St Nicks

Centre for nature and green living

A Grinch’s guide to Christmas…waste!

Our Recycling Coordinator Sam Taylor shares her tips for reducing waste at Christmas. Please always check with your local council if you are unsure whether materials are recyclable at the kerbside.


The Grinch (image via Wikipedia)

This is my “bah humbug” approach to Christmas. Not really. I love Christmas, but I hate waste and for some reason Christmas really is a time of excess. If you are reading this blog I’ll assume you are already interested in reading about how to make your Christmas more environmentally friendly. This post is designed to give you tips and tricks, and maybe even start a discussion!

It’s not an exhaustive list and by no means are you a bad person if you can’t follow them all. Now, as its Christmas this is a bit tongue in cheek, please don’t take offense at any of the content. As always comments are greatly appreciated so please let me know what you think, or if I’ve missed anything out!


Everyone loves presents and it is really easy to fall into a trap of buying for the sake of it – rather than because you think someone will really, really love those novelty beard baubles. I’d suggest that you have a hard think about who you are buying presents for (and why!). Martin Lewis has a very interesting idea about gift buying/exchanging (get more info or sign a NUPP – A No Unnecessary Present Pact here), as buying someone a present can create an expectation of having to return the favour by buying one back. This might create pressure and stress, especially if you can’t afford to buy gifts. Sometimes you’ll end up with things you didn’t even want, and you may not even know if they liked your gift either. In this case you might even consider keeping the £10/20 you would have spent and this can mean that everyone’s benefited! They don’t have to buy you something you don’t want or need, and you don’t have to waste money in return. Now, Christmas is about giving so if you simply have to buy something read on to see how you can maximise the benefits whilst minimising the negative environmental and social impacts…


Image courtesy of Annie Spratt via

A friend of mine shared a great idea that his family do for any gift giving occasion: they all make a wish list which they give to the family, and that way they only get things they want or need. If they can’t think of anything they need the gift giver will write out an IOU to be exchanged at any point over the year for something they do want. Now I know this may ruin the surprise element of gift giving but it doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list with exact shops and barcodes. It can be a list of ideas open to slight interpretation to keep the element of surprise.

If you are buying presents for friends and family then why not try to make it something special, not just a throw away, funny-for-a-minute novelty gift. Try to be clever about your purchasing – looking at what you are buying and deliberately choosing items that have the potential to be reused, upcycled or recycled. For example by avoiding packaging covered in plastic. You can also arrange days out or buy gift vouchers so people can get exactly what they want. Our heritage skills vouchers make great gifts for outdoorsy types. I love getting experience days and vouchers as gifts as they create lasting memories.

Something that has become apparent to me this year is how thoughtful a legacy gift can be. Christmas is a great time to remember people, events and things that are special to us. I’ve personally suffered a few grievances this year and some have hit some members of my family really hard. I can’t think of a better way to show you care, and still remember, than donating in their memory. There are numerous awesome charities that have facilities for this including planting trees with the Woodland Trust.

Shopping local is an awesome way to improve the local economy, reduce your carbon footprint and get great presents. Craft fayres and markets are also a great way to buy unusual items that you may not have known you could get.

If after all that work Santa got it wrong and the presents you get aren’t suitable for you, you can donate your unwanted gifts to a charity shop; they are always keen to receive good quality items of clothing, books, music, etc. There are also various recycling banks located around York for these items. For bigger items you could try advertising them on York Freecycle, Gumtree or on one of the many local Facebook swapping and selling pages. At St Nicks we are also appealing for raffle prizes so we would definitely appreciate any unwanted, suitable items.

Wrapping paper:

Now that you’ve bought the presents how are you going to wrap them you ask? Well…bear in mind a whopping 50,000 trees are used in the production of wrapping paper annually. If you are careful you can reuse wrapping paper, or if that’s too much effort why not check out this video of alternatives from Olio? While you are getting crafty you can tie presents with string or spare ribbon. If you do end up with lots of paper and Sellotape you can compost it (as Sellotape is made of cellulose, which breaks down organically). Although many types of wrapping paper are recyclable, please do be aware that any that are holographic, contain foil or including ribbons won’t be collected. If in doubt follow our golden ripping rule. If you can tear it easily, and there isn’t an ominous layer of plastic pulling away as you tear then pop it in your recycle box.

While you’re at it, instead of buying gift tags (that invariably come prepacked in swathes of unnecessary and unrecyclable plastic) why not use saved Christmas cards? You can cut off the personal bits and write on the back of the picture.

Cards, Envelopes, & Stamps:

Around 1.7 billion Christmas cards are sent each year (that’s another 200,000 trees!) This year be brave! Tell your friends you are not sending cards. If you really can’t face doing that, send e-cards instead or send group cards to office colleagues. In January look out for Christmas card recycling points at local supermarkets. Give your used stamps to a local charity (e.g. St Leonard’s Hospice shops, Oxfam shops etc.). Reuse/ recycle envelopes, or crumple them up for the compost heap (after removing plastic windows!). You can recycle cards and envelopes in your kerbside collection. Please do make sure that any accessories (such as ribbons, foil, excessive glitter or plastic parts) are removed from cards and that envelopes do not have windows.


Image courtesy of Jennifer Pallian via

Food waste:

The golden rule here is only buy what you need. It’s easy to say and can be quite hard to follow, especially with all the offers everywhere. You can buy in bulk and exchange excess with neighbours and friends if you’re organised. You can also utilise new food sharing app OLIO if you’re not. At my house we make maximum use of our freezer – we portion food out and then we can defrost it in the amounts we want to use – saving money and cutting food waste. Compost caddies for egg shells, fruit and veg peelings will make sure you aren’t sending waste to landfill unnecessarily. As with buying presents the best way to help the environment and the economy is to shop for locally grown and produced food. Have a look for local farm shops, delicatessens and independent shops where most staff will happily (proudly in most cases!) tell you the origin of their produce.

Recycling Household Items:

Drinks…Recycle your drinks cans and bottles in your kerbside box or at a local recycling point. Large tins (e.g. chocolate or biscuit tins) can also be placed in thekerbside boxes, but these are excellent candidates for reuse. Cake tins anyone? Please wash and squash all tins and plastic bottles.


Most of your food and present packaging can be recycled either through your kerbside box, Household Waste Recycling Sites (HWRS), or recycling banks across the city. These include:

* Foil: (Washed) mince pie trays, milk bottle tops and the foil from the Christmas turkey can all be recycled. Foil can also be recycled in the can banks at the HWRS, or the supermarket recycling banks (Sainsburys, Tescos, Asda, Morrisons), as well as Union Terrace Car Park (Clarence St), Bishopthorpe Road Car Park (South Bank) and St George’s Field Car Park (Tower St).

* Cardboard: Toys and presents given at Christmas can be heavily packaged in card, as can the mince pies and chocolate boxes. Remember to remove the polystyrene and plastic windows, and flatten all cardboard ready for collection.

* Plastic bottles: It is helpful if they are squashed first so there is plenty of room for everyone else’s. We cannot accept any other kinds of plastic.


Image courtesy of Annie Spratt via

Christmas Trees:

Six million trees are bought each year in the UK and most are thrownout afterwards. Your best option is to buy or rent a locally-grown Christmas tree. If you’re in York you could try the Farmers Cart farm shop as they have both options. The potted ones can be planted out in the garden afterwards and cut trees can be composted. They can be recycled at your local Household Waste Recycling Sites (HWRC) or you could shred it for the compost heap. A great option would be to chop it up and leave it under a hedge in your garden to create a wildlife habitat. Here at St Nicks our team cannot collect Christmas trees so please don’t leave them out for us.

Now to go full Grinch…

Lights off

Christmas trees and fairy lights are pretty and they also add a nice atmosphere. But who’s going to see the lights on your house if they are on through the day or all night? Why not put them on timers, or only have them on when you are in the house? I’m sure your electricity bills will notice the difference!

I hope you’ve learnt something from this post, and maybe it’s inspired you to look at Christmas and it’s excess in a slightly different light. I’m all for indulgence but if we can still indulge without having mountains of waste come January even better!

I wish you all a happy, peaceful and festive holiday.


Merry Christmas from the St Nicks Recycling Team!


Vegetable & Fruit Box Schemes include:

Goodness –, 01904 479931

The Organic Pantry –, 01937 531693

Goosemoor Organics –, 01423 358887

Farm Shops:

Brunswick Organic Nurseries, Appleton Rd, Bishopthorpe, 01904 701869

The Farm Shop and Cafe, Willow House, Wiggington Road, York, 01904 766822

The Farmers Cart, Towthorpe Grange, Towthorpe Lane, 01904 499183

The Balloon Tree, Stamford Bridge Rd, Gate Helmsley, 01759 373023

21 December 2016 | Categories: One Planet Living, Waste and recycling | Tags: Christmas, Christmas Tree, environmental, Gift, Grinch, Indulge, Legacy, Lights, Olio, presents, recycling, reuse, tree, Wrap, York

One response to “A Grinch’s guide to Christmas…waste!”

  1. Anna says:

    This was a very good read, thank you it made me think twice about my gift purchase habits and whether I can help make this year’s Christmas more eco friendly.This article is very useful if you really unsure what xmas waste you cna or cannot recycle Wishing all readers magical, rubbish free Christmas. Happy Holidays! 🙂