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

From shiny wrapping paper to old trees, avoid waste with our expert tips on tidying up after the festive season.

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

Try to have yourself a low or zero-waste Christmas. If you can’t, choose items that can be recycled at the end of their life.

Megan Hounslow, our waste avoidance officer, provides her tips on what can and can’t be recycled, and how to help us keep things out of landfill.

Gift wrapping

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.

Wrapping made from 100% paper can go in your yellow lid bin, even if it has sticky tape attached. Plastic cellophane can be recycled in a REDcycle soft plastics bin at your local supermarket.

Consider using these instead of metallic wrapping or paper with glitter or foil detail, which can’t be recycled and will end up in landfill.

Real Christmas trees

Break small trees up into pieces and put them in your green lid bin along with your garden organics.

If you don’t have a green lid bin and regularly have garden waste, you can order a free bin and have it collected each fortnight.

"We mulch trees placed in the green lid bins," says Megan.

If your tree is too big to fit in the green lid bin, City of Sydney residents can book a free pick-up. If you live in an apartment with a building manager, ask them to book one in for you.

However you dispose of your tree, remove all decorations and don’t wrap it in plastic.

Plastic Christmas trees

They may be reusable, but plastic Christmas trees are often made of materials that can’t be recycled.

Old or broken trees are likely to end up in landfill and won’t decompose.

If your unwanted plastic Christmas tree is in good condition, you might like to try Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree, Trading Post, eBay or Freecycle.

As a last option, book our free weekly pick-up service and have it collected.

Fairy lights, LEDs and other electronics

Electronics can contain toxic materials and don’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, City of Sydney residents can book a free pick-up or take them to a Recycle It Saturday drop-off event. Or book a Power Pickup with RecycleSmart – you can subscribe for a free monthly pick-up.

By recycling your old Christmas lights and electronics, you help keep hazardous materials out of landfill. We recycle around 95% of the raw materials we recover.


Sales of batteries spike during the festive season. But once you’re done with them, batteries can be a huge environmental hazard.

Always try to use rechargeable batteries, but even these need to be disposed of carefully.

Batteries must never go in any of your household bins. They can be dangerous when compacted in collection trucks and can even cause truck fires.

Best to drop off your batteries for recycling at our customer service centres and libraries. Or book a Power Pickup with RecycleSmart and have them collected straight from your doorstep.

White Christmas packaging or styrofoam

It may have a plastic identification code on it, which looks like a recycling symbol, but polystyrene or styrofoam can’t be recycled in your yellow lid bin.

If you’ve received lots of polystyrene with your presents, you can book a Power Pickup with RecycleSmart. Or drop it off free at our next Recycle It Saturday event.

Chocolate and lolly wrappers

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

Test for soft plastics by doing the ‘scrunch test’. If your plastic item can easily be scrunched into a ball, like bread bags or plastic bags, they’re a soft plastic and can’t go in your yellow lid bin.

Or stay at home and book a Power Pickup with RecycleSmart and have your soft plastics recycled from your doorstep. It’s free if you subscribe for monthly pick-ups or $2 a bag for a single pick-up.

Foil chocolate wrappers can be recycled in your yellow lid bin. Scrunch them into a tennis ball sized shape first. Small pieces will get lost in the recycling process.

Aluminium disposable food and baking trays

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

Unwanted gifts

Donate, sell, or re-gift. Sometimes you just don’t want, or need, what’s been given to you. This Christmas, RecycleSmart is making donating easy. Gather your pre-loved toys and clothes, book a Power Pickup and the RecycleSmart team will collect and donate them to local charity shops for you.

Use the code RUDOLPH for a free Power Pickup of up to 2 bags.

If you’re re-gifting, just remember who gave you the present. You don’t want to be caught returning it to them – now that could be awkward.

Get answers to all your tricky questions about reducing, reusing and recycling: ask a waste expert.

Posted . Last updated .

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