The season to be jolly

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

Each month, Dr Adam Read, practice director for resource efficiency & waste management @ Ricardo-AEA, discusses the big issues from his point of view. On this occasion, he looks at the excesses of Christmas, the changing nature of our bins and reflects on how far the green economy has developed.

I wanted to keep my blog short over the festive season, as my blogs have got longer each month as the year has progressed - perhaps something to do with me being more comfortable in my role as agent provocateur and industry commentator, or perhaps simply because the industry I call home has been developing at a pace never seen before giving me plenty of ammunition each month.


I was fortunate enough to join a few Christmas parties over the festive season, partook in the new tradition of Christmas Jumper day, and went through the usual assessment of who will get a card this year. What this has done is to make me challenge, once again, the excesses of December in the UK, and the changing nature of our wastes at this time of year.


Go back a decade, and we were all busy writing cards about this time of the month, trying to get them posted in time for last post both home and abroad. We were taking days off work, or spending our weekends in long traffic jams, to get to the shops for those all-important board games, gadgets and jumpers. We would stock up on food, just in case we were hit by a blizzard, and everyone had to have the fresh smell of pine in their living room. Well, some things change, and Christmas in the UK is one of them.


Now we have ever more realistic recycled plastic Christmas trees that can be reused from one year to the next and up-cycled every so often with some new baubles and tinsel. We have shops open all over the festive period, providing food at short notice. We now buy much of our presents on-line and get them delivered to our door, and with that comes a great deal less stress than in Christmases gone by. And of course, we send e-cards, festive cartoons and YouTube videos, as has been my penchant for a number of years, reducing the amount of card, paper and packaging in our system significantly. But what does this mean for the waste management sector?


Amazon, Tesco and Ocado (among others) now take the strain; we have less plastic bags, unwanted cards, and overstocked cupboards; we waste less time stuck in traffic and in my opinion we have less headaches - even with a two-year-old in the house with great expectations about Santa Claus.


But, with home delivery, and shifting consumer patterns and informed decision-making, our waste streams are changing. More green and ethical goods can be found on the high street and on the web, while recycled goodies and ‘upcycled’ gifts are becoming increasingly the rage. 


My bins are already dominated by cardboard packaging, one week to the next ; and it says a lot about how I choose to shop. But at Christmas this trend is enhanced manifold. In the weeks leading up to the big day, more and more parcels arrived, ready for checking, wrapping and ultimate onward delivery. Add to that the increasing levels of used wrapping paper and packaging from the latest toys, games and gadgets, and the week between Christmas and new year is a card and paper reprocessor’s nirvana... if only the bin men collected these materials with a regular service ..... Bah, humbug!


So, given my day job, you might want to know if my carbon footprint was better or worse now than 10 years ago? To be honest I don’t know and I don’t really care. Any increase in materials consumption from additional packaging derived from home deliveries is more than off-set by my reduction in cards and envelopes being sent and received along with the reductions in fuels burnt by not sitting in the car park at a retail park somewhere near you. But, as a confessed resources professional I do need to keep an eye on my decisions and their impacts, and I would suggest we should all do the same - a light touch engagement to waste arisings at Christmas makes for a bit of fun campaigning and can help raise the issues of excesses a


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