The header image for "5 Dos and Don'ts of Christmas Recyling" festuring a decorating Christmas tree and gifts

5 Dos and Don’ts of Christmas Recycling

It’s easy to get swept up in the joy and indulgence of the holiday season, especially in a year like this one. I’m not here to tell you to hold back – I am diving head-first into Christmas this year. Drinking in the holiday spirit like it’s oxygen. But we all know this time of year is one of excess, leading to large amounts of waste.

I’m sure many of you reading this will make great efforts to minimise your impact at this time of year – and one of those efforts is through militant recycling! Which is great! I would like to ensure you are equipped with with the information you need to be a recycling dynamo this holiday season.

An estimate from 2013 (the most recent I could find) suggests that the UK throws away enough wrapping paper to stretch to the moon or round the world NINE times each year. I like to think we’ve come a long way since then, but knowing the chaos of Christmas and how people would rather shove it in a bin bag and be done with it – one can’t be sure. In addition to this blasé attitude, a major problem with recycling wrapping paper is that not all of it is recyclable. The paper is often adorned with glitter, plastic coatings, and metallic embellishments making them lovely to look at, but sealing their fate in the waste bin.

Similarly festive cards, with an estimated 900 million to 1.7 billion being sent each year in the UK, are also often covered with non-recyclable aspects such as glitter, glue, metallics etc. However, it is estimated as much as 1 billion cards that could be recycled end up in the bin!

Many people don’t try to recycle their Christmas waste, the stress of Christmas Day is enough already, but it isn’t as hard as you think.

5 Dos and Don’ts of Christmas recycling:

DO – The Scrunch test!

If you can scrunch your paper into a ball and it stays there, it is likely that this paper is able to be recycled! If it doesn’t pass the test, it will need to be put to general waste or reused.

DON’T – Assume all your paper-based waste is recyclable

Tis the season of glitter. Which is, unfortunately, not recyclable. To be recyclable, your wrapping paper and cards need to be:

  • Free of glitter. Glitter gets everywhere and could end up contaminating a whole batch of recycling and making unfit for purpose.
  • Not metallic.
  • Not laminated (thick and glossy)
  • Not too thin. If the paper is too thin the fibres will be too short and unfit for recycling.

Anything that has any of the above should be put into general waste or repurposed.

DO – Check with your local recycling authority first!

Many councils will accept appropriate wrapping paper in their collections but some don’t as the paper mills won’t accept it. So to ensure that your paper will get recycled and you aren’t contaminating other recyclable items, check with your local authority first. Most will have a website you can check, or give them a call!

DON’T – Forget to remove any sticky tape!

Sticky tape is non-recyclable plastic and contaminates the paper, making it much harder to recycle. To ensure that your paper can be recycled, check for stray bits of plastic!

DO – Try to reuse or upcycle!

If, like me, you hate when people just rip into the paper from anywhere so you take twice as long as everyone else opening presents carefully along the tape lines. If you’re careful enough, you will probably be able to use this paper again. Everyone’s gotta have a thing, so why not be that person who hoards used wrapping paper? It’s for the planet.

Christmas cards and wrapping paper that is beyond saving can be upcycled into new cards, present tags, a collage, a scrapbook, decoupage, and more I’m sure. Your trash could be your treasure.

Alternatives to traditional wrapping paper:

If you haven’t wrapped your presents yet, consider using something other than traditional wrapping paper.

From: Ministry of Environment Japan
  • Japanese-style fabric wrapping
  • Gift bags/boxes – these can be reused
  • Plain brown wrapping paper (you could draw your own designs!)
  • Newspaper
  • Gum tape – Used by artists and frame-makers, is made of paper and can be recycled with the paper. Britons use over 40 million rolls of sellotape, an average of a roll and a half per household, over the Christmas period – which goes directly in the bin!

I know you have better things to be doing than painstakingly sorting your recycling this Christmas, but many hands make light work. Ten minutes out of your 2020 is nothing, and you know it. Stay safe, wash your hands, and have a happy new year!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Happy Holidays,

Jessica x

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I’m An ‘Eco’ Hoarder

I am a few days away from being finished with my degree and just under a week away from having to move (again). I am not someone who travels light, a constant source of stress for myself and those around me. But who am I without all my things?? No one. Anyway, as I am once more sifting through all my clothes and other things that I have accumulated, I realised something. Being environmentally aware has turned me into a hoarder. Some hereditary tendencies come into as well, I’m sure. But I keep things because I don’t really know what to do with them and feel guilty about just chucking them.

This is largely because:

  • I know what will happen to these items if I throw them away.
  • I know what will likely happen to them if I recycle them.
  • I know what will likely happen if I donate them.

They’ll end up in landfill. Or worse.

Take, for example, my old worn out gym trainers. I don’t need them any more, I have new ones that actually support my feet. I can’t donate them because they are worn out and who would want them. It would just mean they’d be thrown out next week and not today. Nike will apparently take any brand of athletic shoe to be recycled at participating stores, so I will have a look into that. Alternatively, you could donate to a charity, that shoes the needy abroad such as Sal’s Shoes or Shoe Aid.


I also have a big bag full of old make up, that I kid myself I will use again. If I’m honest with myself I know I only use max like 5 products so the bag of 50 will go forever unused. I have, in the past, seen the above bins in Boots but I am not sure if they are still hosting them, the website says very little. There are also the TerraCycle schemes which are free to use and set up, if there isn’t a collection point already near you.

Essentially this post serves as a public name and shame for myself. Marie Kondo your life, gal. But also I am lamenting the consumerist society that we are trapped in, and the existential crisis it is forcing me to have as I sit in front of my overflowing wardrobe. Just stop buying clothes, I hear you say. I cannot, unfortunately. I will not.

If you have any thoughts or tips please, leave them below!

Jessica xx

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Our Plastic Addiction

Almost every piece of plastic ever produced still exists. Most of it will still be here long after the human race wipes itself out.

Since the airing of Blue Planet II there seems to have been a real awakening about our plastic use. Maybe it just seems like a lot is changing as I drink in stories about this kind of stuff. Most people are probably still pissed about the 5p plastic bag charge. Either way, any change that is happening, isn’t happening fast enough. We need to be really honest with ourselves and see that we are the problem. And see that the beauty of being the problem means that we are also the solution!

We are currently in the middle of #plasticfreejuly – if you aren’t participating, it’s not too late to start! A good way to start is by carrying out a plastic audit. Keep a log of all of the plastic waste you generate (recyclable or not) to see just how many single-use items you are contributing to the problem. From here you can see the areas that you most need to work on and begin to change your behaviour to #breakfreefromplastic .

Plastic addiction 1

The plastic we use doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it has to be made. Plastic is one of the many evil children of crude oil – that black gold that Big Oil will stop at nothing to get, even if it means destroying vast swathes of thus far untouched natural beauty.  Every stage of plastic’s life cycle is bad news for the environment. From oil extraction, transportation, plastic production, and finally disposal. When you see a video of yet another oil spill or the opencast mines that oil companies generate as a consequence of their quest for ever harder to each pockets of oil, you probably aren’t happy about it. But it often stops there. We don’t make the connection between millions of sea birds dying from an oil spill and that bottle of water bought at lunchtime. This needs to change. We need to be aware of and understand where the things we spend our money on actually come from.

A pelican covered in crude oil during the Gulf Of Mexico oil spill

Plastic bags have to be one of the worst plastic offenders. The infographic above shows that annually we use 500 billion plastic bags a year. That’s every year. It seems stupid that we create something – we waste all that time, energy, and resources – only for it to be thrown away.  Recently a number of countries have banned the production and use of plastic bags – Kenya, Chile, Ethiopia, Brazil, Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda, Botswana, South Africa, China, and Bangladesh. These countries are classed ‘Less Economically Developed Countries’ and yet they have managed to something that places like the UK haven’t – implement a total ban plastic bags. A lot of countries in Europe have imposed bag charges but that doesn’t solve the problem. All of the countries that have imposed total bans on plastic bags have seen a vast improvement in plastic pollution levels. I think it is easier for those of us in European countries to ignore the problem of plastic pollution as we aren’t directly confronted with it. Whereas in the countries listed above, they experience the consequences of plastic pollution first hand. Until everyone accepts responsibility for this problem, there is no hope of solving it.

Plastic addiction 2

The oceans and it’s wildlife are what feel the impact of our plastic addiction the most. The plastic we’ve used is found in all oceans globally. Plastic is a relatively new invention and animals are not evolved to be able to avoid it. Nor should they have to be. We have all seen the pictures of birds, turtles, whales who have turned up dead with a stomach filled with plastic. It’s heartbreaking because it’s our fault but I think most people (including myself) care momentarily and then you get distracted.

A turtle trapped in a plastic can ring pack and is deformed because of it.

poor baby

Simple changes in our lifestyles could prevent the deaths of over a million of animals at sea. Avoiding plastic doesn’t have to mean that you suddenly cut out massive parts of your life – it just means making better choices. A habit takes just 3 weeks to create, so we really have no excuse. For example, plastic can rings are another poster boy for plastic pollution – you see them wrapped around some poor ocean creature that is deformed because it got stuck in it when it was small. When you buy a pack of beer or whatever buy ones that come in a cardboard carrier or that has some other more eco-alternative to the plastic deathtraps. Also, if you do have these on cans you already have, ALWAYS break up the rings, so if it does end up somewhere it shouldn’t be it won’t cause as much damage.

Plastic addiction 3

The ocean currents are at the core of maintaining climates on Earth. Without the ocean doing what it does it would be (almost) exactly like the film The Day After Tomorrow. The ocean does it’s part through the flow of energy between the equator an the poles – the temperature differentials create the ocean currents (and are indirectly responsible for all the other weather). But these currents distribute more than just heat. For the last century they have been shunting plastic, in ever increasing quantities. Eventually the plastic gets trapped in a tight gyre (ocean circulation cell) and becomes part of a garbage patch.

An array of plastic in the ocean - seen from underneath

The most notable one is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. No one is sure exactly how big this is but estimates place it between ~700,000km2 and 15,000,000km– that is the equivalent of Texas and Russia, respectively. That is a HUGE amount of rubbish where rubbish shouldn’t be.

Plastic addiction 4

Plastic doesn’t break down. So once it’s in the ocean, it stays there. The oceans are heading towards a perfect storm of factors that will ultimately render them baron of all life – climate change, chemical pollution, fishing, and plastic pollution. This is all down to us. There is an attitude that because it happens way out there it won’t/doesn’t affect us. International waters are a minefield of bureaucracy – no country wants to accept responsibility for anything that goes wrong out there but they all want to be a part of reaping the benefits.  This is what is happening with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Umbrella and other human waste thrown out into the coastal waters, settling on the ground becoming marine life habitat, Moluccas Islands, Indonesia, December 2009

It is NOT okay that we have allowed this to happen.

As often is the case, where  governments won’t step up, it is left to NGOs to fix the problem. The Ocean Clean Up Project claims to be able to clean up 50% of the garbage patch within 5 years. This is an amazing project but the amount of plastic entering oceans today is greater than ever before so how much of a dent in the actual amount of plastic in the sea it will make remains to be seen. This project has not yet been deployed and is still in the final stages of testing – it is due to be deployed fully within the next couple of years.

Plastic addiction 5

Taking the plastic out of the ocean is only solving half the problem. We have to stop it getting in there in the first place. It starts with you – making better choices when you shop. Become a conscious consumer. Think about what you are buying, where it’s come from, and where it will go when you are finished with it. If your favourite products still uses plastic in their packaging, contact them and let them know you aren’t happy about this. Maybe start a petition. McDonald’s will be switching to paper straws in their UK outlets by 2019, as a result of a customer campaign. Companies will listen to their customers as you are their paycheck.

Most coffee shops give you a discount for bringing reusable cups. I feel like this concept could be applied to pretty much any outlet where you can buy things. For whatever it is, if you bring your own container, you get a small discount. People respond to incentives. Morrisons (a UK supermarket) now allow you to use your own containers at their butcher and deli counters. So there are shifts happening. However, many supermarkets will refuse to serve you in a home container for whatever reason.

Easy everyday home plastic reduction:

  • Tubs, pots, jars etc. – you can invest in some nice snazzy ones or just use empty food containers. Empty food jars are cute when all cleaned up, highly reusable, and free!
  • Beeswax wraps. You can buy some online (avoid Amazon as there is a boycott currently happening) or you can make your own. These make a great replacement for cling film!
  • Try refillables. If it can be filled once it can probably be filled again.
  • Have a go at DIY. Most DIY home things I’ve found are actually really easy, effective, and inexpensive. You can basically clean your whole house and yourself with a handful of products.

Plastic pollution is a global problem with a local solution – it starts with you. You can’t change anyone but yourself (you can try though!).

There are two problems here – our throw away culture and the material that that culture is built upon. We need change the material of products that we use for a couple of minutes of convenience – which will then sit in landfill, or worse, the ocean for centuries. OR stop using throw-away products. Both would be great.

If you have anything to add let me know in the comments!

Jessica xx

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