CLIMATE CHANGE: Christmas cardboard can have life before the blue bin

The Scottish Removal Services team

Fiona Gallie, Broadford and Strath Community Company’s Community Waste Officer, with some tips on how to reuse your Christmas cardboard

We have a lot of cardboard here on Skye and Raasay, mainly because we are islands often with mainland suppliers as our only option.

We have probably all received that tiny thing from shopping online, that we couldn’t find on Skye, housed in a huge box with mountains of bubble wrap.

Tourism, one of our main industries, also brings with it the need for supplies for hospitality and retail, which inevitably means more cardboard.

But why don’t we find ways of re-using the cardboard and cut down the use of our blue commercial bins?

I spoke to Melissa Macdougall from Scottish Removal Services, based in Broadford, about her business’s eco-friendly practices when it comes to packaging and especially with cardboard reuse.

They will use cardboard boxes 2-3 times as a box, and then a further 10-15 times as a protective cardboard sleeve before they recycle it.

Melissa has been running the removals business for 22 years since she took over from her father, Roddy Macdougall, who started the company in 1977. It is a small family run firm, employing five people, and they operate with four vehicles.

While they are Scottish Highland and Islands specialists, they often assist people to move around the whole of the UK and even the rest of the world.

Melissa explained how their packaging works for clients: “A home pack is delivered to the client. We supply, where possible, bio-degradable bubble wrap for bigger items and packing paper (some of this is newspaper) and we advise of handy ways to pack that are sustainable.

“We also use bio-degradable mattress covers that can be reused and of course cloth transit blankets, themselves, made by suppliers from recycled cloth. Once people have moved, they send back the packing materials to be reused. This avoids so much cardboard going to recycling. Our small blue bin is filled only every second week. We try to reuse the cardboard as much as possible to the point that they are used to mop up water.”

We spoke about how we need to re-educate people in reuse.

We talked about how we need to change the language around this. Phrases like ‘second-hand’ sometimes have negative connotations as people may think that it means the item is not good enough.

Whereas if we say ‘pre-loved’ or ‘once loved’ it sounds a lot more positive.

Reusing was perhaps something an older generation would have done but now with the rise of online shopping, especially since Covid, we just click a button, and whatever we order will arrive within a couple of days – but usually with a lot of excess packaging.

How much waste is this causing? Recycling can be a solution, but the process of recycling cardboard requires vast amounts of energy and water and produces large volumes of CO2 emissions.

Before we get to that point can we reuse this cardboard?

Christmas Cardboard – Reuse Tips

Here are some creative ways to give your cardboard at home another life:

  • Keep card boxes for storage. If you have children, then you could turn it into a fun activity where you decorate the box and turn it in to a toy box.
  •  If you home compost, then shredded/teared cardboard can be used as brown waste. Just be careful with coloured cardboard/dyes as you want to avoid using that in your compost.
  • Gardening – the cardboard can be used as mulch to get rid of weeds as it will stop sunlight getting in. ‘Charles Dowding’s No Dig Gardening’ is the expert on this.
  •  If you are sending parcels out to family and friends, you can reuse the cardboard boxes for this.
  •  Turn a box into a dog bed with an old pillow.

Melissa’s top tips for reuse,

  •  Do not rip the tape off because as soon as you do this it is harder to reuse the cardboard as it can also rip the cardboard itself,
  • You also want to keep your cardboard in a dry place to prevent it becoming mouldy.
  • Flat pack the boxes and save lots of space.

Another thought for Christmas. If we try to shop as locally as possible to support small businesses then we can prevent so many cardboard boxes coming to Skye in the first place.

Broadford & Strath Community Company is one of the eight implementing partners of the Highland Community Waste Partnership, which is funded by The National Lottery Climate Action Fund and coordinated by environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful. This three-year project is aimed at reducing waste and consumption as part of Scotland’s Net Zero climate emergency ambitions.

One of our main focuses will be on supporting businesses to reuse and reduce cardboard waste through reuse and recycling, including by linking into brown waste/matter for community composting.

Fiona Gallie is Broadford and Strath Community Company’s Community Waste Officer