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 will create and throw out close to 400 tonnes of extra waste at Christmas.

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

A huge contributor to waste at Christmas is gift wrapping. Instead of single-use wrapping paper or gift bags, Megan recommends wrapping gifts with recyclable, compostable or reusable items.

Be creative with what’s around you. Try your hand at furoshiki, the Japanese tradition of fabric wrapping for a special touch. Wrap gifts in reusable cloth bags, tea towels or a pretty scarf. Or reuse a cardboard box, newspaper or brown paper bag decorated with flowers or leaves.

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 over metallic wrapping or paper with glitter or foil detail. These can’t be recycled and will end up in landfill.

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. 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.

For trees too big to fit in the green lid bin, book a free pick-up.

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

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 or groups, Gumtree, Trading Post, eBay, OzRecycle or Freecycle.

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

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, 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 pick-up with RecycleSmart and use the code HOLLYJOLLY for a free pick-up of 2 bags.

By recycling your e-waste, 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 power pick-up with RecycleSmart and use the code HOLLYJOLLY for a free pick-up of 2 bags.

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.

White Christmas packaging or styrofoam

It may have a recycling symbol on it, 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 pick-up with RecycleSmart and use the code HOLLYJOLLY for a free pick-up of 2 bags. Or drop it off free at our next Recycle It Saturday event.

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.

You can also bring soft plastics to our next Recycle It Saturday event. Or stay at home and book a power pick-up with RecycleSmart and use the code HOLLYJOLLY for a free pick-up of 2 bags.

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

Food

Avoid 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, or give your guests a doggy-bag to take home. Join Love Food Sydney to learn simple and cost-effective ways to reduce food waste and save money.

Take reusable shopping bags for your shopping trips, whether you’re out buying your Christmas dinner ingredients or shopping for pressies.

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. If you don’t have enough plates or cutlery for everyone, ask guests to bring their own reusables and give the environment a break this Christmas.

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 present. You don’t want to be caught returning it to them – now that could be awkward.

Posted . Last updated .

Subscribe for updates

Choose the news that interests you

Sign up
Sign up