What Christmas left behind: a guide to what you can and can’t recycle

From shiny wrapping paper to old Christmas trees, the City of Sydney’s waste and recycling expert shares her tips on tidying up after the festive season.

The Christmas season can bring lots of happiness – and lots of waste. Local households will create and throw out close to 400 tonnes of extra waste this Christmas.

The City of Sydney’s zero waste coordinator Matshepo Molala provides her tips on what can and can’t be recycled, helping us keep things out of landfill.

Gift wrapping

Gift wrapping is a huge contributor to waste at Christmas. A 2017 survey from CARE Australia found Australians use 150,000 kilometres of wrapping paper over the festive season – enough to wrap the world in paper almost four times.

But is wrapping paper recyclable? Wrapping paper made from 100% paper can be recycled in your yellow lid bin, even if it has sticky tape attached. Plastic cellophane, metallic wrapping or paper with glitter or foil detail can’t be recycled and will end up in landfill.

Even better, instead of single-use wrapping paper or gift bags, Matshepo recommends wrapping gifts with recyclable or reusable items. Try newspaper, reusable cloths – a pretty tea towel or fabric scraps would work well – reusable boxes or brown recyclable paper bags.

And if you receive a gift in wrapping paper, unwrap it gently. You can save the paper and reuse it for future Christmas or birthday gifts.

Plastic Christmas trees

Plastic Christmas trees are reusable, but they’re often made of plastics and metals that can’t be recycled. This means when they’re old or broken they’re likely to end up in landfill and won’t decompose. If your plastic tree doesn’t fit in your red lid bin, book our free weekly clean-up service and have it collected.

Real Christmas trees

If your tree is small, break it up into pieces and put it in your green lid bin along with your garden organics. Or place it in your regular red lid bin if you don’t have a green lid one.

The City of Sydney mulches trees placed in the green lid bins. If they’re in the red lid bin, we turn them into compost.

If your tree is bigger, you can book a free pick-up.

However you dispose of your tree, don’t put it in plastic and don’t forget to remove any decorations.

Fairy lights, LEDs and other electronics

E-waste can contain toxic materials and doesn’t belong in the bin. If you’ve scored some new gadgets and need to get rid of your old ones, you have a few options.

If the old gadgets are working, donate or sell them. If not, book a free pick-up for City residents or take them to an e-waste drop-off day.

By recycling your e-waste, you help keep hazardous materials out of landfill. We recycle around 95% of the raw materials we recover.


Battery sales spike during the festive season, with over 40% of annual battery sales taking place during Christmas. But once you’re done with them, these batteries can be a huge environmental hazard.

Lithium-ion batteries can leach toxic chemicals into our soil and can contaminate our groundwater, the source of our drinking water. Gulp! Some also contain valuable resources, like precious metals.

95% of a lithium-ion battery is recyclable, and some of its raw materials are not available in Australia – making them very valuable.

Only 2% of all lithium-ion batteries purchased in Australia are recycled and there’s around $813m to $3bn worth of valuable components from these batteries in landfill.

Best to drop off your batteries for recycling at the City’s customer service centres and our libraries or find one of the many other recycling points near you.

Aluminium disposable food and baking trays

Aluminium foil trays can be recycled in your yellow lid bin – just make sure they’re rolled into a ball shape.

If the aluminium is flat, the paper sorting fans in the recycling station will pick it up and send it to the paper collection area.

‘White Christmas’ packaging or styrofoam

It may have a recycling symbol on it, but styrofoam (polystyrene) can’t be recycled in your yellow lid bin. If you’ve received lots of styrofoam with your presents, you can drop it off for free at the City of Randwick’s Perry St Recycling Centre.

You can also break it up and place it in your red lid rubbish bin.

Foil and plastic chocolate and lolly wrappers

Chocolate wrappers and confectionery bags made from soft plastic can be recycled in the RedCycle bin at your local supermarket.

Foil chocolate wrappers can be recycled in your yellow lid bin – just roll them into a ball the size of a tennis ball. Small pieces will get lost in the recycling process.


Reduce wasting food (and money) by planning your portions ahead of time and buy only the food you need. Stick to a food shopping list, freeze leftovers, make new meals with leftovers, or give your guests a doggy-bag to take home. See Love Food Hate Waste for ideal serving sizes and ideas on storing and using leftovers.

Use reusable shopping bags for your shopping trips, whether you’re out buying your Christmas dinner ingredients or shopping for pressies – bring along your reusable bags and opt out of single use plastic bags.

It can be tempting to use disposable plates and cutlery, and not have to worry about doing the dishes. But these often end up in landfill where they can take up to 100 years to decompose.

And those unwanted gifts…

Donate, sell, or re-gift. Sometimes you just don’t want, or need, what’s been given to you. If you’re re-gifting, just remember who gave you the gift. You don’t want to be caught returning it to them – now that could be awkward.

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