Here’s to a Green Christmas

Christmas Waste – The Stats1, 6

  • 277,000 miles of wrapping paper are wasted every Christmas;

  • 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging is thrown away at Christmas;

  • 5 million Christmas puddings are thrown away every year;

  • 2 million turkeys are wasted around Christmas time;

  • 1 billion Christmas cards are thrown out every Christmas;

  • 74 million mince pies are thrown away;

  • 250 tonnes of Christmas trees are thrown out every January;

  • 13,350 tonnes of glass waste is thrown away at Christmas;

  • 500 tonnes of old Christmas tree lights are thrown out every year;

  • 4500 tonnes of foil is thrown out per year; and

  • 16 million Christmas crackers are wasted.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… But according to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) estimates, Christmas is also the most wasteful time of the year8.

Statistics show that in the UK alone approximately 1 billion Christmas cards are thrown out after December 25th each year, 2 million turkeys are wasted around Christmas time and 74 million mince pies are thrown away1. So why do we break the bank during December, and then still continue to waste so much of what we buy? Perhaps it is from the stress of not having enough food to serve to family and guests and therefore overbuying, or perhaps it is that we don’t know how to make Christmas more sustainable. As it only comes once a year, studies show that people tend to discard their routines and lifestyle habits including health, fitness, work ethic and sustainability and substitute it for a more laid back or even lazy attitude. As a result of this, WRAP anticipate households in the UK to produce approximately 750,000 tonnes of extra waste at Christmas time, generating 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 in total8.

What are the effects of increased waste?

As well as increased CO2 emissions contributing to the greenhouse effect, the impact of unsustainable Christmas living is increased strain on landfills and recycling facilities for space. The economic, social and environmental costs of sending material to disposal and even to be recycled are far greater than prevention of waste and reuse. According to the Waste Hierarchy, disposal is the least favourable option when managing waste and prevention and reuse are often the most preferred2. Prevention includes using less material and keeping products for longer, which is a more efficient use of resources, whereas reuse involves cleaning, repairing and using spare parts. Studies also show that people are likely to overspend on grocery and gift shopping at Christmas time as a result of poor planning for the holiday5.


Case Study: Middlesbrough Christmas Fly tipping

In December 2014, more than 40 tonnes of Christmas household waste was dumped at the Parkway Centre recycling site, Middlesbrough. The bins at the site which are marked for household recycling categories were overflowing with tonnes of non-recycling waste which had to be cleared by a team of council staff. This put a strain on normal cleaning schedules at the site which are already reduced at this time of year. The local council have warned that fly-tipping is a criminal offence and that people caught on CCTV footage will be prosecuted. The council were unsure, however, about how and why the site got to the state it was in and local residents suggested on social media that it was due to a combination of excess waste accumulation at Christmas and a reduced local waste service over the holidays3.
Many councils now have advice on how to be more sustainable around the Christmas period. For example, Durham County Council advise local residents to buy artificial Christmas trees or buy real Christmas trees from a sustainable grower4.

Tips for a more sustainable Christmas

  • The most important method is to PLAN ahead to ensure no over-buying and over-spending and therefore less waste.
  • Shred your wrapping paper to use as protective material for future fragile gifts6.
  • Wrapping paper also works well as cleaning material for windows and mirrors6.
  • Cut out the picture/pattern on your Christmas cards to use as gift labels, or as arts and crafts materials6.
  • Use LED lights for Christmas trees which use up to 90% less energy than standard bulbs7.
  • Consider sending e-Cards instead of paper ones – they can be more personalised and much more sustainable7.
  • Use an artificial tree as opposed to a real one7.
  • Reuse leftovers rather than throwing them away. You don’t have to eat a roast dinner or turkey sandwich every day in January, there are a number of Christmas leftover recipes including those listed on the BBC website:
  • If you aren’t able to prevent or reuse waste, reduce the amount send to landfill disposal by recycling and separating compost waste.

1. Vallely, L (2014). 12 Days of a Sustainable Christmas.
2. Defra (2011). Guidance on applying the Waste Hierarchy.
3. Brown, M (2014). Dumped: More than 40 TONNES of Christmas waste is tipped at Parkway Centre. The Gazette Live.
4. Durham County Council (2014). Reduce your waste at Christmas.
5. The Guardian (2012). It’s time to cut the obscene amount of Christmas waste.
6. Rubin, J (2014). Christmas waste statistics – making Christmas green.
8. Aldred, J (2007). Tread Lightly: Reducing Waste over Christmas. Ethical and Green Living, Environment, the Guardian.