All I want for Christmas is to be plastic-free

Date published: 06 December 2018

Tinsel, wrapping paper, toy packaging and the wrapping on your Christmas turkey… you’d be forgiven for thinking a plastic-free Christmas is an unattainable thing of dreams - but you'd be wrong.

With all the unnecessary plastic waste produced and thrown into the bin each year, environmental campaign group Manchester Friends of the Earth are urging people to have a plastic-free festive season for 2018.

Landfill sites across the UK receive the following for Christmas every year:

  • 125,000 tonnes of plastic waste
  • 6 million Christmas trees
  • 1,500 tonnes of fairy lights
  • 227,000 miles of recyclable wrapping paper
  • 50,000 trees’ worth of Christmas cards
  • 230,000 tonnes of food waste

Whilst the amount of Christmas waste itself is shocking, perhaps the most shocking thing of all is that these items are even going to landfill in the first place.

At least in the Rochdale borough, there is no excuse for throwing the majority of these items in your general waste bin, as real Christmas trees and food waste can be collected through your brown bins, fairy lights can be recycled with other electrical waste at the tip, whilst wrapping paper and cards can be reused before finding their way into your blue paper bin.

Find out what happens to your waste after it has been thrown away here:

That leaves the dreaded plastic waste to tackle.

Here in the borough, we can at least recycle all plastic bottles (without their lids) whilst the rest must, unfortunately, be thrown into the dark green general waste bin before it is turned into green energy.

An innovative solution, it still doesn’t solve the problem of there being too much unnecessary plastic waste in the first place, so the best thing to do is try to reduce your plastic consumption this year.

Why should you have a plastic-free Christmas?

Since the 1950s, approximately 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic has been produced. Of this, just 9% is recycled, with an eye-opening 79% having been thrown away. The rest is incinerated – and, it is estimated by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish on our planet. 

Aside from the finite landfill space, plastic is estimated to take anywhere up to 1,000 years for plastic to decompose in landfill.

Some forms of plastic are toxic and can disrupt hormones or that microplastic particles have entered the food chain after they are often mistaken by fish for their usual food sources.

According to the Environmental Investigation Agency, the cumulative amount of plastic in the seas will rise tenfold by 2025 if nothing is done to dramatically reduce waste generation or manage it more effectively. 

Currently, some 4.8 to 12.7 million tonnes of plastics are estimated to enter the oceans each year from land, predominantly due to the proliferation of single-use products and packaging, littering and poor waste management.

Catherine Thomson, Manchester Friends of the Earth's co-ordinator, said: "Going plastic free at Christmas is a challenge but our plastic-free Christmas newsletter is full of great ideas to help people reduce unnecessary waste during the festive season."

Fortunately, here are some top plastic-free swaps and handy hints to a plastic-free Christmas dinner, courtesy of Friends of the Earth, who have been campaigning for a Plastic Free Greater Manchester:

Top plastic-free swaps

Christmas cards

If you want to send new cards, try buying those printed on recycled and uncoated cardboard, or if you really want to cut down on waste, send an e-card, which often have the added benefit of being interactive.

Mince pies and Christmas nibbles

Most plastic packaging can be avoided by simply making your own festive feast. Make your home smell of Christmas by following a delicious mince pie recipe or bake seasonal cookies and sing along to Christmas tunes you would never publicly admit to liking.

For chocolate, buy bars wrapped in recyclable paper and foil rather than a plastic wrapper.

Christmas decorations

What's better than pretty Christmas decorations? Pretty delicious ones that you can eat.

Things like tinsel and baubles are normally full of plastic. A tasty alternative is to hang home-baked Christmas cookies from the tree.

Strings of popcorn and cranberries also add a bit of sparkle.

Wrapping paper

Lots of wrapping paper contains plastic. Opt for the understated elegance of brown parcel paper – adding natural decorations like spruce or homemade cookies.


Wooden toys are making a comeback. From puzzles to push-along animals and musical instruments to building blocks, there are lots of choices for younger children.

And when your little ones have grown out of them, pass them on to other families or donate them to a charity shop.

Save yourself a tedious job of wrapping presents and gift an experience instead, or even donate to a good cause in the recipient’s name.

Christmas tree

If you have a fake tree, keep using it to make it last as long as possible.

If a real one is more up your street, get a tree with an FSC logo, or one approved by the Soil Association.

You can even rent Christmas trees over the festive season and return them afterwards to carry on growing.


Well, you couldn’t expect us to give this one a miss! Choose wine bottles with cork and boxes of beer to avoid any unnecessary plastic.


Roast Turkey Christmas Dinner


How to shop for a plastic-free Christmas dinner

Plan ahead

Think about what you usually make for Christmas dinner and make a list of what you need. This will help you figure out in advance what items can be bought without plastic, such as buying loose fruits and vegetables. Just don’t forget your reusable bags!

Support local businesses

Local markets are great for finding loose produce, and you can purchase exactly what you need. No excess, no wasted food!

Stick to eco-friendly materials

If you can’t avoid packaging, opt for goods in natural materials rather than plastic. Think glass jars and glass bottles, tins, foil, paper containers and cardboard – all these can be recycled in your blue or blue and green bin.


Do the best you can: don’t stress about removing every trace of plastic. The aim is to reduce plastic pollution by as much as possible.

Manchester Friends of the Earth have teamed up with individuals and groups for the Plastic Free Greater Manchester campaign, which works alongside local authorities to encourage them to enforce tighter waste regulations in the hospitality industry,

Additionally, the national Friends of the Earth are proposing an 'End Plastics Pollution' law that will guide government action to phase out all but the safest and most essential plastics.

Read more about the not-so-fantastic side of plastic

Find out what can and cannot be recycled in the Rochdale borough:

Rochdale MP Tony Lloyd backs the war on plastic:

Want to recycle plastic that isn’t a bottle? Here is our handy guide to recycling those hard-to-recycle plastics from coffee pods and carrier bags to makeup and pens, and everything in between:

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