Christmas Waste

 In addition to the page on  winter composting techniques I have included this section on Christmas, and similar festive waste, detailing how to reduce food waste and composting different seasonal waste as well as disposal methods for other seasonal waste.

Christmas is a festival which results in vast quantities of food waste. During the Christmas season, we in the UK eat much more than we need and 80 per cent more than during the rest of the year. Not only are we eating more we are wasting more binning approximately 230,000 tonnes of food waste during the Christmas period with 53 per cent of people confessing  that they throw away more food at Christmas and about a third of families admit to wasting some of their Christmas dinner. In fact, it is estimated that nearly 10 per cent of every festive meal is wasted. This is valued at about £64 million.  Of all the festive food turkey causes the most problems with one in 10 families having binned an entire bird as the result of a cooking mishap.

At Christmas we waste the equivalent of:

  •  263,000 turkeys
  • 17.2 million Brussels sprouts.
  • 11.9 million carrots,
  • 11.3 million roast potatoes,
  • 6 million pigs in blankets.
  • 740,000 slices of Christmas pudding
  • 7.4 million mince pies.

  The environmental impact does not end with growing and discarding food. The festival is completed by discarding 250 tonnes of Christmas Trees in January. Only 1.2 million of the 6 million trees bought each year will be recycled.,

In addition, we will waste  4.200 tons of foil, 125.000 tons of plastic, 750m bottles, 500m cans and 1bn Christmas cards contributing to the  3m tons of general waste every Christmas. Please help reduce this waste by reading the section on non-food waste below.

Plan now for Christmas food waste composting

The best way to reduce Christmas food waste is by buying only what is needed and cooking and eating any leftovers. As always, the key message is Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but as a composting website our message is to home compost your waste where possible. This covers all “unavoidable” food waste including cooked food.  Uncooked fruit and vegetable wastes e.g.  peelings from Christmas vegetables and satsuma peel, can all be composted in the normal compost bin. Cooked foods can only be composted in a hot composting system, a food waste digester, bokashi bin or wormery.

 Normally it is not advisable to add liquids to compost bins, but they will take “plate scrapping” quantities of gravy, cranberry sauce, etc. preferably mixed with shredded paper or cardboard Christmas nuts can be smashed with a hammer and composted. Food waste counts as a composting “green” and it must be balanced by adding an equal amount of “brown” materials to the compost bin.

Compost Bins for Cooked Food

Now is the time to plan to extend the range of food waste that you can compost at home by adding a food compost bin to your Christmas list or by buying one as a December treat. Depending on your needs and resources one of the following three bins can take your cooked food waste plus the normal garden waste.

 Hotbin  We have  two Hotbins at the Stokes Wood Composting Demonstration, Leicester site using them to compost waste food from the café as well as normal garden waste. They are well insulated so ideal for winter use and it is relatively easy to maintain a compost temperature of 40-55C provided they are fed regularly. I use woodchip as the main bulking agent but also add shredded paper to help absorb the moisture.


Green Johanna  I have used a Green Johanna for eight or nine years both at home and on our Demonstration site.  All Christmas food waste can be composted as well as garden waste. A winter jacket can be purchased separately to keep it working when the average outdoor temperature drops below 5°C but I tend to wrap mine in several layers of bubble wrap.



Jorraform 125                 

The Joraform compost tumblers are the most expensive of the three but are excellent for food composting being quick and easy to use. I used mine to compost waste food from the Demonstration site cafe. They have a rust proof galvanized steel construction insulated with polyethylene. Wood pellets or wood shavings are recommended as a bulking agent, but I use wood chip which is available for free locally. I have used one of these bins for about seven years. Being a tombola drum shaped tumbler system, they are easy to aerate. 



Green Cone.  The Green Cone is not a composter; it is specifically designed as a domestic food digestion system for waste such as cooked vegetables, pasta, meat, bones and dairy products. It will also take a limited amount of pet faeces but is not designed to take garden or non-kitchen food waste.


Bokashi Bins.    Bokashi is also a  useful system for those without a garden or who want to convert cooked food waste into a material that can be composted in a conventional compost bin. Bokashi bins can be kept in the kitchen or outside in a shed or garden.

Practical training sessions are  provided at our Composting Demonstration site Stokes Wood Allotments Leicester

Reducing Christmas Food Waste



As well as being a time of too much tinsel, telly and corny eighties tunes – Christmas is also when many of us waste more food than usual.

With that in mind Love Food Hate Waste have put together their top five tips to help you make the most of the festive fare in your kitchen.


The cornerstone of the Christmas dinner has a lot to give, but after your five-hundredth turkey sandwich you might be feeling like a change... From pasties to soups and stroganoff, something from our wide range of leftover recipes is guaranteed to spark your interest. And don’t forget you can freeze the cooked meat before you make any of these delicious recipes too. Simply wrap it up in portion-sized amounts and put a label on so you don’t forget what it contains.

For more handy food-saving tips for the festive period and beyond are on the Love Food Hate waste recipe section.


After the relatives have gone and the decorations have come down, the Christmas cake is still going strong! Check use-by dates on shop bought ones, but homemade Christmas cakes can keep for a good couple of months. Simply keep it in an airtight container. If you haven’t made yours yet, there’s still time! Check out this  Last Minute Christmas Cake recipe


  It can be hard to resist special offers in December, meaning you can end up with more of these divisive little orbs than you need after Christmas dinner is done. Bubble and squeak is quick and easy  just has to be for Boxing Day anyway?


No classic Christmas dinner would be complete without bread sauce. The great news is that it’s a perfect opportunity to use up any unused or leftover stale bread by turning it into breadcrumbs. There’s a great and simple recipe for bread sauce.

 As well as being a classic dish, we also classically make too much of it. Fear not, freeze it! That’s right; as long as it hasn't been frozen before, by all means freeze bread sauce in either a sealed bag or airtight container to re-heat later.


This stinky Christmas staple can divide taste buds, meaning it is left wasting on the cheeseboard. The great news is there’s more to Stilton that meets the nose! You can use leftover chunks to make delicious canapés for New Year’s Eve like  White Stilton & Apricot Toasts.

 Or crumble onto recipes that call for a cheddar topping like our Creamy Vegetable Crumble, or quiche. Stilton also freezes brilliantly. Simply cut into easy to handy portions, wrap in cling film or foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge for about 24 hours before use to stop the cheese becoming too crumbly.

 Christmas recipes :


Composting and Recycling Non-food Christmas Waste

Scrunch test on wrapping paper.
If it stays scrunched it can be composted

We can all minimise our Christmas carbon footprint by not wasting food (See separate factsheet)  and by reducing and recycling other Christmas waste.

 Baubles   Glass and plastic  baubles are not usually recyclable. Glass  baubles should  be wrapped up and placed in a general waste. Most  Plastic baubles are not recyclable (check the label), will have to go to landfill. If  plastic or glass baubles are in good condition,  they are  best to donated  to a local charity shop.

 Batteries   Used batteries should be taken to a collection points,  at the recycling depot or  some electrical shops.  

 Cardboard  is compostable, with  corrugated boxes being a particularly excellent source of carbon rich “browns” they should be torn or cut into smallish pieces and scrunched up when added to the bin. If the cardboard is being sent to be recycled  flatten boxes to save space and keep them dry if they get wet and go mouldy, they cannot be recycled. Plastic film and sticky tape should be removed from paper and card packaging before recycling.

 Christmas cards      Buy cards that  are Forest Stewardship Council certified. This ensures the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced.  When Christmas is over cards should  be reused or recycled. Reusing There are many crafting activities using cards  for children interested in reducing waste e.g.  As gift tags. paper chains or cut  out the images to make cards for next year.

 Card recycling. As a composter the first choice should be composting or a charity collection but for other cards can be  put into recycling bins in the  local a supermarket or car park,  local household recycling centre. If the card looks as if it is metallic or contains plastic or laminated materials do a scrunch test. The initial test as to whether a card can be recycled is the scrunch test. If it does not stay scrunched the card cannot be composted or recycled.

 Some cards will have glitter added this should be sent to landfill. Unfortunately, most glitter cannot  be processed in recycling plants as it clogs up the equipment, but the backs of paper Christmas cards without a coating or glitter can be composted or added to the L.A. bag or box recycling collection (see Glitter below).

Christmas cards are also recycled by councils via the paper recycling bin.  However,  if, as mentioned above ,they have foil or glitter on them they should be sent to landfill.  The volume of waste wrapping can be reduced by giving presents in bags that can be reused next year and save on paper and waste. Paper cards can be cut up to make gift tags for next year.

 Christmas trees  can be composted but it is advisable to shred them first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes and speed decomposition. If a shredder is not available   branches can be cut into small “thumb” size pieces, but these will be slow to compost, and it is easier donate the tree to the Local Authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used locally in parks. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points or special collections of 'real' trees in early January. Check your local authority website for more information. If the council does not offer a system for dealing with Christmas trees they can be cut into small pieces and put in the garden waste bin.

Pine needles can be composted or turned to leafmould, but they will be slow to decompose, and any significant quantities are bested treated separately form deciduous leaves.

Unfortunately, artificial trees, most of which are made from the dreaded plastic face only one possible destination when their final day arrives: landfill. If you have an artificial tree, the best thing to do is use it as many seasons as possible or donate it to someone else who will.

 Corks   Natural corks can be composted but will take a time to break down and might need returning to the bin for a second session when the compost is harvested. 

 Electronics.  Electronic items may not immediately come to mind as being Christmas waste but so many people get new electronic items at Christmas gifts large numbers of electrical items are disposed of immediately after the festive season. Use any upcycling services in your area if not most recycling centres will have a separate area for working electrical items. Christmas tree lights are recyclable but need to take to a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling centre.

 Gift tags etc.  Tags made from card can be cut up and composted having first removed any plastic ties. Plastic or foil tags will not compost.

 Glitter     Large numbers of Christmas items are decorated with glitter, including from cards, wrapping paper and decorations. Most of the glitter contains microplastic such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) do not compost or recycle items containing glitter put into a sealed container such as a plastic bag that is being binned anyway the landfill collection system and do not buy any next year.

Biodegradable glitter made from a certified compostable film that adheres to the European (EN13432) and the American (ASTM D6400) standards is available but may require a little effort to find.
Eco glitter is made of a cellulose film mainly derived from eucalyptus trees from sustainably sourced FSC plantations and is designed to break-down in the sewage system. The product sold in the USA is certified as home compostable. (    Details of UK suppliers at

However, recent research suggests that  biodegradable alternatives may be  little or no better for the environment than “traditional” PET glitter in respect to the effects of on root length and chlorophyll levels were almost identical to those of traditional glitter.  New research led by Dr Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University and  published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials (Vol 402. 124070)      indicates after 36 days, the presence of glitter halved the root length of common duckweed (Lemna minor), while levels of chlorophyll in the water were three times lower than in control conditions, indicating reduced levels of phytoplankton, or microalgae.
The only significant difference was a two-fold increase in the abundance of an invasive species of New Zealand mud snails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) in water containing the biodegradable MRC glitter. Dr Green, Senior Lecturer in Biology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), is reported as saying that “Our study is the first to look at the effects of glitter in a freshwater environment and we found that both conventional and alternative glitters can have a serious ecological impact on aquatic ecosystems within a short period of time. “All types, including so-called biodegradable glitter, have a negative effect on important primary producers which are the base of the food web, while glitter with a biodegradable cellulose core has an additional impact of encouraging the growth of an invasive species.

“We believe these effects could be caused by leachate from the glitters, possibly from their plastic coating or other materials involved in their production, and our future research will investigate this in greater detail.”



 Paper Chains   If you have made paper chains, you cannot recycle them unless they are just plain white paper. Paper chains with prints or colours are not ideal for recycling and are probably best off in the compost bin.

 Paper napkins  and party hats from the crackers can be composted.

 Ribbons and decorations   Ribbons, bows may be made of natural fibres in which case they can be composted but many will contain foil or plastic and cannot be composted or recycled.

 Wood ash  from open fires or wood burners can be composted if mixed with other materials. 

 Wood  Cocktail sticks although small can be added to the composted. To avoid pets trying to eat them and injuring themselves put the sticks into a container and empty it directly into the kitchen caddy. Holly, ivy and mistletoe can be composted. The holly is best shredded and used to make leafmould  separately.

 Wrapping paper and boxes  Paper and card are a good source of “browns” and can help create air pockets to the compost bin. Plastic tape should be removed from the wrapping or envelopes as the tape does not breakdown during composting.  Some paper and cards willcontain plastic or laminated materials these cannot be composted or recycled. Scrunch the item up in your hand. If it stays 'scrunched' it can be composted or recycled. Paper can be shredded and used as  protective packaging around future gifts, or even use it as a window and mirrors cleaning “cloth” .

Wreaths  Christmas wreaths made from plant materials can be composted after the any glue, plastic and wiring are removed.  If leaves have been coated with glitter discard them to landfill. Most council will accept “clean” Christmas wreaths as garden waste.

Further information on Christmas Composting and a wide range of other compost topics plus talks for Garden Clubs and Allotment Societies and sessions for schools can be found at

New to composting? Practical training sessions can be arranged at our Composting Demonstration site at Stokes Wood Allotments Leicester

Christmas Composting and Recycling

Downloadable Word document