Green groups unite against ‘plague’ of Christmas rubbish

Lucy Purdy

UK environment and animal welfare charities are calling on businesses, governments and individuals to try harder to reduce waste – in particular plastic – this Christmas

Some 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be thrown away without being recycled in the UK this Christmas, while around 88 sq km of wrapping paper is likely to be used, enough to cover Brighton and Hove in gift wrap. The figures are being shared by a group of UK environment and animal welfare charities that have united to urge action on waste this festive season. They are urging businesses to slash wasteful packaging, governments to commit to measures to tackle plastic pollution, and for householders to use less plastic and recycle more. Plastics, foil and aerosols are the recyclables most likely to evade the recycling bin, they say.


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The UK uses around 300,000 tonnes of card packaging at Christmas, according to Wrap, while 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 5m tonnes – equivalent to around 450,000 double decker buses.

The charities are particularly keen to highlight plastic waste, as it degrades slowly and is having a huge negative impact on our oceans. 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.”

88 sq km of wrapping paper is likely to be used, enough to cover Brighton and Hove in gift wrap

Paul de Zylva, senior nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “Marking Christmas and the New Year can see our bins bulge with a third more waste. This season, let’s help cut threats to turtles and other sea life by getting drastic with plastic.”

The NGOs are urging the UK government to 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; and phase out the most harmful plastics that are most difficult to recycle.

The groups are calling on people to reduce excessive packaging waste this Christmas, and use natural materials where possible

5 Christmas recycling tips

1 Examine plastic packaging

Recycling symbols on packaging show what can be recycled. Visit 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 such as anti-freeze, and the advice is to take pumps off soap dispensers before recycling.

2 Maximise recycling space 

Fold 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.

This season, let’s help cut threats to turtles and other sea life by getting drastic with plastic

3 Avoid putting plastic bags in recycling bins 

Plastic bags are recyclable, but the groups advise people to take these back to supermarkets as they can clog up recycling sorting machines.

4 Scrunch-test your wrapping 

All wrapping paper can be recycled, except metallic and glitter papers. The ‘scrunch test’ can be useful: if you scrunch it and it stays in a ball, it can be recycled.

5 Recycle Christmas cards, paper and lights

Sainsbury’s, in partnership with the Forest Stewardship Council UK, offers customers the opportunity to recycle their old Christmas cards, wrapping paper and Christmas lights in store from Boxing Day until 8 January 2018.


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