Britons will use enough wrapping paper this Christmas to cover Brighton and Hove and throw out five million tonnes of waste, “truly staggering” figures by a collective of environment and animal welfare charities have revealed.
The charities are calling for businesses to slash wasteful packaging, for governments to commit to a raft of measures to tackle plastic pollution in the New Year and for the public to help cut the “plague of plastic pollution” this Christmas by using less and recycling more.
The calls come as Wildlife and Countryside Link published new estimates on Tuesday showing the “startling scale” of plastic and other waste that will be discarded this holiday season and follows “disturbing images” showing the impact of plastic on sealife in the last episode of Blue Planet II.
The figures reveal:
• Around 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will be thrown away and not recycled - which is more than the weight of 3.3 million Emperor penguins.
• Around 88-square-kms of wrapping paper is likely to be used - enough to cover either Brighton and Hove, Coventry, Newport, Preston, Reading, Sunderland or Swansea.
• The UK uses 300,000 tonnes of card packaging at Christmas - the equivalent weight of two million reindeer.
• 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 five million tonnes - equivalent to around 450,000 double-decker buses.
Plastic waste, is of particular concern to the charities as it degrades “so slowly and is having such a devastating impact on our oceans”.
The charities are calling for strong commitments from businesses and governments 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, Ocean Campaigner at Greenpeace, said at Christmas it is clear to see “just how much plastic packaging there is, and how little of it is genuinely useful”.
Edge made the point that plastic packaging “isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life” as highlighted in the recent BBC series, ‘Blue Planet II’, which showed waste having an impact long after it met its intended purpose.
“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,” Edge urged.
Sally Hamilton, Director of whale and dolphin charity ORCA, called the figures “truly staggering” and said without a “collective effort” much of the Christmas waste “will find its way into our beautiful natural spaces, causing untold devastation in the process”.
Dr Elaine King, Director at Wildlife and Countryside Link, said while waste “can be invisible to us once it’s in the bin,” it has a long lifecycle.
“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.”
Christmas is the “most wasteful time of year” the charities warned, saying that high proportions of waste “which could be recycled” is binned instead.
Plastics, foil and aerosols are the recyclables most likely to “evade the recycling bin” and almost two thirds of the UK population say “uncertainty” over what can be recycled leads them to put items in the waste bin, the charities said.
Despite the warnings, the amount of waste being produced at Christmas has fallen slightly during the past decade, from 125,000 tonnes to 114,000.
While crediting the public with the reduction the charities said there was only “so much” consumers can do, saying the onus should be on governments across the four nations and businesses to take a leading role.
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.
The NGOs also released “top tips” for consumers to help recycle more this 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