Tips for Reducing Waste at Christmas from Ben Bryant, coordinator of our Waste into Resources group and Devon Community Recycling Network (DCRN)
Christmas is a wonderful time and a special opportunity to get together with friends and family to relax, offering some quality time and vital respite from the pace of modern life. Buying into a traditional Christmas with all the trimmings can easily lead us astray; we can easily forget what really matters. It’s not presents but your presence that counts; human kindness and the sharing out of love in big helpings. By just being thoughtful to others, you’re almost guaranteed a lovely Christmas. Speak with a kind heart and bring the love, laughs and good local food.
Christmas is such a great opportunity to encourage sharing and there are many ways to reduce your impact on Earth’s resources too … here are my tips for reducing waste over Christmas, a time when the average UK household generates at least 25% more rubbish.
The pleasure is in the giving, but what to give…???
I get mixed emotions seeing super excited children emerging from underneath a heap of presents, so overwhelmed that they do not even realise who they came from. Well perhaps less is more folks … so go for quality over quantity every time, things that will last and be cherished rather than presents for present’s sake. Just say no to tatt!
According to www.recyclenow.com more than 8,000 tonnes worth of wrapping paper is used in the UK each year, stretching out for 364,700km; that’s enough paper to reach to the moon if laid flat, and equivalent to 55,000 trees.
- Buy wrapping paper made with 100% recycled material
- Stick to tradition and put presents inside a Christmas stocking that can be personalised and reused year after year
- Avoid shiny foil wrapping or plasticized paper with glitter unless you can reuse it as otherwise it’s only fit for disposal. If paper tears easily and the paper fibres are visible it’s generally good for recycling
- Plain brown paper makes nice traditional wrapping that you can beautify, just adding a nice piece of ribbon. Brown paper can reused as a liner for your food waste caddy or put into your home composter
- Don’t feel like a miser for saving decent pieces of wrapping paper for next year or Christmas cards which can be cut up and used as gift labels, it makes good sense. By using ribbon or string rather than tape it’s easier to salvage materials for reuse
- Remember to remove tape, tags, bows and ribbons from wrapping paper when putting it out for recycling, as these can contaminate the material
- Try Furoshiki: traditional Japanese wrapping cloth for bundling or gift-wrapping all sorts of presents in a fun and easy manner. Imagine origami using fabrics. You can use simple or multifunctional pieces of cloth, the more beautiful the better to be passed on and reused again and again ideally for more furoshiki. Online demonstrations of the many different folds can be found on youtube or check it out on Wikipedia
It’s estimated that up to 1 billion Christmas cards are exchanged across the UK each festive season. So try to buy Christmas cards and other paper based products with high recycled content or better still try sending ecards.
Think small with Christmas cards as you’ll be saving big on cardboard.
A nice idea is to save and send the same card to the same person each year with previous messages included as reminders of years gone by, things personalised are all the better.
Reuse images and salvage what you can for Christmas tags the next year and the written half for shopping lists.
Recycle any Christmas cards that have been repurposed or reused already (see above) via the kerbside scheme, or check to see if a local retailer accepts cards for recycling.
Can you make your own Christmas decorations, Christmas cards out of scrap resources, or even your own Christmas crackers? For more info and inspiration contact your local Scrapstore; Plymouth, Torbay, Holsworthy and Exeter all have one; they often run Christmas decoration making workshops to get you into the spirit. Visit www.dcrn.org.uk/projects or email firstname.lastname@example.org to locate local community recycling projects close to you.
Plan food menus in advance and stick to your shopping list (listen up men). It’s so tempting to over buy food but around a third of food both in UK is wasted.
Remember to store products carefully to keep food fresh and freeze what you can.
Love Food Hate Waste campaign provides great recipes for using Christmas leftovers and gives excellent guidance on planning Christmas shopping, freezing and reusing leftovers plus saving energy.
Birds love Christmas leftovers too; any scraps of fruit cake and mince pies will go down a treat, providing energy and nutrients to help them through the cold winter months.
Be sure to home compost all those vegetable peelings and all uncooked food (except meat). For tips on home composting visit Devon Community Composting Network.
Planning shopping is an essential, make a list of what you need and what you’ve bought. Modern life is fast-paced, hectic and sometimes we don’t have the time to carry out the lifestyle choices we would like to make. A little early planning really can save the day.
Very often the joy is in the giving not the receiving so it’s easy to over buy if you don’t make a list, especially when it comes to spoiling the little ones.
Support your local town market and independent stores and help keep your money within the local economy.
Shopping with independents e.g. greengrocers allows you to buy loose, reduce packaging and adds to the community spirit at Christmas. Buy seasonal and locally sourced goods to reduce food miles and carbon footprint.
Hunt down your reusable shopping bags in advance and make sure there are some in your car boot or in your main carry bag before you head out to town or to the shops.
Consumer research estimated that last Christmas people spent an average of £425 on Christmas gifts of which £92 was spent on unwanted gifts.
Look out for presents made from recycled/sustainable materials or things with recycled content.
For upcycled and repurposed goods visit The ReSTORE Dartington (nr. Cider Press); a treasure trove of trinkets, jewellery, useful household items with original artist designs and numerous quirky gift ideas at affordable prices.
Consider calling a present pact between friends or family e.g. have a maximum value, say locally sourced only or only buy second-hand items. Instead focus on spending quality time together.
Experiences make brilliant Christmas presents as alternatives to consumables or ‘more stuff’. Arrange activities and get-togethers for loved ones, purchase event tickets, vouchers for therapies, adopt a cause, buy memberships to not for profit or charitable organisations such as DWT, National Trust or English Heritage. Support a crowd fund campaign or buy annual subscriptions to favourite magazines or contribute to season tickets to favourite places.
Choose to Reuse, don’t feel that it’s wrong to pass on an item you no longer use as a present to someone else who will like it and use it.
Take the charity challenge - buy all of your present form charity shops for proper retail therapy. You don’t have to buy new stuff for people.
Consider making presents for your friends and loved ones, that personal touch is far more meaningful.
Items you do have left over after Christmas can be donated to charity shops or given to someone in need. Try using www.trashnothing.com (aka Freecycle), website for local people offering and requesting items for free or fair price.
The key to your Christmas tree is to try to reuse what you have if possible. Natural trees rule OK, especially if they can be replanted outside (minimise sudden temp changes) or grown into a large pot which can be loved all year around. Farmed trees without roots can be sawn down to fit into your council garden waste collection (branches <10cm thick) or taken to a local recycling centre. Plastic trees are fine if you already have one and plan to reuse it every Christmas but try not to buy new.
Broken Christmas lights can be taken to local council recycling centres and recycled with small electrical items (WEEE). The same goes for any unrepairable electricals items that have been upgraded or replaced this Christmas.
Of course many of the older generation already do these things having been brought up in a more resource efficient era. So spare a thought for your elderly neighbours and help those less fortunate than yourselves.
Cracking the stress-free Christmas puzzle often comes down to time so perhaps block out a few hours in late Nov/ early December and plan your build up to Christmas carefully.
Remember the best option is to simply not to create the extra waste and to REDUCE; think less is more, as preventing waste from the outset is champion. Think Zero Waste and consider a New Year’s resolution to join the UK's Journey to Zero Waste Facebook group or take part in the plastic free initiative. You’ll becoming part of a rapidly growing movement of people who want to do more than just recycle.
Visit www.recycledevon.org for details of Christmas waste services offered by your local council, including revised collection dates and recycling centre opening times. The list of recycling bank locations may help you keep on top of the extra recycling produced over Christmas. Remember that local authorities can be overstretched with staff holidays over Christmas and especially around New Year; perhaps store your dry recycling for a few weeks after Christmas if you have room, to ease the pressure on council collection services.
Contact DCRN for recycling advice and information on how best to reduce-reuse-recycle across and please find / like / share Devon Community Recycling and Composting Networks on Facebook. If you are interested in recycling and resource related projects to help your community save Earth’s precious resources and reduce waste then please email email@example.com for info and support.