DS Smith’s top tips to reduce festive paper waste

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but how can we ensure that it’s not the most wasteful? Packaging, paper, and card is coming into our homes, and it goes without saying that as much of it as possible should be recycled. But with sporadic collections and confusing guidance, how can householders ensure that their recycling is really making a difference? Mat Prosser, Managing Director of DS Smith Recycling UK, explains how to get paper recycling all wrapped up this Christmas.

Number of Christmas cards purchases every year in the UK

1 bn

Whether you’ve stocked enough rolls of wrapping paper to cover your home twice over, or if you’re receiving more parcels than your local post office depot, it won’t come as a surprise that there’s an increase in paper, card, and cardboard waste at home over the festive season.  

In the UK alone, we buy around one billion Christmas cards, and dispose of more than 226,000 miles of wrapping paper every year. And while we have a solid record of paper and cardboard recycling – we recycled 82% of our cardboard and paper packaging in 2016! – we do face a few hurdles in maintaining this stellar record over the Christmas period.


Increase in the amount of cardboard that will make its way into residential collections over Christmas

The first is simply an increase in volume. Due to the growth of online shopping, we’re taking more packaging home than ever. More than 90% of us are set to shop online this Christmas, which means that 25% more cardboard will make its way into residential collections. To make sure that all recyclable paper and cardboard is actually sent for recycling, residents need to make sure that it ends up in the correct recycling bin.

The second hurdle is our national reliance on kerbside collection services. Winter weather can disrupt recycling and waste collections, and the services might not have seasonal variations in the types of collection required from residents. According to a survey conducted on behalf of Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign in 2017, 22% of respondents believed that the volume of waste accrued at their home over the festive period made recycling difficult, because services don’t account for the sharp increase in paper and cardboard.

The third hurdle is residents’ confusion over what can and can’t be recycled. According to a Freedom of Information request carried out by BBC Breakfast, England’s councils were unable to recycle 338,000 tonnes of waste in 2014/15 due to contamination. This accounts for many different types of contamination, such as that caused by food, and it is indicative of residents’ confusion over what can and can’t go into their recycling bins. This tends to get worse over the Christmas holidays, as more diverse forms of cardboard and paper enter the waste streams.

Advice also varies across local councils, depending on the reprocessing capabilities of each district, and people who are on the move to visit friends and family in different parts of the country will encounter different recycling systems everywhere they go! Exeter City Council, for example, has implemented a blanket ban on recycling wrapping paper. Other councils are less prescriptive, but still advise residents to check the type of paper before recycling it. So how can residents make sure that they’re recycling as much as they can this Christmas?

Our top tips

To counteract the confusion, I have a few top tips that are applicable across different districts and councils.

1.    Learn to love your local recycling centre.

Relying on kerbside capacity over Christmas? You might want to consider a good, old-fashioned trip to your nearest household waste and recycling centre, which will help rid your house of boxes and paper.

2.    Take off tape and other sticky additions.

Sellotape and sticky labels are not easily recycled, so strip any wrapping paper before placing it in the recycling bin.

3.    Keep glitter out of recycling.

Wrapping paper with glittery designs may look festive, but aren’t recyclable. Metallic- based glitters cannot be processed by paper mills, and can contaminate entire batches of recycled paper if they are not removed. As such, try to avoid buying glittery paper this Christmas, otherwise it’ll have to be put in the general waste bin.

4.    When in doubt, scrunch it.

Not all wrappings and cards are solely paper-based – many will include lamination or thin plastic layers. If you’re not sure whether your wrapping paper is recyclable, scrunch it in your hand. If it springs back, it belongs in general waste. For cards, check for smooth surfaces that are difficult to write on, as well as other additions such as textiles or motion-activated speakers – these also cannot be recycled in your paper recycling bin.

5.    Mixed recycling? Keep it clean.

Collections that accept paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, and cans all together are increasingly common, but they don’t guarantee a clean, high-quality feedstock for reprocessors. Everyone needs to play a part in washing out any bottles, cans, and trays before placing them in the recycling bin.

All we want for Christmas is separate collections

Of course, even if we all follow this advice to the best of our ability, there’s still no guarantee that feedstock will be uncontaminated when it arrives at the processing plant or paper mill. The only way to achieve this is uniform collections across the UK, with separate bins for each material. Make recycling as simple and intuitive as possible, and you increase both the recyclability and quality of the materials we collect from residents’ homes.

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