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.

City of Sydney waste avoidance officer Katherine O’Sullivan has provided her tips on what can and can’t be recycled, and how to help us keep things out of landfill.

If you're planning your festive season, view our guide on how to have a sustainable Christmas.

Gift wrapping

Carefully unwrap your gifts. 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 at our quarterly Recycle It Saturday events or through the doorstep recycling service.

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," Katherine said.

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

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 doorstep recycling collection.

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.

Batteries

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 doorstep recycling collection.

Styrofoam or polystrene

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 doorstep collection or drop it off free at our next Recycle It Saturday event.

Aluminium disposable food and baking trays

Aluminium foil trays can be recycled in your yellow lid bin – just remove any food and oil and scrunch them 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. View our guide on how your to sell stuff online fast.

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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