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Christmas: What a wasteful time of the year?

20 December 2021

7 mins

Hello and welcome to the latest in a series of blogs on sustainable waste management. My name is Louis and I work for your University’s sustainable waste management provider, Enva. The article below is being written with the goal of proving information on what can and cannot be recycled over Christmas.  

It is always important to consider the waste hierarchy before making any purchases. Remember that even though recycling is a good option, ultimately it will always be more sustainable to not create waste in the first place.

Another important Christmas caveat is that as your Christmas period will likely not be spent on campus, you will be subject to the recycling rules of your local council. So, while this information should be accurate for the majority, you should can always check online here for your local recycling scheme

Composites over Christmas:

We all have memories of loved ones running around on Christmas morning with a black bag, frantically stuffing away the shreds of what used to be perfectly wrapped presents. However, while you played with your remote-control car or brand-new barbie fun house did you ever consider what bin that bag of paper should have ended up in?

Well, the truth is that if you can avoid the paper going into a bag, you should. This can be achieved by using string to hold together your wrapping, you can then use that paper year after year without throwing it away.

However, when wrapping for children we recognise that the careful act of unwrapping might lose out to the frantic excitement of Christmas morning. This is where the scrunch test comes into play. If you scrunch up wrapping paper and it stays scrunched, then the paper is only made of one material, paper. However, if the paper begins to unravel, then it is what’s known as a composite material. This means it is combined of two materials, usually paper and a metallised plastic film.  These materials cannot be separated and unfortunately that means this paper cannot be recycled. It is also worth noting that any paper with a glittery exterior also cannot be recycled.

Another item that unfortunately fits the composite category are plastic Christmas trees. These are again made from a variety of materials meaning they cannot be recycled.

However, most councils do offer recycling for real Christmas trees, these are shredded and turned into clippings and shavings for parks and woodland areas.

So, if you’re in the market for a Christmas tree you might be wondering which route is more sustainable. Well, you should first consider the waste hierarchy. Do you really need one? If yes, could you offer a second life to one that has already been purchased? Potentially online or via a charity shop? If this isn’t an option, the facts are that it would take 10 years of use for an artificial tree to have a better carbon impact than having a real tree and disposing responsibly every year. Thankfully, the artificial trees are built to last, this example is still looking good after twenty years.

Christmas Crackers

Christmas crackers are brilliant fun but did know that each year forty million Christmas crackers are thrown away. That’s a lot of bad jokes and party hats. Sadly, a lot of the waste that comes from Christmas crackers isn’t recyclable. It is important to first consider, do we really need crackers this year? If yes, it is likely that the outer cardboard exterior is recyclable if it isn’t covered in glitter or foil coated.  The same should be the case for the small paper jokes and that lovely paper crown someone forces onto your head every year. Unfortunately, the gift within that often comes in a small plastic bag is likely not recyclable. Nor is the bag it came in.

Did you know?

Batteries are one of the most frequently used products over the Christmas period. A study found that over Christmas Brits will use 189 million batteries. Batteries are treated as hazardous waste in the U.K so these should not be put in a general waste bin. If you’re experiencing a fast build up over the holidays, we advise putting them to one side and taking them to a local supermarkets collection point.

Every so often, somebody will miss the mark with an ambitious gift idea. we smile gratefully and exclaim that its just what we wanted. all the while knowing that you’ll never use or need the item you’re holding. As we so often say in December, it’s the thought that counts. That’s all well and good, but did you know that it is estimated £42 million worth of unwanted gifts get sent to landfill each year. In this situation we strongly suggest exploring alternative options, such as giving to charity or regifting to some who would have more use for the gift than you do.

Thankfully, Christmas cards are recyclable. This is greats news because over one billion Christmas cards are thrown away every year! Its important to remember that these cards are only recyclable if they’re free from contamination. This not only means the glitter and glue that can so spoil a piece of recyclable card, but also what bin the cards go into. Please remember to keep food and liquids away from your recycling bin this Christmas. If you do receive any Christmas cards a helpful tip might be to cut out any suitable pictures and use them for gift tags next year.

It’s not all doom and gloom:

While it might seem from the beginning of this article that Christmas must be severely altered to be a sustainable practice that isn’t the case. There are many different products and alternatives that are fully recyclable.

As mentioned previously, many of the products entirely made from natural greenery such as “real” Christmas trees and authentic wreaths can be recycled. However, this is only the case if they’re not covered excessively in things like glitter. It would also be important to remove things like ribbons and baubles before adding these to your green waste.

Another scenario that everyone can relate to is trying to set up your Christmas fairy lights after their year in storage only to find that they no longer work. The good news is that these items are recyclable. Anything with a battery or a plug falls under the category of WEEE (Waste Electrical Equipment) waste.  These items can be recycled by local recycling centres. Some councils even provide local Wee waste collection points at supermarkets for convenient disposal.

One element of British culture that goes hand in hand with Christmas is drinking. Did you know that 13,350 tons of glass bottles are mistakenly placed in the general waste every year, please remember when throwing your Christmas party that both glass and aluminium cans are both recyclable.

Finally, most paper-based greetings cards can be recycled via household recycling collections. As mentioned with the wrapping paper these can be contaminated by glues and glitter and so when attempting to recycling these cards simply tear off and separate any contaminated sections. With any musical cards it is also important to remove the batteries and bulbs before disposal.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article, from all of us here at Enva we wish you a very merry and sustainable Christmas.

Sustainably Speaking

Loughborough University Sustainability Blog

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