/ Food & Drink, Home & Energy

Can you have yourselves a very sustainable Christmas?

Christmas waste

It’s the most wasteful time of the year – so what do you do with your leftovers once the big day has been and gone?

The chances are that today you’re reflecting on the slight over-consumption from yesterday’s feast and slightly shocked by the mountains of leftovers – if not, then well done you!

Earlier this year, we talked about recycling and waste and wondered if our efforts are a bit rubbish. Well, I was prompted to think about Christmas waste after reading about a Finnish energy company that’s set to turn some of the country’s Christmas leftovers into renewable diesel.

It calculates that the waste fat from a single joint of roast ham, which it will collect from households and restaurants in recyclable cardboard boxes, can be converted into about two miles’ worth of fuel for a car.

And with seven million kilogrammes of ham cooked each Christmas in Finland, the company reckons it can produce enough fuel to power a car driving three times around the world.

What a waste

It got me thinking about the amount of waste my own household produces at this time of year – and, more importantly, what I could do to reduce its impact on the environment.

It’s been reported that over Christmas, UK households generate around 30% more waste. Collectively, we’ll throw away 13,350 tonnes of glass; 4,500 tonnes of foil and 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper.

We’ll also buy some 10 million turkeys. 370 million mince pies and 25 million Christmas puds – on average, we’ll end up binning a quarter of this.

But most of this can either be recycled or upcycled.

Reusing Christmas leftovers

Take the food leftovers. My family’s never been one to waste tonnes of grub, so what’s not eaten on Christmas Day will get turned into something else.

The veg peelings will go on the compost heap, and the leftover veg will pop up in something like bubble & squeak. The turkey will become a curry and maybe some pies that’ll be popped in the freezer for a quick meal later in the year (when turkey’s a novelty again).

For inspiration, you could have a look at Jamie Oliver’s tips on using up left over food. Or you could use Love Food Hate Waste’s portion planner, so you don’t buy/make too much food in the first place.

Then there’s the wrapping paper. My nan used to despair at us kids tearing into our presents while she’d carefully unwrap hers so she could save the paper for the following year. You could also help keep the wrapping paper mountain down by creating your own using festive cuttings from newspapers/magazines that you’d ordinarily put in the recycling after reading.

With the cards, you could follow my nan’s lead and use them as gift tags the following year. Or, if you’re remotely crafty, cut them down to create your own handmade cards/decorations/advent calendars the following year.

And while glass is easily recyclable, why not keep a few of the empty jars/bottles for when you make jam/chutney/sloe gin for the next Christmas?

Your tips

What are your top tips for reducing your waste at Christmas? Do you get inventive with your leftovers?


Food waste is an abomination. Planning pre-purchase is the start. Cooking for those present, knowing who eats what, and how much of everything to prepare is also important. Finally having a plan for food that’s not been eaten and needs to be kept helps to make the post meal clean up productive. I could go further with a recycle box for the scrapings, peel and bones, and I make all sorts of excuses for not doing this. Somehow food laying around until bin day is off putting and sometimes I’m not there to put it out. Our local fox enjoys these bins and knows just how to decorate the road over night. So I can’t wear a halo, but if it is edible it is almost certainly eaten. Paper, tin, card, glass and plastic go to be recycled as they do in most of the U.K. If my rubbish bag is heavier than my recycle bag I get annoyed. Things are not so cut and dried when I’m caring and my sister has a different agenda. We are both fairly good and I suppose she makes up for my shortcomings. This mind set is not just for Christmas and if employed for the other fifty one weeks it becomes second nature even unto the turkey and trimmings.

If anything is guaranteed to produce waste its the combination of turkey, sprouts and parsnips followed by Christmas pud. It’s only possible virtue is that it’s different to what people eat every other day of the year.

Sounds like another roast turkey dinner John.
🍗 ☺️

Well, we had sirloin steak this year with a selection of country vegetables excluding parsnips, although we did have some sprouts which she cooks properly so they are both soft and tasty. Some I had recently in a rather exclusive eating establishment were distinctly al dente. This was followed by luxury ice cream and jelly! No waste whatsoever.

We had rib-eye steaks with jacket spuds and coleslaw. A table-top grill comes in handy.

Well, we were unable to eat both our Chicken and Beef joints on Xmas day. The reason is simply that the chicken emerged in a pool of blood and the beef was almost inedible apparently (only our boys have that). Not a disaster, of course: it’ll all be re-purposed into a curry, but why did it fall apart so spectacularly?

We have a nice new Neff double oven, bought only a few months ago as a W? best buy. However, one would hope that the testers for W? would do their jobs more thoroughly – one being to read the instruction manual.

The Neff’s lower oven is recommended for roasting (it’s the larger, anyway) and has no fewer than nine options on the dial, and looks complex, so the obvious answer is to find out which setting to use for chicken roasting – a potentially dangerous task. Fortunately the manual has the instruction where it’s clear they recommend the ‘Circo Roasting’ setting for chicken. Okay so far, but then, for extra safety, we turn to the page on Roasting where there’s no sign of the Circo Roasting whatsoever. Now, this is slipshod on the part of Neff, but that’s why I assumed we have Which? – to find out about this sort of dangerous error and alert us. That they didn’t was the reason why our entire xmas dinner became vegetarian.

And what a day for the thermostat to pack in… Well, these things happen. Nice veggie lunch, though.

Oh dear, I am sorry it all turned out a bit Naff (oooops Neff) on Christmas Day Ian. Hope the curry turned out more enjoyable. My daughter in law cooked a lovely turkey breast (organic) complete with my favourite roasted parsnips. My sherry trifle which I made on Christmas Eve went down very well in spite of the custard necessitated eventually having to be put through a sieve in order to remove the lumps which just wouldn’t disappear with constant mixing!

Back home again, I’m afraid I’ve really hit the Hotel Chocolat today, a present from my daughter……..chocolate heaven! Christmas TV highlight for me was the London Concert by Andre Dieu on Channel 5 on Christmas Eve……..wonderful! Not a dry eye in the house!

The sad news of superstar George Michael’s passing on Christmas Day at the young age of 53 was the Christmas downside. RIP George, A sad time for popular music fans.

This year I bought my other half Thornton’s – quite a lot of the ones she especially enjoys.

A Black Magic box of chocs found its way into our house and I am pleased to report the selection is back on form and very more-ish; a couple are a bit gooey but they appeal to some. The soft centres have been changed here and there but are still delicious and the dark chocolate couverture is outstanding.

I am sorry your dinner was ruined Ian. I agree with you there is much more to testing than checking that all the functions perform. Instruction manuals are an appalling let-down in my experience and should be subjected to special examination to make sure they are both comprehensive and intelligible to any UK user.

Well my dad made a cracking Bubble and Squeak on Boxing Day – that meal used up all the left over veg and the cold meat from Christmas Day so there was no waste there.

We always re-purpose Christmas cards into gift tags for next year’s presents, so they won’t be wasted and the same goes for gift bags and ribbon. But the biggest waste I saw this year was in packaging – whether it was the huge box and bubble wrap for a small box of chocolates, or the excessive packaging for gift boxes – this packaging has completely filled my recycling bin.

Edinburgh Council’s tweeted (maybe retweeted) recipes for left overs, plus plenty of messages about safe practices around the kitchen, and recycling.

That sounds helpful, Sophie. I’ll check it out 🙂

Just put the wrapping paper in the ordinary paper bin. It all goes to landfill anyway.

Not sure about that; it may depend on your local recycling authority. Must admit I’m a composting fiend, almost everything goes into my Hotbin, including ripped-up cardboard, egg cartons and food waste. As it’s pretty well sealed there’s no chance of foxes getting in, and it all gets churned up once in a while with a giant corkscrew (this is not fantasy!).

Poatage stamps are few today but who collects them still for CHARITY ???

Our Rotary club does for one, also my wife’s church group.

On the subject of food waste I have to commend Northampton Borough Council who provide “two containers, a small caddy for collecting the food waste in your kitchen, and a larger caddy for storage outside” . Food waste is collected weekly. We don’t have much food waste partly because there is a largish dog in the house, but what we do have can be put in light plastic bags in the caddy. This is an excellent service, as shown by their FAQ page http://www.northampton.gov.uk/info/200084/waste-and-recycling/1159/food-waste-collections.

I cut out the stamps leaving a small 5mm border and give them to the church where they are collected. The RNIB and Salvation Army are just two charities which collect them – just Google “Saving used postage stamps”. I t seems many people don’t know this

I always cook the meat for the Christmas season well in advance – turkey, pork, beef and gammon. I then calculate how many people are coming and slice up meat into various packages and freeze. This means we never get tired of the meat over the Christmas period as take out of the freezer the day before to defrost. Any meat and veg left over from meals are made into soups. Bread is made into bread pudding, left over booze i.e. opened bottles of wine or beer get chucked into a casserole or soup. Meat in the freezer lasts around 3 months so we could be eating turkey in March. When catering for a large crowd I always think if it is left over can I freeze it or turn it into something else! i.e. cheese gets grated and frozen, fruit gets pureed or baked in a crumble. sandwiches end up being toasted. Very little waste in our house – we have a food recycling bin collected fortnightly by the council, a recycling bin collected weekly along with our general rubbish.

We always try to recycle everything possible, however it has just been reported in the papers that cards and wrapping paper with glitter or metallic finish are being rejected by paper mills with a result the complete containers are sent to land fill. Surely this should have featured in your article.

I have heard this story and wondered whether it was the unmetallic truth. Thinking about the journey our recycling takes suggests there are several opportunities for any non-conforming material to be rejected before it reaches a container destined for a paper mill, and further chances beyond that stage.

Our recycling bin contains a mangled mix of metals, glass, cardboard, paper and plastics and this has to be separated into the different materials. I appreciate that this is largely a mechanical process with magnetic and vacuum action to divert various streams into the different channels for onward processing. As I understand it there is also a degree of manual oversight involved so that obvious contaminants are pulled out and I would have thought that wrapping paper and other metallised paper [like biscuit wrappers, crisp packets, etc] would get dealt with at that stage. If not, they carry on through the works with other types of paper to a crushing and baling plant that produces cubes of material for transit to a paper mill. I defy anyone to be able to tell whether within each bale there might be a glitter-dusted Christmas card or a crumpled sheet of shiny gift-wrap.

The bales will also contain wire staples in magazines, sticky-tape on cardboard boxes, adhesive on envelopes, bits of string, and lots of other odds and ends that have survived the initial segregation. There will also be laminated covers and stitched bindings on expensive magazines, foil and adhesive labels from packaging, rubber bands and those annoying tag-ties attached to garment labels. At the paper mill this stuff all goes through screening, washing, shredding, and pulping processes before proceeding to the manufacture of various grades of paper. Given these circumstances, the notion that some Christmas wrapping will require the rejection of a whole load from the recycling plant is clearly unsustainable. It is a big white lie put out by the recycling industry and local councils to encourage us all to separate our waste paper so that as little as possible of the difficult stuff ends up in the paper stream. Yes, it’s a problem for the paper and board manufacturers who obviously want maximum purity but in my view they just need to sort it.

In fact, Which? could apply pressure to manufacturers to return to simpler wrapping materials. AIUI one issue is where plastic and paper are combined during manufacture.

I had similar thoughts when I read that story. Sounded more like someone wanted to go home early than be bothered to deal with the problem.

I would love to know how much landfill waste is created by putting everything into one recycling bin?

There are documentaries on everything under the sun, but I have never seen one on rubbish and recycling and I would like to see what happens to our carefully selected recycling after it gets unceremoniously dumped in the back of a cart.

Alfa – I think the first stage is tipping all the recycling waste out onto a moving belt with people standing on both sides physically picking out stuff that is obviously not suitable. After that the 90%+ recyclable mix of cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metals goes through some fairly sophisticated machinery that does a pretty good job of segregating the different materials [for example magnets are used to separate tin and steel from aluminium, copper and brass, and different densities of plastic can be separated by a jet of air]. Further refinement is probably a manual process again. My guess would be that very little landfill waste emerges from the recycling stream. Our authority asks us to leave the screwcaps on bottles and jars to prevent breakage or deformation “as they get removed during the recycling process” but I am intrigued to know whether somebody sits on a one-legged stool all day uncapping containers and discarding metal caps to a bin on the left and plastic ones to a bin on the right. I am still trying to work out how to dispose of a champagne bottle whose cork will not re-enter the neck and whether or not to soak off the paper label and put it in the bin separately.

I stay with family and friends over the holiday period and always have difficulty in deciding which colour bin to put different kinds of waste in. I think I have mastered what goes in bins in the Highland Council area, the challenge being to remember not to put glass bottles and jars in the blue bin but to take them to a recycling point. I went over to Aberdeen today and found that the council had a different system, with a rather small black box for glass and other recyclable materials. Many of us go away for Christmas and I expect that many of us put waste in the wrong bin.

The situation is no better in England. When I moved ten miles last year I had different bins and different rules about what to put in each.

Maybe Which? could launch a campaign for councils to standardise on bin colours and what can go in each. I appreciate that there is currently some variations in what different councils can recycle, but it would be a good start to bring in some uniformity so that we all know what can definitely go in a recycling bin.

Simple solution is to label the bins – more sustainable than changing them.

If people are accustomed to putting bottles into a blue bin, it might not register that they are expected to do something different when staying with friends. There is no need to change existing bins. A prominent coloured label or plastic tie on the handle would be all that is needed to introduce a standard colour code.

I think most people would be capable of reading a prominent label. However, not the world’s biggest problem.

I know this is a seasonal Convo, but waste extends to every day, not just Christmas. We waste forests on book and newspapers – many not read. We use gas-guzzling cars when they aren’t necessary. We not only throw a lot of perfectly good food away, we also eat too much. We heat houses that for many are too big for our needs. We throw away products that, with more incentive, could be repaired. Most of, us, most of the time. If we really cared about waste we’d tackle the everyday waste, but most don’t, because we have a way of life that we are mostly comfortable with.

It will only change when it is forced upon us, by lack of resources.

Well, that’s that off my chest. Happy New Year 🙂

Going round the streets of Britain I think one of the biggest eyesores is the ranks of oversized gaudy-coloured waste bins that disfigure the street scene. I don’t understand why they cannot all be a neutral colour like grey or dark green with a coloured patch on each lid and a legend to designate the purpose of each bin. I don’t advocate a wholesale changeover but it could be done for new developments and normal replacements or on payment by householders who wanted something less conspicuous. Our recycling bin is rarely full [and anyway side waste is allowed provided it is in a clear plastic sack] and the rubbish bin is never more than one third full. Obviously bigger households need more capacity but smaller ones should be supplied with smaller bins. I appreciate that the lifting mechanism on the refuse trucks dictates the bin dimensions and lid position but it ought to be possible to contrive something practical for smaller bins. There are three different local councils covering the Norwich area and the colours of bins are light green, bright blue, purple, black, dark green, grey and brown [but not necessarily consistent for contents]. Many commercial premises have private waste contractors’ bins in red, orange, blue and black and they also tend to get left out in the street. In four decades we have managed to turn waste disposal from an unobtrusive operation into an environmental nuisance.

My goodness. I have seen bright red with a black lid, but not purple. After Christmas and other bank holidays, bins are often contribute more to the eyesore because of uncertainty about the collection day.

All that is needed is a coloured marker to identify bins and some coordination by the councils to agree what we should put in each one. When new bins are introduced they could be produced in a standard colour (maybe dark green) and have their coloured marker affixed when delivered.

Our area will have garden recycling bins (of which there can be up to 3 per household) lining the local roads for over 2 weeks.

We put them out as normal as their leaflet says they will be collected, but they are never collected over Christmas/New Year.

I tried to get a discount one year as they hadn’t bothered to turn up on 3 occasions throughout the year, but was turned down.

One of my post-Christmas activities is to do some cutting back in the garden, so envisage that my brown bin will be full prior to each collection before the grass cutting season starts. In some areas, these bins (which may be a different colour) are not collected during the winter months.

g willcock says:
2 January 2017

Your comment, Glass easily recyclable, Window glass isn’t ? G willcock

Unfortunately, the composition of glass differs and these need to be kept separate to prevent variations in the quality of recycled glass.

“Glass containers for food and beverages are 100% recyclable, but not with other types of glass. Other kinds of glass, like windows, ovenware, Pyrex, crystal, etc. are manufactured through a different process. If these materials are introduced into the glass container manufacturing process, they can cause production problems and defective containers.” http://www.gpi.org/recycling/glass-recycling-facts

The usual advice is not to put broken bottles and jars in recycling bins.

We tie up glass separately in a carrier bag, but as the whole bin is tipped into a large lorry, that glass is going to get broken. So unless recycling is sorted at the roadside, I’m not sure why advice would be against putting broken bottles and jars in recycling bins.

I have not seen an explanation. Maybe it is for the safety of those who have the unenviable task of emptying our bins. In a bag, broken glass could poke out and be a danger to children.

Tony Mills says:
3 January 2017

There is a huge disparity between various local authorities in getting the message across concerning recycling waste. It would serve the Membership’s interest and that of the wider community if Which would make it one of their Campaigns. Perhaps it might even become a real issue for the political parties. And for those who are in touch with or who are members of Local Authorities : raise the issue! For it is they who carry the responsibility for disposing of waste and improving the environment.