane says:

    Yesterday, I went to a supermarket. It was 23 December and much busier than usual with constant streams of people going through all the checkouts, most with large trolley loads of shopping. The key thing that struck me was that nearly all of them were using (large numbers of) the store’s single-use carrier bags. In the short time I was in the shop, literally hundreds of carrier bags went out of the door. A key thing people could do to reduce waste over Christmas would be to use reusable shopping bags – when buying presents as well as for food shopping. Mountains of aluminium foil are used at Christmas for wrapping turkeys. Therefore, another thing people could do to reduce waste would be to cook their turkey without foil, and to wrap it in tea towels or a towel afterwards to stand. My husband and I do not wrap presents that we give to each other. We do, however, feel we need to wrap presents for other people, particularly children. We reuse wrapping where possible, although a lot of paper tends to tear easily and be too tatty to reuse. Tying presents with string prevents the paper being damaged by selotape. When I was a child, my mother always reused wrapping paper, ironing it where necessary, but I think paper tended to be thicker and stronger then. Although foil-laminated paper seems more durable, I avoid buying any wrapping paper which cannot ultimately be recycled. We reuse Christmas cards as paper to write notes and shopping lists on before they are recycled. We do not have a Christmas tree these days. When we did, we had a Christmas tree with roots on, planted properly in a flower pot full of earth. We put it outdoors in its pot afterwards, and used it again for a few years. When it eventually became too big (despite being restricted in size in its pot), we planted that one in the ground and bought a new Christmas tree.

  3. Chris Levey says:

    HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all.
    My Grandson age 17 made this father a dress shirt, his brother a picture and all his Christmas cards I am proud he preferes home made to shop bought although he was going to buy a computer for uni in the sales, but back to my tips.
    For those with young children, save there drawings/paintings all year and wrap presents with those, tying them with string dyed with food colouring, the children can help dye the string if you do it in the garden in the summer and us Grannys love getting the childrens pictures.
    Remember to keep any gift boxes you received for next year and keep this years cards for making Christmas cards and tags for next year, any wrapping paper you can salvage could be made into Christmas carrier bags for next years presents. Take some photes if we get some more snow, these can be made into e-cards.
    All used stamps can be sent to the RNIB, the address is on the web.
    Make a list of all the food you bought this year and cross off that which was unused , use this list next year and you will save money and waste, over a few years it suprising what you cross off.
    Look around now for recipes and patterns you can make for presents then you have all year to make them or you can buy some seeds and grow a house plant for a gift, you can also decorate the pot.

  4. Jane says:

    We work on the principle that we do not need to buy any more food for Christmas week than any other week. If people eat more one day, they will eat less later in the week to compensate.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @sandy: Thanks Sandy; hope you had a lovely time too. And your tip has to be number 1 – if we don’t buy too much in the first place, there should be no problem with waste!

    @Jane: Love all your thoughts and observations, Jane. I think paper used to be better quality too! And it’s interesting that people were taking more carrier bags over Christmas; something for us to think about next year, perhaps…

    @Chris Levey: Happy new year Chris. Your grandson sounds very creative; I don’t think I could attempt a dress shirt. I’ve made lists of food each year too. We still end up with a little food waste, but nothing like the average family I’m sure.

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