How to cut back on holiday waste and find greener alternatives for Christmas classics

WINNIPEG — A staple under many Christmas trees are beautifully wrapped presents adorned in colourful paper, ribbons, and bows. However, those items are putting a big strain on the environment.

“Every year Canadians produce 545,000 tonnes of packaging waste, so that’s gift wrapping annually, and the equivalent to 100,000 elephants,” said Jane Roussak, the Living Green Living Well Coordinator with Green Action Centre.

According to Zero Waste Canada, the average Canadian tosses about 50 kilograms of garbage each holiday season, or 25 per cent more than the rest of the year. The waste is made up of things like the 2.6 billion Christmas cards purchased each year, the six million rolls of tape, and 3,000 tonnes of foil.

“Keep in mind that gift wrap is unfortunately not recyclable in the blue bin,” said Roussak.

Despite being called paper, a City of Winnipeg spokesperson said wrapping paper is made of different materials, including foil or plastic, and has dyes that can contaminate other sorted paper. The spokesperson said greeting cards are in a similar boat, and cannot be recycled if they have sparkles, foam, and sticker-type materials in them

The city said a number of items do not belong in your recycling, including:

  • Ribbon and wrapping paper
  • Foam packaging (Styrofoam)
  • Gift bags
  • Plastic bags
  • Christmas lights, light strands
  • Toys
  • Disposable cutlery and dishes
  • Food scraps

As for what can be placed in your blue bin:

  • Empty cardboard gift boxes
  • Paper greeting cards (without foam, glitter, glue or other non-paper items attached)
  • Rigid plastic packaging (remove and recycle cardboard inserts)
  • Empty food and beverage containers.

ECO-FRIENDLY ALTERNATIVES

Roussak said you can still have beautiful and uniquely wrapped presents without causing additional waste. She said to focus on using paper-based products.

“Things like newspaper, paper that you receive your packages in — that brown paper — that you can then decorate, boxes, shopping bags, reusable bags are all great alternatives,” said Roussak. 

“You can look at drawing your own designs on there, maybe adding some jute twine, or a little holiday branch.” 

Roussak also recommends doing DIY gift tags by cutting up old Christmas cards, hole-punching them, and adding jute twine to attach it to the present. 

A number of people CTV News spoke with said they try to be conscious of how much waste they’re producing over the holidays by reusing gift bags, putting up artificial trees, and recycling everything they can. 

The city said it typically sees about a nine per cent increase in both recycling and garbage in the five days following Christmas compared to the five days prior. 

GIFTING EXPERIENCES OVER OBJECTS

Another way Roussak said people can cut back on waste over Christmas is to give experiences to your loved ones.

“You can think about doing nice acts of service, so for example cooking dinner for somebody, or washing their bike or car, or shovelling their driveway,” Roussak said.

“It doesn’t always have to be monetary either. It doesn’t have to be a physical item. It can be something like a membership to the gym or an art gallery.”