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Waste not necessary: How to properly clean up after the holidays

Friday, December 27th 2019, 3:30 pm - While the holidays can be a time of joy for millions of Canadians, they also generate lots of waste

What’s colourful, shiny and weighs hundreds of thousands of tonnes? Our Christmas gift-wrapping waste across Canada. Yes, the holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also definitely the most wasteful.

The latest statistics indicate more than 540,000 tonnes of waste is generated in Canada from gift wrap, gift bags and shopping bags annually. While you may think that recycling has it all wrapped up, sadly lots of Christmas paper ends up in landfills.

SEE ALSO: Holiday Forecast: Green Christmas for millions, mild start to 2020


The average Canadian family sends at least 25 per cent more waste to the landfill over the holiday season. So, just what do you toss and what do you recycle? While it’s key to check with your municipality or region to get the details on what goes where, here are some other helpful reminders.

Glittery and foil gift wrap can’t be recycled, and in many places, including Winnipeg, Peterborough, Kingston and Thunder Bay, traditional Christmas wrapping paper isn’t recycled -- due to its high ink, low fibre, plastic, glitter and/or foil. Check your local recycling policy to see if used paper is accepted in your community's recycling program.

What about all those gift bags? The plastic-coated ones and those made entirely with plastic generally need to go in the trash. Gift bags made out of paper can be recycled in communities that allow it, but again, check with your municipality. A better option, though, is to keep reusing it – it’ll still be good next year.

A quick test to see if it’s 100 per cent paper: Try ripping it: If it is hard to rip, it is likely plastic or coated with metal and should go in the garbage. Better yet, try reusing it next Christmas.

gettyimages-454347009-170667a Discarded Christmas tree. Photo: Getty Images.

Got lots of boxes from online deliveries? Consider hanging on to them for storing your Christmas decorations or for wrapping presents. Almost every recycling system in the country will take cardboard and boxboard.

Gift cards are occasionally accepted for recycling, but only if they are either 100 per cent paper or your system takes plastic cards such as cut-up credit cards.

Batteries are considered household hazardous waste and should be collected through your province’s or municipality’s hazardous waste program. Keep them out of the landfill. A great alternative to single-use batteries are rechargeable ones, as they make great green gifts, too.

Tinsel, bows, garland and ribbon are made of mixes of materials that are detrimental to the recycling process. Instead of tossing them, reuse them next Christmas.

Styrofoam and bubble wrap are not accepted for recycling in most jurisdictions. Either toss them in the garbage, and look for an alternative next time, or check what your jurisdiction’s options are.

gettyimages-1142027956-170667a Bubble wrap is not an acceptable item for recycling in most municipalities. Photo: Getty Images.

Many areas in the country have Christmas tree take-back programs from the end of December through early January. Typically they are mulched and used in landscaping or for compost facilities. Some jurisdictions will pick up your tree from your curbside or back lane, while others require you to take it to a depot.

Artificial Christmas trees can be good environmental choices but only if you use them for about two decades. If you really want a change, donate it to charity or pass it off to someone else who needs it. If it’s truly on its last legs, look for a metal recycler who may take it for metal content in the stand and central pole.


• Buy unpackaged or low-packaged items to cut down on waste.

• Use reusable gift wrapping like cloth bags.

• Use new kitchen towels or a scarf and reusable twine.

• Buy fabric from a remnant bin and wrap it around a present and secure with twine.

• Recycle old newspapers, comics, flyers, maps or the paper that comes around bouquets of flowers.

• Reuse old gift bags.

• Forego gift tags and write in coloured pens onto the package.

• Give gifts of experience or charitable donations instead – tickets and cards only need an envelope.

The Green Action Centre also has some tips to make your holidays a little more greener.

Thumbnail courtesy of Getty Images.

With files from Joanne Richard.


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