Christmas songs are in the air and supermarket aisles are fit to burst – the festive season is upon us. But many may view the shiny, plastic-wrapped goods on the shelves through a different lens this year thanks to growing concern over plastic pollution.
Each year, the UK produces over 2.3m tonnes of plastic packaging and over 4.7m tonnes of paper and cardboard, with only 45% of plastic being recovered and recycled. Waste production peaks over the Christmas holidays, with a 30% increase in plastic use, such as packaging and plastic products, and Britons bin the equivalent of 108m rolls of wrapping paper.
A survey last year found that 84% of consumers were worried about the amount of plastic packaging used on gifts at Christmas, with 22% of those surveyed stating there was too much waste generated by their households to recycle all of it and 37% confused about what can be recycled.
It’s easy to forget the implications of plastic once our waste has been binned, but significant volumes of the plastic waste we generate this Christmas will remain in the environment for hundreds of years.
However, the Plastics Collaboratory, a joint research effort by academics in different fields at the University of Hull, have come up with 12 ways you can reduce your plastic use this Christmas.
1. Christmas cards
Over one billion Christmas cards are sold every year in the UK, but many are not recycled. Cards are often embellished with plastic and glitter, which makes them non-recyclable. You can tear off parts that can’t be recycled, but making your own cards is much more cost effective, personal and fully recyclable. All you need is recycled plain card, ink stamps, crayons and your imagination.
2. Christmas decorations
Although most plastic-based decorations are used over several years, many (such as tinsel) degrade over time, releasing plastic fragments. An alternative is to use string and natural materials, such as pine cones and fruit, which look good and reduce plastic at the same time.
3. Christmas wreaths
Plastic-based floral foam is often used as a backing to hold christmas wreaths together, which crumbles into small microplastics over time. Make sure you buy wreaths that include natural moss. Or, you can make your own wreath, which can be used for years, using natural materials.
4. Christmas trees
You’d have to use an artificial plastic tree for over ten years to reduce the carbon footprint to that of a real tree. But the best option of all is to buy a potted tree which you can plant out and re-pot every year.
5. Mince pies
In the UK, consumers buy an estimated 370m mince pies over the holidays yet consume only 80% of them – 74m go uneaten! Around 62m plastic trays are needed to hold all the pies that are sold. The best solution is to make your own.
6. Secret Santa
Secret Santa is a great tradition, but often results in people trying to buy silly gifts that are cheap and tacky and often made of plastic that is quickly thrown away. A nice alternative could be a refillable gift stored in a glass jar, such as hot chocolate or pancake mix.
7. Wrapping paper
Enough wrapping paper to wrap around the equator nine times is sold each year in the UK. Unfortunately, much of this paper contains glitter and plastic films which make them non-recyclable. You can test this using the scrunch test – if the paper has no glitter on it and scrunches up you can recycle it. But an easier alternative is making and decorating your own, with recycled brown paper and string, which is fully recyclable.
8. Reindeer food
“Reindeer food” has become a popular craft activity for families at Christmas, often made from porridge oats and glitter that is spread in the garden for Santa’s reindeers. Glitter is technically a microplastic and cannot be recycled, but there are natural alternatives such as the mineral mica which has the same effect without the environmental impact.
9. Christmas stockings
Gone are the days of the small fabric stockings that dangle at the end of the bed. Now it’s all about huge synthetic stockings that brim with presents and flashing lights. By using felt, old pillow cases or even old socks you can recreate your own plastic-free personal stockings which children will cherish for years to come.
10. Christmas crackers
The majority of Christmas crackers are laden with teeny, tiny plastic gifts. With over 150m crackers pulled each year, that’s a lot of plastic waste with a few hours of lifespan before the rubbish bin. Make your own crackers and fill them with homemade hats, dad jokes and tiny games such as bingo or origami frog racing for a fun and unique alternative.
11. Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner comes with a huge amount of plastic packaging. Even when you attempt to be good and buy loose vegetables at the supermarket, most retailers still only have single use plastic bags to hand. Worry not – all you need is a lightweight material, such as an old pillow case and you can make your own veggie bags that you can use again and again.
12. Advent calenders
You have 12 months to get ready for next year. Instead of buying an advent calendar wrapped in plastic and with chocolate in plastic moulding, why not make your own? One design features 24 matchboxes filled with chocolate and wrapped in card.