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Enjoying The Holiday Season And Not Becoming The Waste Reduction Grinch

Christmas and the holiday season often means considerable waste –from mountains of wrapping paper to bins of glass bottles, plastic and food – there are, however, many ways to still make the most of the festive season while still minimising what ends up in landfill.

In the three weeks before Christmas last year New Zealanders spent $2.89 billion[1] with increased spending on food and drinks and Christmas presents; and as the cost of everyday food and household items continues to increase, it’s more than likely we will exceed this.

During the summer holidays New Zealanders generate approximately 30% more waste, or around 25,000 tonnes of general waste – that is the equivalent of 5kg extra waste for every New Zealanders or five Christmas puddings per person. Dealing with waste can often seem overwhelming but there are a few simple things Kiwis can do to reduce their Christmas waste, and what ends up in landfill and in the environment.

Recycling glass bottles, plastic and paper is the easiest way to reduce waste going to landfill; and the best news is that wherever you are travelling to in New Zealand you can choose to recycle.

New Zealand’s top holiday destinations swell over holiday time which puts pressure on the local rubbish and recycling collections; and it’s not just Kiwis, in December 2022 there over 360,000[2] international visitors and we are expecting more this year. Check your local Council website to check collection days.

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“Sales of drink products, for example, increase exponentially over the holiday season – approximately by 30%,” says Rob Langford, CEO The Packaging Forum. “Unfortunately, there is also a huge increase in recyclable glass, cans and plastic that end up in landfill – especially when people are away from home.”

Mr Langford explains: “What many Kiwis don’t realise is that glass is 100 per cent recyclable; and of the glass that is recovered in this country, the majority is recycled into other glass products – all here in New Zealand.”

Most Councils, especially those in holiday hotspots, will increase the amount of kerbside collections over this period and there are plenty of public place recycling bins across the country making it easy to recycle when you are on the go, says Mr Langford.

“We have many circular solutions to waste right here in New Zealand. By recovering waste materials such as paper, plastic, metal and glass, and turning them into other products, we are not only diverting this waste from landfill, we’re attributing a value to products that would otherwise have held little to none.”

“One of the most successful examples of this is the Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme which is operated by The Packaging Forum. Soft plastic from around the country is collected from points around the country and is recycled in to fence posts and building supplies by local processors.”

In the past year over 660 tonnes soft plastic bags and wrappers have been recycled into 67,000 fence posts.

There are now close to 300 drop off points for soft plastic recycling across New Zealand including at key holiday hotspots including Bay of Islands, Coromandel, Gisborne and the Hawke’s Bay in North Island as well as Queenstown Lakes District, Marlborough, Nelson and Tasman Districts, and Akaroa in the South Island.

It's not only the soft plastic from food and grocery items that can be recycled, but much of the Christmas waste - soft plastic wrapping from Christmas gifts and cards, and the plastic courier packs from on-line shopping deliveries.

Mr Langford says another sure-fire way to reduce waste and, in many cases, save money is to choose to reuse and use refillable containers wherever possible.

This year The Packaging Forum has funded several community projects that have focused on supporting reuse campaigns such as Aotea Great Barrier Island in its goal to be single-use cup free; and its ongoing support of Sustainable Waihi to establish refillable water fountains along Waihi Beach. Last year, in just six months, water readings indicated that more than 5,000 single use plastic bottles were avoided. As well these community programmes, The Forum has also supported Waste Wizards in the Bay of Plenty with funds for stainless steel coffee cups and “reusabowls” that are lent out to cafes, salad bars and office. Food waste is a major contributor to our rubbish with the cost of wasted food every year estimated to be $2.4bn or 8.6% of our food. At Christmas our food waste goes up by around 40%. Easy ways to reduce food waste over Christmas include making a shopping list so you only buy the fresh goods you need and freezing leftovers.

If you’re also wanting to support your local foodbank or community charity this holiday season, it’s best to speak with them first to see what they can and can’t accept due to limited space or an excess of certain items – and be mindful to only donate food that is still within expiry dates, and that any non-food items are of a good quality. Sadly, many charities are used as a ‘dumping’ ground for unwanted items, and these items often end up in landfill and cost the charity to dispose.

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