22nd December 2017

Britain’s mountain of Christmas waste unwrapped

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The huge amount of plastic packaging, cardboard and wrapping paper dumped in landfill at Christmas has been highlighted by group of environmental and animal welfare charities as they make a fresh call for action to cut waste.

New figures from Wildlife and Countryside Link estimate that:

  • About 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be thrown away and not recycled in the UK this Christmas
  • Around 88 square km of wrapping paper are likely to be used in the UK this year – enough to cover Brighton and Hove, Coventry, Reading or Swansea 
  •  The UK uses 300,000 tonnes of card packaging at Christmas
  •  The total waste created in the UK this Christmas from food and drink, packaging, wrapping paper, cards, Christmas trees and other rubbish, is likely to exceed 5 million tonnes – equivalent to around 450,000 double decker buses.

The charities, which include Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, are particularly highlighting plastic waste because it degrades so slowly and is having such a devastating impact on the oceans. They are calling for strong commitments from businesses and government to reduce excessive packaging waste, and for the public to give a gift to the environment this Christmas and recycle as much glass, paper, card, metal, foil and wood, as well as plastic, as possible. 

Louise Edge, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said: ‘Christmas is the time of year when you can really see just how much plastic packaging there is, and how little of it is genuinely useful. Manufacturers and retailers say that’s what we want – lots of brightly coloured mixed material packaging made with virgin plastic. But as the BBC series Blue Planet has shown us, plastic packaging isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. And then some. If oceans full of indestructible plastic waste isn’t what you asked for, write a letter to Santa letting him know. And don’t forget to send a copy to Coca Cola, your local supermarket and your MP.”

Dr Elaine King, director at Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘These figures shine a light on the harsh reality of the impact we have on our environment and wildlife. Our waste can be invisible to us once it’s in the bin. So it is easy to forget that it ends up in landfill or finds its way into our rivers and seas – polluting our land, oceans, animals, fish, birds and insects. We need to give a gift to the environment and get our packaging waste under control.”

The NGOs are urging the UK government to take the following actions to both discourage companies and individuals from using throwaway plastic and incentivise sustainable alternatives:

  • Set charges on single-use plastics at a level which will achieve real change
  • Allocate revenues generated by any plastic charges to fund environmental conservation and improvements
  • Provide incentives to manufacturers to reduce single-use packaging and encourage environmentally-friendly alternatives
  • Phase-out the most harmful plastics that are most difficult to recycle

 Top tips for recycling at Christmas: 

  • Examine plastic packaging – Recycling symbols on packaging show what can be recycled. Check Recycle Now if you’re unsure of a symbol. All clear and coloured plastic bottles from the home can usually be recycled, including bleach products. The only things that can’t be recycled are chemical containers, like antifreeze, and you should take pumps off soap dispensers before recycling.
  • Maximise recycling space – fold down cardboard boxes and squash down cans and bottles to make as much space in your recycling bin as possible and avoid resorting to your waste bin.
  • Avoid putting plastic bags in recycling bins – Plastic bags are recyclable, but take these back to your local supermarket as they can clog up recycling sorting machines.
  • Scrunch-test your wrapping – All wrapping paper can be recycled, except metallic and glitter papers. You can use the ‘scrunch test’ – if you scrunch it and it stays in a ball, it can be recycled.
  • Sainsbury’s, in partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council UK, offer customers the opportunity to recycle their old Christmas cards, wrapping paper and Christmas lights in store from Boxing Day until 8 January 2018.