Why is the blue bin full at Christmas?

Christmas arrives and the houses are filled with lights, garlands, mistletoe, candles… boxes and wrapping paper, a lot of wrapping paper. Giving and receiving gifts is an essential part of this holiday, but, beyond the Christmas decorations and presents, the celebration of these holidays can also give rise to another image: the accumulation of empty cardboard boxes and paper packaging in the surroundings of the blue container.

During January and December, almost 20% of the paper and cardboard that is deposited in the blue container throughout the year in our country is collected, according to the Spanish Association of Pulp, Paper and Cardboard Manufacturers (ASPAPEL). The first reason is that the Christmas holidays push us to consume, since there are also big sales both before – on Black Friday or Cyber ​​Monday – and after, with the January campaign.

«The cardboard of Christmas gifts, which goes in this container, experiences a very notable increase at this time. Furthermore, electronic commerce has increased this waste, which we must try to reduce or reuse. For example, we can make postcards, save it for next year and with the cardboard, many companies take advantage of their box and others give you the option of sending the package without it,” explains César Rico, Lyma technician in Getafe, the municipal company of cleaning and environment that works in this Madrid town.

We asked him why it is more common to see the blue container surrounded by boxes and cardboard on these dates. He tells us that there are several reasons, in addition to the increase in consumption. Firstly, it is not only citizens who use blue containers. «Many small businesses also use them because they receive much more goods at this time, and almost everything comes in boxes. That’s why it’s easier for them to collapse. To avoid this, we must facilitate door-to-door collection,” he details.

On the other hand, there are some citizens who do not fold the boxes before taking them to the container. «It seems like a vain gesture, but if we don’t do it, they take up a lot of space. The containers fill up very quickly and other citizens cannot throw away their waste,” he points out. Additionally, if the majority of the space is occupied by air the process is less efficient, since the truck will transport that air to a recycling plant, instead of all the boxes that could have gone into it.

For the same reason, it is also advisable to check if the container is really full. “Sometimes we see that there is a box at the mouth of the container and we think that nothing else will fit, but if you push it, there really is space,” says César. He points out that each citizen has approximately 10 liters of container at their disposal every day to deposit their paper and cardboard. “That’s about a mop bucket, if we fold it.”

City councils and provincial administrations can also act. In fact, many are aware of this situation, so on these dates it is common for collections to be reinforced. In the case of Getafe, they have been increased the day after Epiphany. Furthermore, in this city they have opted for route optimization: “With only 3, we collect all of Getafe, which leaves us more time and ability to react if they need us in a container that has been filled,” says Rico.

The collaboration “is noticeable”

However, we must keep in mind that each municipality or city has established a different frequency of collections based on variables such as population or size. Thus, in some places, it is set annually and does not change depending on the season. Therefore, on special dates such as Christmas, the containers can fill up earlier than expected. In these cases, Rico points out that it is important to avoid leaving cardboard and paper around the container if it is full.

“In the best case scenario, a colleague will get off the truck, fold the cartons and place them inside the blue container, and then empty it into the truck.” This keeps the truck running and increases the carbon footprint of the collection. “In addition, when left on the ground, the cardboard can become stained with other waste such as oil or paint, making it unusable for recycling.” Therefore, César encourages us to wait a couple of days for the container to be emptied before throwing away our waste. “Citizen collaboration is very noticeable in our daily lives,” he concludes.

As of today, there are 632,146 yellow and blue containers in which to recycle. According to Ecoembes, this is equivalent to 1 container every 100 meters. The data reflects that, in Spain, in 2022, more than 1.6 million tons of domestic plastic, metal, cartons, and paper and cardboard packaging were recovered to be recycled. Of them, 666,344 tons. They corresponded only to paper and cardboard, which represents an annual increase of 4.5%. Thanks to the recycling of all this waste, in 2022 the emission of 1.69 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere was avoided. We see it: recycling packaging can be your best Christmas gift to the planet.