Tinsel, baubles, ribbons and bows. Worldwide households create 30% more waste than usual over the Christmas period.
This will amount to a staggering volume of trash, given that the worlds’ cities generated more than 2 billion tons of solid waste in 2016, amounting to a footprint of 0.74 kilograms per person per day.
“South Africa is no exception,” says Rory Murray, Marketing Director of Tuffy Brands. “We buy kilometers of tinsel and wrapping paper, while millions of Christmas trees adorn homes and shops. Recycling levels are on the rise, but most of the festive waste still ends up in landfills rather than being reused or recycled.”
According to Statistics South Africa more than three-quarters (78,8%) of households supports recycling in order to reduce waste. However, 75,8% did not separate waste for recycling as they could merely throw their waste in the dustbin for refuse collection.
“With little effort you can have a greener Christmas by reusing and recycling your waste. While some towns doesn’t have municipal recycling services, recycling programmes in communities are widespread,” Murray says.
After the festivities, separate all those items that can be re-used or recycled. Grab some refuse bags (you can use bags that are made from 100% recycled materials such as Tuffy’s heavy duty refuse bags) and check if each item is compost, waste or recyclable.
Murray has a few tips on how to distinguish the tinsel from the tree.
How to recycle these
Gift wrapping paper can be recycled as long as it’s not made from plastic cellophane, is not metallic wrapping and doesn’t have glitter. As a general rule, if you can easily rip wrapping paper, it should be fine to recycle. The same goes for envelopes and paper cards. Cardboard boxes can be recycled, but should be flattened.
While plastic shopping bags can be recycled, bubble wrap can’t. Rather reuse it for wrapping fragile gifts or items in storage.
Plastic and cardboard food and beverage containers such as plastic bottles, ice-cream containers and milk cartons can go into the recycling bin, but the golden rule is that they should be clean and empty. By recycling these you can make a huge difference to reduce the environmental impact of waste. Just think that the average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years and it can even take some bottles 1000 years. Soft drink cans can be recycled too.
Wine bottles and glass containers can be recycled. And they should be, as glass is one of the longest-lasting man-made materials. Estimates are that it takes 1 million years for a glass bottle to break down naturally. If some wine glasses get broken in the merriment, keep in mind that broken glass should not be recycled – rather wrap it and throw it away with your general waste.
If you have the real thing, your Christmas tree can be re-used for compost. It can be chopped into smaller pieces for your home composting bin, but also check with your municipality if there is a specific place where you can dispose of Christmas trees. Natural materials on wreaths, such as ivy and fir cones, can also be used for composting. If you want to have a real Christmas tree next year, buy one with roots that can grow again.
The no-no’s for your recycle bin
- Plastic Christmas trees. Try to reuse it, but if you need to throw it away it has to go into your rubbish bin.
- Christmas tree lights and candles. Light bulbs can be disposed of in special containers at many retail stores.
- Tinsel and baubles are not recyclable. If it’s not reusable it should go into your rubbish bin.
- Ribbons and bows also can’t be recycled but can be reused.
- Batteries. Electronic gifts are regulars under the Christmas tree and especially children’s toys are battery powered. Dispose of the batteries at special hazardous-waste collection bins, many supermarkets have them. Batteries contain a number of heavy metals and toxic chemicals and disposing of them with regular trash can cause contamination and water pollution.
“Recycling at household level reduces pollution and the amount of waste going to landfills. In South Africa there is also the added benefits of job creation at recycling facilities and an income for waste pickers,” Murray says. “Just making the effort to recycle and reuse this Christmas can go a long way to sustain the environment and our economy.”