21. Dec, 2020

Christmas Blog 3 . Composting and Recycling Non-food Christmas Waste

We can all minimise our Christmas carbon footprint by not wasting food (See separate blog)  and by reducing, composting  and recycling other Christmas waste.

Send  photos of your efforts to compost Christmas waste to carryoncomposting1@gmail.com

 or post them at     https://www.facebook.com/carryoncomposting/

  Baubles   Glass and plastic  baubles are not compostable and are not usually recyclable. Glass  baubles should  be wrapped up and placed in the  general waste. Most  Plastic baubles are not recyclable (check the label), will have to go to landfill. If  plastic or glass baubles are in good condition,  they are  best saved and   donated  to a local charity shop next year.

 Batteries  are not compostable.  Used batteries should be taken to a collection point  at the recycling depot or  some electrical shops.  

 Cardboard  is compostable, with  corrugated boxes being a particularly excellent source of carbon rich “browns” . The boxes should be torn or cut into smallish pieces and scrunched up when added to the bin. If the cardboard is being sent to be recycled  flatten the boxes to save space and keep them dry, as  if they get wet and go mouldy, they cannot be recycled. However, is best made  wet cardboard before being composted.  Plastic film and sticky tape should be removed from paper and card packaging before recycling. It is best to remove it from items being composted as otherwise it will appear in the finished compost.

 Christmas cards     Many people are  sending ‘e’ cards now, but  computer use also has an  environmental  cost.  Buy cards that  are Forest Stewardship Council certified, this ensures the paper used has been sustainably and ethically produced.

When Christmas is over cards should  be reused, composted, or recycled. There are many crafting activities using cards  for children interested in reducing waste e.g.  making gift tags. paper chains or cut  out the images to make cards for next year.

 As a composter the first choice should be composting,  cardboard is a good source of winter browns. Cards can also be  recycled.  Avoid buying, or separate, cards that have added  glitter, bows, or  shiny metallic finishes as these are not compostable or recyclable and so should be  sent to landfill. Unfortunately, most glitter cannot  be processed in recycling plants as it clogs up the equipment, but the backs of paper Christmas cards without a coating or glitter can be composted or added to the L.A. bag or box recycling collection (see Glitter below).

 If the card looks as if it is metallic or contains plastic or laminated materials do a scrunch test.  If it does not stay scrunched the card cannot be composted or recycled.

 The volume of waste wrapping can be reduced by giving presents in bags that can be reused next year saving on paper and waste.

 Christmas trees  can be composted but they need shredding  first to increase the surface area exposed to the composting microbes and speed decomposition.  If a shredder is not available  branches can be cut into small “thumb” size pieces, but these will be slow to compost, and it is easier to donate the tree to the Local Authority to be shredded into chippings which are then used in parks etc. Local authorities often arrange drop-off points or special collections of 'real' trees in early January. Check your local authority website for more information. If the council does not offer a system for dealing with Christmas trees they can be cut into small pieces and put in the garden waste bin.

Pine needles can be composted or turned to leafmould, but they will be slow to decompose, and any significant quantities are best treated separately from deciduous leaves.

Unfortunately, artificial trees, most of which are made from the dreaded plastic face only one possible destination when their final day arrives: landfill. If you have an artificial tree, the best thing to do is use it for as many seasons as possible, they can last 15+ years,  or donate it to someone else who will use it. ( Many areas have  a Freecycle type network on social media).

 Corks   Natural corks can be composted but will take a time to break down and might need returning to the bin for a second session when the compost is harvested. A glass of wine while sorting the corks can be helpful.

 Electronics.  Electronic items may not immediately come to mind as being Christmas waste but so many people get new electronic gadgets  as Christmas gifts large numbers of electrical items are disposed of immediately after the festive season. Use any upcycling services in your area if possible or any  separate area for working electrical items at the  recycling centres. Christmas tree lights are recyclable but need to be taken  to a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling centre. When buying replacements, choose LED lights which use less electricity than older incandescent types. Remove  batteries from anything that is likely to be stored  for next year and use them elsewhere until they run out of power.  When disposing of the batteries keep them  separate from the other waste materials  recycling them at the  nearest battery collection point.


 Gift tags etc.  Tags made from card can be cut up and composted having first removed any plastic ties. Plastic or foil tags will not compost.

 Glitter     Large numbers of Christmas items are decorated with glitter, including cards, wrapping paper and decorations. Most of the glitter contains microplastic which does not  compost or be  recycled. Items containing glitter should be put into a sealed container such as a plastic bag, that is being binned anyway, and put into the landfill collection system. Make a note not to buy  glitter  next year.

Biodegradable glitter made from a certified compostable film that meets  the European (EN13432) and the American (ASTM D6400) standards is available but may require a little effort to find.
Eco glitter is made of a cellulose film mainly derived from eucalyptus trees from sustainably sourced FSC plantations and is designed to break-down in the sewage system. The product sold in the USA is certified as home compostable.

However, recent research suggests that  biodegradable alternatives may be  little or no better for the environment than “traditional” PET glitter in respect to the effects on root length and chlorophyll levels being  almost identical to those of traditional glitter.  Research led by Dr Dannielle Green of Anglia Ruskin University and  published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials (Vol 402. 124070)      indicates after 36 days, the presence of glitter halved the root length of common duckweed (Lemna minor), while levels of chlorophyll in the water were three times lower than in control conditions, indicating reduced levels of phytoplankton, or microalgae.

 Paper Chains.   Paper chains with prints or colours are not ideal for recycling and are probably best off in the compost bin.

 Paper napkins  and party hats from the crackers can be composted.

Presents.  There are 60 million unwanted gifts each Christmas.  Next year minimise waste by  checking what presents the  recipient wants. If it is a low-cost token gift, try to avoid tat and  opt for items with minimal waste. Avoid buying novelty Christmas jumpers and other  clothing as gifts that will only be worn once or twice before replaced with next years model. If you are disposing of novelty clothing take it to a charity shop in October

 Ribbons and decorations.  Ribbon bows and other accessories cannot be recycled but they can be reused, so keep them safe for next year.  Ribbons and  bows made of natural fibres can be composted but many will contain foil or plastic and cannot be composted or recycled. Decorations are reusable, keep them  and in years to come, as an antique, they may be worth what you paid for them

 Wood ash  from open fires or wood burners can be composted if mixed with other materials. 

 Wood  Cocktail sticks although small can be composted. To avoid pets trying to eat them and injuring themselves put the sticks into a container and empty it directly into the kitchen caddy. Holly, ivy, and mistletoe can be composted. The holly is best shredded.

 Wrapping paper and boxes  When buyingwrapping paper check that it is labelled ‘recyclable’. There is a growing movement to provide this information on the packaging so keep an eye out when choosing yours. Paper and card are a good source of “browns” and can help create air pockets in the compost bin. If possible, use string rather than sticky tape, ribbons and bows as these will need removing  before composting or  recycling. Plastic tape does not breakdown during composting so if it goes into the compost bin it will be in the compost when you use it.   Some paper and cards will contain plastic or laminated materials which  cannot be composted or recycled. Scrunch the item up in your hand. If it stays 'scrunched' it can be composted or recycled. Paper can be shredded and used as  protective packaging around future gifts, or even as a “cloth” for cleaning window and mirrors.

Wreaths  Christmas wreaths made from plant materials can be composted after any glue, plastic and wiring are removed.  If leaves have been coated with glitter discard them to landfill. Most council will accept “clean” Christmas wreaths as garden waste.

Further information on Christmas Composting and a wide range of other compost topics plus talks for Garden Clubs and Allotment Societies and sessions for schools can be found at www.carryoncomposting.com

New to composting? Practical training sessions can be arranged (when Regulations allow)  at our Composting Demonstration site at Stokes Wood Allotments Leicester