It’s the season to be jolly – but the sheer volume of stuff we throw away during the holiday season isn’t a fun idea for anyone.
Household waste generally increases at Christmas by around 30%, whether it is cardboard boxes, bottles or trees.
So how do you celebrate while doing less harm to the planet?
Here are four recycling and waste tips to have a greener Christmas.
1. Know Your Packaging and Packaging
Not all wrapping paper will be accepted by recycling centers because it may contain plastic film or metallic elements, according to environmental charity WRAP.
There’s a simple test you can do to see if your wrapping paper can be recycled: crumple it into a ball. If it stays in a ball shape, it can probably be recycled. But if it bounces, it probably contains plastic and can’t be recycled. Fabrics don’t tend to be recyclable due to the short fibers, and the same goes for fabric-like wrapping paper.
Be sure to remove ribbons, bows, batteries, tape, and other accessories before putting things in the recycling bin.
Even better, don’t throw the paper away, save it for next year’s gifts. If you go this route, you’ll need to be very careful when unboxing – admittedly a near impossibility for excited little hands on Christmas morning. (You might also want to take notes to avoid returning your aunt her own wrapping paper next year!)
The cardboard is recyclable but as with the wrapping paper, remember to remove any adhesive, plastic or polystyrene inserts. Some boxes are also covered with a shiny or waxed plastic film, which makes them non-recyclable.
Flatten and smash boxes to make more room in your recycling bin, bag or box.
Empty and rinse the bottles. Food or liquid scraps can contaminate other recyclable materials and if the bottles contain liquid, they may not be recycled as deemed too heavy by the automated sorting process. The liquid can also damage machinery. Leave the labels on – these will be removed in the process and crush the bottles to save space. Leave the lids attached as this will ensure the lid is recycled with the bottle.
You can check exactly what can and cannot be recycled in your area using Recycle Now’s recycling locator.
2. Be smart with leftovers
Around 6.6million tonnes of food is wasted in our homes in the UK every year, costing households around £14billion a year, or £730 for the average family, according to WRAP.
He says the amount of poultry thrown away in a year could make 800 million Boxing Day curries. And the amount of carrots discarded each year by British households could feed Santa’s nine reindeer a carrot a day for almost 500,000 years.
Try to put leftover turkeys in the fridge as soon as you can. It can be stored for up to two days, according to most recommendations. However, a large bird may take longer than that to eat, especially if you feel you need a turkey break. Perhaps freeze what’s left and thaw either in the refrigerator or by using the microwave on the defrost setting directly before reheating. Check the UK Food Standards website for specific advice on turkey food safety.
Leftover Christmas pudding will typically keep for up to two weeks if refrigerated, according to Nigella Lawson’s website, while US nutrition website Eat Right says you can store the stuffing in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. Pigs cooked in blankets should be good for a week, according to US government recommendations for cooling sausages and bacon.
The obvious way to waste less food is to simply buy and cook less. One Which? A survey found that the top foods people over-buy at Christmas are cheese, cookies, chocolate, alcohol and vegetables.
Use Love Food Hate Waste’s annual ultimate guide to Christmas food planning. to find recipes for leftovers and tips on how to freeze and reuse uneaten food to minimize your food waste this year.
3. And the tree?
If you buy a tree that still has its roots attached, you can plant it in your garden if you have one (obviously be careful, it will continue to grow, sometimes very quickly) or put it back outside and bring it back the year next. The RHS recommends keeping a potted tree indoors no longer than 12 days and gives some good tips for caring for it.
If you bought a cut tree that no longer has its roots, your town hall probably has a collection point, or can even collect your tree from your home at the beginning of the year. Check your town hall’s website. Trees can be recycled into woodchips or shredded and composted. Garlands and balls are generally not recyclable.
Artificial trees cannot be recycled, but can be reused, so if you don’t want to keep it for next year or don’t have room for it, charities and care homes can take if they are in good condition. .
4. Choose Christmas cookies wisely
London baker Tom Smith patented the first Christmas cookie in 1847 according to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Now a fixed feature of most festive dinner tables, over 150 million were reportedly sold in 2017.
But each set comes in its own cardboard and plastic packaging. Many contain hard-to-recycle materials such as glitter, and of course there are the little plastic trinket “surprises” they contain. When choosing your Christmas cookies, think about what’s inside to avoid sending more plastic waste to landfill.
Unless declared recyclable, party hats are unlikely to be suitable for recycling, according to Zero Waste Scotland, for the same reasons as tissue paper.
Strips of paper that rattle when you pull them across a table should be, although it’s probably worth cutting off the gunpowder coated piece. (If you’re keen to learn the science behind a cracker’s bong, the Open University can help.)
Try buying recyclable Christmas crackers with paper hats and gifts that will last – there are plenty on the market – or even better buy DIY cracker kits or even get creative with toilet paper rolls.
One consolation – dad jokes on little scraps of paper might be awful but are probably recyclable, so at least you can throw them away knowing you’re not harming the planet.