22 Dec 2017

When it's time for Christmas cleaning, think twice about throwing away old trees, lights, baubles

Is your Christmas tree looking old and tired? Have your favourite festive lights seen better days?

If you're planning to throw away your old decorations after the silly season, you might want to think twice about what ends up in your bin.

Ornaments, artificial trees and strings of lights discarded this year will languish in landfill for centuries.

Dumps and waste facilities go into overdrive during the holidays as families clean up their homes to impress visiting relatives, clear out unwanted gifts and purge leftovers relegated to the back of the fridge after Christmas lunch.

And environment group Planet Ark has warned that decorations destined for the tip can cause serious environmental heartache when they become landfill.

"There probably hasn't been any specific studies into Christmas decorations and how long they last in landfill, however we know that most of those decorations have materials like plastic and they can last from 450 to 1,000 years in landfill," Planet Ark recycling programs manager Ryan Collins said.

"There's some glass in certain Christmas lights [that] can last for about a million years apparently.

"I think you'll find these days a lot of the decorations are plastic, so it's basically going to be in the ground for a very long time."

It's not just glass and plastics you need to be wary of.

Metal wire in your favourite Christmas lights can last up to 60 years in landfill if it's copper and brass, and up to 200 years if it's aluminium.

Rubbish or recycling?

Knowing what materials can and can't be recycled is confusing, but there's a few options you can investigate if you want to keep your Christmas waste to a minimum.

The first thing you need to know is that Christmas lights should never go in your general waste bin.

Mr Collins said most strings of lights needed to be taken apart before they were thrown away.

Some retailers still accept glass bulbs from LED lights but others can't be recycled.

"The plastic light covers, they most likely will have to go into general waste, and then with cables themselves ... some electronic waste recyclers may accept them," Mr Collins said.

"It's probably best to check with your council."

Planet Ark's Recycling Near You website can help you locate businesses willing to accept electronics waste.

What else can you do to avoid excessive Christmas waste?

Mr Collins said there were plenty of ways to have a trendy festive season without chucking anything away.

"Buying decorations that last longer, that you can reuse from year to year, is definitely a positive step for the environment," he said.

"It's also nice to reuse those older decorations; it can be thought of as a family tradition or ritual to remember your unique family history.

"With lights and decorations ... if you're in for changing things up, we suggest borrowing or swapping decorations or lights with friends and family."

Charities often accept pre-loved Christmas decorations as well but you should call ahead to avoid dumping unwanted goods.

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