May all your Christmases be green (not to mention brown, red, blue and grey as well... )

Dreaming of a green Christmas. Picture: Bill Henry
Dreaming of a green Christmas. Picture: Bill Henry
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This is the first festive season Edinburgh residents have faced with fortnightly bin collections. Jim Orr gives some top recycling tips

The final countdown to Christmas is on, with many of us hitting the shops today for food and last-minute presents.

However, waste is an unfortunate by-product this time of year, with extra packaging, wrapping paper and cards filling our bins. It is difficult to estimate how much more is produced per household, but there is clearly a lot more waste to deal with.

Christmas then is an ideal time to reduce, reuse and recycle – so here are some tips for a greener festive 

Lists, lists, lists

Plan your meals over the festive season and estimate how much food and drink you will need. This will help to avoid throwing out-of-date goods in the bin. Stick perishables in the freezer and defrost when needed, and buy loose fruit and vegetables rather than pre-packaged – those polystyrene trays can’t be recycled. For advice about what to do with leftovers, the Love Food Hate Waste Scotland website has some imaginative recipes.

Use your food waste bins

They will be emptied weekly over Christmas, and you won’t have to wait longer than nine days. Break up turkey carcasses, or put them straight into the large food waste bin (in bin liners) if they are too big.


Tin foil can be recycled along with cans, as long as it’s not too dirty, but scrunch it up as small as possible before disposing of it. Disposable plates and cups may seem like a good time-saver, but they have to go to landfill. Delegate the washing up instead.

Children’s toys seem to be stuck in even more plastic packaging than ever before. Look for gifts which don’t have a lot of plastic around them, as it can’t be recycled, and recycle the cardboard packaging. Use rechargeable batteries for toys, or use battery recycling points.

Give gift vouchers for trips such as spa days or make a donation to a favourite charity instead of handing over a large present – there will be less waste and they may be appreciated even more.

Re-gift duplicate presents

You may not need another pair of novelty socks, but someone else you know might – or take them to a charity shop.

Keep plastic bags from the supermarket

Reuse them, and remember to take bags for life when shopping, too.

Consider how much wrapping paper you need

it is bulky and takes up a lot of space once used. Buy recycled wrap and cut out how much you will need for each present to minimise waste. Metallic or glittery wrapping paper looks impressive at Christmas, but can’t actually be recycled – put it into your recycling bin and it will be taken out and put in landfill instead. Non-metallic paper can be recycled in the usual paper banks or bins. Sticky tape is OK, but take off any metallic ribbon and bows.


Non-glittery cards and envelopes can be put into paper and cardboard banks, but envelopes should not be put into kerbside recycling bins. Some supermarkets and schools will also take them after Christmas, or they can be cut up and used as gift tags for the following year. You could always send virtual cards by e-mail.

Christmas trees

They will be picked up and composted by the council in the New Year as usual – just leave them out with your garden waste bin from January 7. Make sure that it’s cut up if larger than five feet, and remember to take off decorations and lights.

Otherwise, buy one with roots, keep it watered and plant it in the garden after the festive season.


If you share communal bins, check the council website for pick-up dates.

In line with other local authorities, bin collection dates will change over Christmas and New Year to take bank holidays into account, so make sure that you check how these will affect your area. Please be aware that every effort will be made to empty bins, but severe weather may cause difficulties.

Please be patient

Residents will only have to wait a couple of days longer than usual in the New Year to have recycling and domestic waste picked up. Remember that food waste – which takes up about a third of the waste we chuck out – will still be collected every week, so there should not be any concern about rotting food being left in bins.

Extra pick-ups will be made from the various community recycling points and three recycling centres across the city.

• Councillor Jim Orr is environment vice convener for the Edinburgh City Council.