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How to have an eco-friendly Christmas: festive recycling tips

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‘Tis the season to be jolly, but we can all feel a lot jollier when we know that our festive celebrations aren’t harming the planet! With that in mind, here are our top recycling tips to stay eco-friendly for Christmases present and future…

Gift wrap and bags

Christmas wrapping paper

Christmas is the season of giving, and that means we’re often left with mountains of used wrapping paper on Christmas Day. This can’t always be accepted by paper recycling mills, because it sometimes contains plastic film or metallic elements, such as you’d find on wrap embellished with shiny foil or glitter. The same goes for gift bags!

Keep your gifts green by choosing wrap or bags that can definitely be recycled, and remember that the cardboard tube in the centre of a roll of gift wrap can be recycled too. For the finishing touch, decorate your presents with reusable or natural decorations. For example, you could opt for reusable string or ribbon instead of shiny metallic-style ribbon, and why not use a sprig of seasonal foliage such as holly or mistletoe instead of metallic-style bows?

When the big day comes round, here are some tips to keep in mind when sorting through the post-unwrapping frenzy:

  • Use the ‘scrunch test’ to find out if you can recycle the wrapping from gifts you’ve received – put simply, if it’s glitter-free, scrunches into a ball and doesn’t spring back, you can recycle it!

  • Sticky tape can’t be recycled, so remove this before it goes into the recycling.

  • Save used gift wrap for another day – if you’re careful about how you open presents – unpeeling the tape rather than ripping the paper – you can save it to wrap another present with. You’ll even save some money into the bargain!

Gift and food packaging

Whether it’s the packaging your online Christmas shopping was delivered in or the packaging your festive feast comes in, December is a time when there’s a lot of extra boxes, bags and other wrapping to be disposed of. Cardboard packaging is easily recycled, but remember to remove any plastic or polystyrene inserts and sticky tape first. Glass bottles and jars (cranberry sauce, anyone?) are straightforward, too – rinse them out and they’re good to go, metal lids and all.

Foil is a material people often aren’t sure about, and there’s a lot of it about at Christmas! The good news is you can simply scrunch it up lightly into a ball and pop it in with the recycling – just give it a quick clean first. Those little foil mince pie cases can be recycled, too – as can any other foil trays from foods such as quiche or oven-baked puddings.

Christmas crackers

Christmas crackers are always a fun feature of the Christmas dinner table, but can they be recycled? The answer is that it’s complicated; some bits of them can, but others can’t. Overall, it’s best to opt for eco-friendly or homemade crackers. You can get make-your-own cracker kits or get creative with recycling loo roll tubes and gift wrap. Not only is this great fun, but it also means you can personalise each cracker for its recipient with a small, non-plastic gift. Much nicer for both people and planet!

Christmas tree and decorations

Christmas tree

When the Twelve Days of Christmas come to an end, yet more recycling conundrums arise! Here’s what to do with your tree and decorations if you can’t use them again next year (or if you just fancy a change!):

  • Real tree – if you buy a tree that still has its roots attached, you have the option to plant it out in the garden so that you can enjoy it throughout the year as well as for future Christmases. If you don’t have space for it, or if you’ve bought a cut tree that no longer has its roots, your local council is likely to have a collection point, or may even pick up your tree from your home in the New Year (check your local council’s website). Trees can be recycled into wood chips or shredded and composted.

  • Fake tree – this can’t be recycled, but it can be reused! Charities, care homes and so on will often take artificial trees, and if they’re in good condition, they could also be resold at a charity shop or online.

  • Fairy lights – recycle these at your local Recycling Centre in the small electricals section. You may find that your local authority can take them with your kerbside collection, so check our Recycling Locator.

  • Ornaments – glass baubles and tinsel can’t be recycled, but anything that’s still got some life left in it could be reused or donated to charity.

Christmas cards

Unless you’re of a sentimental nature and like to keep all the Christmas cards you receive, you might be wondering what to do with them all once Christmas has been and gone. As with gift wrap and crackers, Christmas cards and their envelopes can be recycled from home unless they feature foil or glitter – remember to remove any extra decorations, such as ribbon. If you’ve received a musical card, be sure to remove the little music box before it goes in the recycling!

Christmas clothing

Christmas jumper

Finally, if yours is a family who enjoys partaking in a good old Christmas jumper tradition, or even dressing up in Father Christmas hats or elf costumes, you may end up with items of clothing that you’re never going to wear again. If that’s the case, don’t bin them – give them to someone else to enjoy! Christmas clothing can be sold via online marketplace platforms, donated to charity or just given away so that they can continue spreading some festive cheer for years to come.

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