Keep Calm and Carry On Recycling
At Christmas it is almost inevitable that, even with the best intentions, we will end up with a pile of discarded wrappers and packaging from all those festive treats. It can be hard to find zero waste snacks, unless you have the time to make your own with ingredients from a zero waste store – which, let’s face it, most of us don’t, when we’ve already got a never-ending Christmas to-do list to get through!
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t dare suggest anyone forgoes sweets, chocolates, crisps or cheese during the festive period, especially after this difficult year. However, you can minimise the waste from your Christmas indulgences by recycling as much of the packaging as possible.
Here are some tips to help you maximise your recycling efforts and keep your general waste bin as empty as you can – you may be surprised to find that more stuff is recyclable than you realised:
Confectionery (Chocolates and Sweets)
A study by Which found that on average packaging makes up 20% of the weight of the bestselling Christmas chocolate selection boxes, with some products being made up of 40% packaging. Some of this is cardboard, which is easy to recycle in your kerbside bin or at your local recycling centre (depending on where you live), as are tubs and tins (if you can’t reuse them). But what about the rest?
With confectionery wrappers, there are 3 key things to remember:
1. If it fails the scrunch test – i.e. if it springs open after being scrunched up – it can’t be recycled in your kerbside recycling, as it is made from plastic cellophane or plastic laminated foil. Having said that, Terracycle do have a confectionery recycling programme for all brands of plastic confectionery packaging, including plastic chocolate and sweets pouches and bags, chocolate and sweets multipack outer plastic packaging, individual chocolate bar wrappers, and plastic chocolate block wrappers. It’s worth finding out if there is a programme in your area. If not, and you can’t find another use for this type for packaging, you should put it in your general waste bin.
2. Little pieces of aluminium foil need to be balled up to about the size of a tennis ball in order to be recycled – you basically need to save up all the tiny bits of foil wrappers and wrap them in a larger bit of foil before putting in the recycling bin. Even though aluminium is endlessly recyclable, small pieces are going to fall through the recycling machinery and not be sorted by workers wearing heavy gloves. Another thing you shouldn’t do is put aluminium foil inside cans or tins, as these materials are processed in different ways.
3. If the packaging is made from home-compostable cellulose (apparently Quality Street wrappers are now made from this type of material), make sure you do actually compost it by putting it in your own (or someone else’s) compost bin, or your food waste bin if your council provides one. Although cellulose packaging looks like plastic, don’t be tempted to recycle it with plastic bags, as it can contaminate the other recycling.
Savoury Snacks (Crisps, Nuts, Popcorn, Pretzels, Pringles)
Although this sort of savoury snack packaging isn’t accepted in kerbside recycling in most areas, Terracycle run the following recycling programmes, and it’s worth checking if there is a collection point in your local area:
Crisp Packet Recycling Programme Any brand of crisps packets and multipack outer packaging.
KP Snacks Recycling Programme Any brand of nut packets, crisps packets, pretzel packets, popcorn packets and any brand of crisp, pretzel and popcorn multipacks.
Pringles Recycling Programme Pringles tubes, lids and seals.
Tayto Recycling Programme All Tayto crisp and snack packaging.
Other options to consider include choosing crisps in compostable packaging, such as the Two Farmers brand, and making your own popcorn or roasted nuts from ingredients bought from a zero waste shop.
Biscuits, Crackers and Cake Bars
Again, there is a Terracycle programme for recycling wrappers from biscuits, crackers and cake bars:
Pladis Recycling Programme All brands of cracker wrappers, non-savoury biscuit wrappers and cake bar wrappers (flexible plastic packaging)
One way to minimise waste when buying cheese is to take your own refillable tubs to a local deli or supermarket deli counter, although some shops are refusing to do this during the pandemic. Alternatively, if you do have to purchase cheese in plastic packaging, you may be able to find a Terracycle collection point near you. The following cheese packaging recycling programmes are available in some areas:
Cheese Packaging Recycling Programme Any brand of flexible plastic cheese packaging and nets, including sliced cheese protective plastic film, individual plastic cheese wrappers, flexible plastic cheese pouches, labels from Cathedral City Minis packs of 6, plastic nets for mini cheeses.
Babybel Recycling Programme All Babybel packaging, including labels, metal clasps, net bags, wax, individual wrappers, Babybel Mini Rolls flexible plastic packaging, sleeves and plastic trays.
To sum up, it’s practically impossible to avoid generating some waste during the holiday season, but you can reduce your impact by disposing of your waste packaging in a more eco-friendly way. I would just add that although Terracycle seems to be the main recycling option I’ve mentioned in this post, I find its website hard to navigate and it may not always be possible to find a collection point in your local area.
Christmas can be a hectic and stressful time, so don’t beat yourself up if recycling facilities simply don’t exist in your area yet. Just do what you can, be mindful of your choices and enjoy the festive season.