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What your recycling depot doesn’t want to see this Christmas

I’ve toured many local recycling depots over the years working on our car seat recycling campaigns and always gravitate to the people that work there.

People that work at a recycling depot can cut through green washing and tell you what materials are actually eco-friendly or a good candidate for the Earth. Across the board, the main message for all recycling depots is to curb consumerism – especially at the holidays. They see the dark side of the holidays with all the excess and waste so let’s shine some light on the issue of consumer consumption and be a part of the solution!

The whole purpose of each of the sites is to keep “stuff” out of the landfill. An item that you decide is now garbage, unless broken or unsafe, can always be upcycled or sold to someone else. When it comes to the holidays, we just assume everything needs to be purchased new. This just isn’t the case and many times, second hand items, handcrafted, or homemade are a better idea for the environment, our health, and wallets. A great example is our blogger, Pam, who saved $1,000 buying used this holiday season.

When I toured the Gibsons Recycling Depot last year, this was the message. What is the true cost? If you buy something for $1 is that really its true cost? If that item will exist in a landfill for hundreds of years because it’s made from mixed plastics and can’t be recycled, then the true cost is much greater than $1 and that is the key message to think about at Christmas.

I phoned the North Vancouver Recycling Depot who services the three large municipalities of the North Shore to talk about items they don’t want to see curb side after the holidays. Again, the message was loud and clear about packaging, plastics (soft plastic which isn’t accepted) and stopping the waste at the original source. Rethinking mass consumerism, rethinking how our gifts are packaged, and rethinking gift giving are key points to Christmas. Here is a quote from the North Shore Recycling Program:

“With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to remember that many gifts come packaged in materials that aren’t recyclable in municipal-run programs. Wrapping paper, Styrofoam and soft plastics such as bubble wrap, air-filled plastic packing pouches and plastic bags are in abundance this time of year but are not accepted in the North Shore municipal collection service or at the North Shore Recycling Depot. These items can instead be recycled at private facilities for a fee, or in the case of drink containers, the recycler can earn a refund. Of course, another way  to deal with these materials is to not acquire them in the first place.”

How can we help become a part of the solution rather than the problem of waste this year? Here are some tips to help you, the Earth and your local recycling depot with reducing your family’s personal waste this holiday season.

Reduce consumerism

We buy, buy, buy at Christmas. We purchase gifts for teachers, coaches, co-workers, friends, family and sometimes we don’t give it much thought. We just know we need to give them something. Imagine the impact on our  local economy if those gifts were secondhand or from local shops/craftsman. The global shift would be amazing. Imagine if we made more presents: homemade preserves, vanilla extract, baking as a token of thanks rather than everything store bought. And for those not super handy either in the kitchen or crafting, supporting locals that are able to create, bake, and make beautiful things on your behalf. You would find a happier community, flourishing small businesses, and a healthier environment (which is a good thing for recycling depots).


Packaging is probably the best clue to green super sleuthing during the holiday season. If a product comes heavily wrapped in packaging like Styrofoam and plastic than the item itself is probably not the “greenest.” Handmade or secondhand items, toys, and gifts come with none or minimal packaging. Why? When something is not mass produced, there is a different quality control with materials and packaging. Same goes for 2nd hand items as the original packaging has already been removed. And with so many big box stores offering take back programs for non-recyclable packaging materials such as Styrofoam, ask the store on their recycling policies before making that big purchase.


One point that will always stand out to me from one tour of Gibsons Recycling Depot is talking about the mountains of gift wrap they have to process after the holiday season. Can we even imagine what that looks like? Think of how much gift wrap is produced from your family celebrations and then multiply by the thousands of people in each community. Stop gift wrap that can’t be recycled at the door by not using it in the first place:  shiny ribbon, gift tags, and gift wrap appliques are all included. We don’t think that holiday gift wrap is anything else besides paper, but most of it is shiny with a layer of plastic or embellishments within the paper; therefore making it a terrible candidate for recycling. Become a green family ninja this Christmas by changing how gifts are presented. What is the greenest option?

1. Take an item that already exists to wrap the present (that can also be recycled or composted). Examples of this are children’s art work – as  parents we save every piece of art work but wouldn’t it be a great way to wrap gifts for grandparents? Other ideas are recycled craft paper or newspaper that can be jazzed up with some pinecones or hemp string, old maps and old magazines

2. Think reusable gift wrap. Create a new tradition by exchanging gifts to family members using cloth gift wrap either with a Santa sack or cloth gift wrap

3. Make seeded paper that can be composted after use. The Queen of Green has a great tutorial for making your own seeded paper

Below is an image of Furoshiki technique for gift wrapping using cloth gift wrap. Check our alternative gift wrap blog for more ideas.

For more tips on how to make room for Christmas by keeping your eco-footprint small this holiday season, check out our blog post called Have Yourself A Very Green Christmas.

Suzanne is a green living activist and blogger over from Mommy Footprint. Her passion for raising her children in suburbia & a not-so-secret desire to own chickens keeps her balanced with realistic Eco living goals. Sharing knowledge about the environment, our food system, and ways to avoid landfill waste is her passion. Suzanne loves life in the tri-cities with her husband and four children. Follow her journey on Twitter @mommyfootprint.

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