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Christmas Recycling for a Green Christmas Season

Updated on November 23, 2008

It has only been thirty years since people were first introduced to the concept of municipal recycling. However, human beings have been recycling in one form or another for as long as there have been people who collected things. Affluence and material culture has allowed people to get out of the habit of carefully considering the life of each item that enters the household. More than any other time of the year, there is no season that can use the recycling treatment as much as Christmas.

Recycle, recycle, recycle

The Christmas Waste Problem

In the developed “Western” nations of the Americas, Europe and Oceania, the amount of waste that will be produced is incredible. It is believed that as much as 10% of the waste that is produced through the entire year winds up on Boxing Day pavements. Besides the few hundred million cut Christmas trees that are still sent to local landfills in Western countries, the number of cans, bottles, paper and plastic goes up by as much a 30% during the Christmas holiday.

Complicated Holiday Recyclables

That includes quite a few items that are somewhat more difficult to recycle than the typical bottle or can. For instance, for all those large electronic items that come embedded in Styrofoam blocks, there are few places to bring these for recycling. But with a little effort and some creativity, you can keep complicated recyclables out of the landfill. Some examples include Styrofoam blocks, broken strings of Christmas lights and even the old items that are now replaced with shiny new presents.

Recycle Everything You Can at the Kerb

You might be surprised how much of the stuff taken away to the landfill could have been recycled. Quite frankly, people get so caught up in the moment of the holiday, no one wants to nag Grandma to put the wrapping paper in the right bin. You can, however, make it easy for people to help you sort the rubbish out by providing boxes to catch bottles, cans and paper. If there's an easy to use recycle bin option, most people will use it in the few seconds they have to choose between that and the dust bin.

Of course, no matter how good you are about helping your family members and guests to help you recycle, you can often separate a large volume of recyclable material out from the dust bin – typically as much as 70-80% by volume. This can be made much easier by clearly putting out additional bins to catch the compostsable materials and food scraps. No one wants to separate out cardboard bits that have been smeared with Christmas pudding.

Reusing and Re-purposing Less Recyclable Materials

While you may be surprised at how many items are actually taken by your local recycler (and the rules do change from city to city), you may have to be a little more tricky when it comes to keeping other items out of the landfill. Complicated and mixed material goods are a very common example of this. Most plastics, even those printed with a recycling identification number, are not able to be recycled at the kerb.

Thankfully, there are plenty of locations and private businesses that will take in those items if you bring them in yourself. A very good example are the Styrofoam packing peanut that are so useful to shipping can be used by local businesses that do shipping. Some recycling companies or city governments maintain websites that help connect average households with these small businesses. Another option is to use a computer network to connect with other people who might have a use for this rubbish, directly.

Reduce and Reuse

You can keep a lot of material out of the waste stream yourself by being picky about what you buy. Choosing options that use less packaging (especially plastic packaging) or reusable packaging allows you to save or compost waste that would otherwise end up in the rubbish bin. You should certainly have a compost pile in a special bin or out in the back yard. You can even chip up your own cut Christmas tree and use the chips as mulch. Natural and edible decorations can be put outside for wild animals to disperse.

You can make it a point to buy more durable goods that can be kept from year to year. When you can no longer use these items, you can “up-cycle” them, with a bit of creativity, into totally new and useful items. One example might be making Christmas ornaments or coasters from old Christmas cards. The crafting possibilities are almost endless.

By making a concerted effort to keep your contribution to the rubbish stream down, you might be surprised how little you actually produce. Instead of the 5 additional bags that most households toss out on Boxing Day, you might not even toss out one.


For other hubs in this series, please visit the index hub where you will be able to see all topics in this series and navigate between them.



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