It is a joyful season, but the many things we throw away during the holiday are not anyone’s sense of fun.
Household waste, including cardboard, bottles or trees, typically increases by around 30% at Christmas.
So how can you celebrate while doing less harm to the planet?
Here are four recycling and waste tips for a more eco-friendly Christmas.
1. Know your packaging and packaging
According to environmental charity WRAP, not all wrapping paper will be accepted by recycling centers as it may contain plastic film or metallic elements.
There’s a simple test you can do to see if your wrapping paper can be recycled: roll it into a ball. If it stays in ball shape, it can probably be recycled. But if it springs back, it probably contains plastic and cannot be recycled. Tissue doesn’t tend to be recyclable due to the short fibers, and the same goes for tissue paper-like wrapping paper.
Be sure to remove ribbons, bows, batteries, adhesive tapes, and other accessories before throwing things in the recycling bin.
Better still, don’t throw away the paper, save it for next year’s gifts. If you go this route, you will have to be very careful when unpacking – admittedly, almost impossible for excited little hands on Christmas morning. (You might also want to make notes so you don’t gift your aunt her own wrapping paper next year!)
Cardboard is recyclable, but remember to remove any tape, plastic or polystyrene inserts as with wrapping paper. Some boxes also have a glossy or waxy plastic film on them that makes them non-recyclable.
Flatten and crush bins to make more room in your recycling bin, bag or bin.
Empty and rinse the bottles. Residual food or liquids can contaminate other recyclables, and if bottles contain liquid, they may not be recycled because they are considered too heavy by the automatic sorting process. The liquid can also damage the machine. Leave on the labels – these will be removed in the process and crush the bottles to save space. Leave the caps on as this will allow the cap to be recycled with the bottle.
You can check exactly what can and cannot be recycled in your area using Recycle Now’s Recycle Finder.
2. Be smart with leftovers
According to WRAP, around 6.6 million tonnes of food end up in the UK every year, costing households around £14 billion a year, or £730 for the average family.
He says the amount of poultry thrown away in a year could make 800 million Boxing Day curries. And the amount of carrots that UK homes throw away each year could feed Santa’s nine reindeer one carrot a day for nearly 500,000 years.
Now try to put the turkey in the refrigerator as soon as possible. It can be stored for up to two days, according to most recommendations. However, it may take longer than that for a large bird to eat, especially if you feel like you need a turkey break. Maybe freeze leftovers and defrost them in the refrigerator or microwave on the defrost setting just before reheating. Check the UK Food Standards website for specific turkey food safety tips.
Leftover Christmas pudding usually keeps for up to two weeks if refrigerated, according to Nigella Lawson’s website, while US nutrition site Eat Right says you can keep stuffing in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. Pork cooked in blankets should be fine for a week, according to the U.S. government’s recommendations for cooling sausages and bacon.
The obvious way to waste less food is to buy and cook less food. Which one? The survey revealed that the foods people buy most at Christmas are cheese, biscuits, chocolate, alcohol and vegetables.
Use Love Food Hate Waste’s annual Ultimate guide to Christmas meal planning. to find recipes for leftovers and tips on how to freeze and reuse uneaten items to minimize your food waste this year.
3. What about the tree?
If you buy a tree that still has roots in place, you can plant it in your garden if you have it (note that they will sometimes continue to grow very quickly) or you can take it out and bring it back next year. The RHS recommends that you keep a potted tree indoors for no longer than 12 days and has some great tips on caring for a tree.
If you’ve purchased a felled tree that no longer has roots, your local council probably has a collection point or may even take your tree from your home on New Year’s. Check your local municipality website. Trees can be recycled as sawdust or shredded and composted. Tinsel and trinkets are generally not recyclable.
Artificial trees are not recyclable, but can be reused, so if you don’t want to store them for next year or don’t have the space, charities and nursing homes can take them if they’re in good shape. .
4. Choose your Christmas crackers wisely
London-based baker Tom Smith patented the first Christmas cracker 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 like glitter, and of course there are also little plastic trinket ‘surprises’ they contain. When choosing your Christmas crackers, consider what’s inside so you don’t send more plastic trash to landfills.
According to Zero Waste Scotland, party hats are probably not suitable for recycling for the same reasons as tissue paper, unless specified as being recyclable.
There should be strips of paper that pop when you pull them off a table, but it’s probably worth cutting off the piece of gunpowder. (If you enjoy researching the science behind a cracker explosion, Open University can help.)
Try buying recyclable Christmas crackers along with paper hats and long-lasting gifts – there are lots of them on the market – or better yet, make your own cracker sets or even get creative with toilet rolls.
One consolation – dad jokes on scraps of paper can be awful but are probably recyclable, so at least you can throw them away knowing you’re not harming the planet.