Alarming Facts and Figures on Christmas Packaging Waste – and How Much We Produce

Yes, the Christmas season is upon us once again, and it’s certainly a time for giving (and receiving), for delighting our taste buds with traditional Christmas feasts, and – for producing a whole lot of packaging waste.

It’s definitely not a pleasant fact to think about, but it’s all too true: Christmas is a time when we produce a significant amount of packaging waste; it’s alarming how much packaging we use during this festive season. To give you a better idea, here are some alarming facts and figures on Christmas packaging waste – and how much we produce.

Christmas trees in the UK

The UK alone produces as much as 300 million tonnes of packaging waste every year, and Christmas trees are no exception. Every single Christmas tree which is bought in the United Kingdom, on average, if lined up, will reach all the way to New York and back. Along with Christmas trees, we waste 4500 tonnes of that great Christmas staple, tin foil, and about 13300 tonnes of wrapping paper and glass – enough to circle the equator a total of 9 times.

Food packaging in the UK

About a million turkeys were eaten in the UK in 2016, which means that more than 3000 tonnes of packaging for the turkeys was used. Along with this, the UK consumes about 25 million tonnes of Christmas pudding annually, and the pudding often comes in packaging with a combination of cardboard and plastic.

Mince pies are another British staple, and according to the experts, we consume about 175 million pies each year, with each pie encased in aluminium, it amounts to a tonne. About half a million canned beverages are also consumed over the Christmas season, and just a single aluminium can produces enough energy to operate a set of lights for the Christmas tree for more than two hours.

A potential solution to the problem

But there’s good news, nevertheless. In recent days, there has been a lot of talk about the urban mine, where electronic waste (such as old cell phones, computers, and other gadgets and appliances) can be a source of valuable materials such as aluminium, iron, and copper. Rather than relying on mining in another country for raw metals, the UK can make use of processed metals which can be extracted by recyclers from electronic gadgets and appliances. In a recycling location in Switzerland, e-waste is already being processed; workers manually sort through the waste and this is then funneled through the facility so other workers can sort and separate various metals from the items.

Another solution to the problem would be to encourage consumers to return items they no longer want or need to a recycling facility, where they will receive a recycling fee (this is already done in Switzerland as well). Recycling is often the best way to deal with waste, and many firms and organisations are already learning and making use of its importance.

But whilst traditional recycling can still produce waste – the same recycling facility in Switzerland produces about 3 tonnes of dirt and dust every single day – the facility has a process where metals are extracted from the dirt and dust produced. One other solution, however, would be ‘closed loop recycling’ – a form of recycling where the actual waste and its by-products can be made use of to produce something new. What makes this process fascinating is its implications – its use could mean that manufacturers need no longer extract virgin material from the ground. So, in effect, a typical drink bottle, under this process, will be recycled (shredded) in order to make another drink bottle, a bag can be shredded in the same way, and so on.

Although recycling waste packaging can have its difficulties and challenges, the point remains: recycling and other methods of dealing with waste need to be explored further; by finding ways to prevent and reduce wasteful packaging, we can all appreciate this festive season – and any other season, for that matter – with less guilt.


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