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REVEALED: UK Holiday Waste Statistics (Plus Top Tips To Reduce Your Waste Footprint)

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Published date: 15 December 2021

With Christmas fast approaching, shops are filling with toys and treats for our nearest and dearest. Houses and high streets are laden with décor, including the all-essential centrepiece, the Christmas tree. Nationwide, fridges overflow with enough seasonal delicacies to keep us full for a month.

So much attention goes to the prepping and purchasing, but very little to the waste we use at this time of year – and other seasonal events too. Worryingly, much of this waste could sit in landfills for hundreds of years.

We’ve researched how much rubbish, including packaging waste, is produced by the UK every Christmas and compare this to other seasonal events, revealing that we use a staggering 338,251 tonnes of cardboard packaging, 35,877 tonnes of plastic, 1.3 billion cards and 269,423 miles of wrapping paper every year. Is there a way to celebrate with less waste?

 

(Click to enlarge)

Infographic of waste produced by Christmas, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Father's Day and Easter in the UK

 

The UK produces over 688,000 tonnes of Christmas waste every year, making it the most wasteful national holiday

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… and the most wasteful.

It should be no surprise that Christmas is the most wasteful seasonal event in the UK. 9 in 10 Britons – around 57.8 million people – celebrate Christmas, making it the biggest seasonal event in the UK with an annual spend of £24.4 billion. Between the copious gifts, cards, decorations, food and parties, Christmas waste is fifteen times the amount of any other celebration, with over 688,000 tonnes in food, plastic, cardboard and aluminium alone. (It puts the Grinch’s lair to shame!)

How much waste is produced at Christmas?

Here’s a breakdown of the Christmas waste we throw out each year:
289,171 tonnes of card packaging
125,000 tonnes of Christmas plastic waste
4,200 tonnes of foil from turkey wrapping
1 billion Christmas cards
227,000 miles of Christmas wrapping paper waste
270,000 tonnes of food waste, including 2 million turkeys, 5 million Christmas puddings, 74 million mince pies and 2.2 million kilograms of cheese
6 million Christmas trees
32.9 million advent calendars

 

How much waste is produced by other seasonal events?

 

Mother’s Day Waste

Mother’s Day is the second-largest gifting date in the UK — and the second most wasteful. 36.3 million Brits buy gifts for Mother’s Day, totalling £1.6 billion in total annual spend.

But our love for our mums isn’t great for Mother Nature, leading to a gargantuan pileup of packaging, food, flowers and more:
19,278 tonnes of cardboard packaging
8,333 tonnes of plastic
67 million cards, including 7.26 million gift cards
15,133 miles of wrapping paper
536,000 unwanted chocolates
5.5 million bottles of wine
8.4 million flower bouquets

 

Valentine’s Day Waste

Every year, up to 40 million lovebirds celebrate Valentine’s Day in the UK, spending £1.45 billion on tokens of affection:
17,316 tonnes of card packaging
7,485 tonnes of plastic
145 million cards
13,563 miles of wrapping paper
8.5 million chocolate gift sets
10.8 million takeaways
8.4 million flower bouquets

Easter Waste

36.3 million Brits celebrate Easter, causing over 4,300 tonnes of cardboard waste from Easter egg packaging alone. Here’s a breakdown of the UK’s annual Easter waste:
9,871 tonnes of card packaging
7,485 tonnes of plastic
33 million cards
7,592 miles of wrapping paper
2.88 million chocolate Easter eggs

Father’s Day Waste

National spending on Father’s Day is just a portion of that of Mother’s Day, but at £650 million it's still high enough to generate a mountain of cardboard, plastic, food, drink and gift waste each year:
2,815 tonnes of cardboard waste
3,378 tonnes of plastic waste
27 million cards
6,135 miles of wrapping paper

 

But don’t worry – we don’t need to cancel Christmas

Or any holidays for that matter! Whilst these numbers may seem staggering, the good news is plenty of holiday waste is preventable.

Cardboard, card, paper, aluminium and certain plastics can be recycled. This excludes polystyrene, plastic film, plastic tape and items with glitter, so try to avoid these items by switching to sustainable alternatives like eco-friendly tape or eco loose fill. Being mindful of the packaging you’re using by choosing recyclable options and disposing of it correctly is the best way to prevent waste from going to landfills and protecting the planet. If everyone recycles correctly, the UK’s gifting date waste will decrease by as much as 374,000 tonnes – roughly the same weight as 5,000 blue whales!

Additionally, you can help reduce the negative impact of seasonal event waste on the environment by:
Planning your food and meals carefully so that you don’t buy too much, and composting any waste you do generate. While food waste might not seem a big deal, studies show food losses and waste account for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions – around three times the global emissions from aviation.
Use reusable tote bags when doing Christmas shopping rather than buying plastic ones at each store.

Switch to sustainable packaging options this festive season — shop Packaging Online today. 

Method & Sources
Christmas statistics were found online:
https://blog.wayst.co.uk/articles/christmas-waste-statistics/
https://www.finder.com/uk/christmas-shopping-statistics#:~:text=According%20to%20our%20research%2C%20an,on%20Christmas%20gifts%20in%202019.
https://www.slough.gov.uk/bins-waste-recycling/christmas-recycling
https://www.hintonswaste.co.uk/news/christmas-waste-facts/
https://www.nlwa.gov.uk/24-days-waste-free-christmas/day-1
https://yougov.co.uk/topics/food/articles-reports/2019/12/01/how-many-adults-are-opening-advent-calendars-morni
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/16/cheese-uk-waste-mountain-christmas-borough-market

Other seasonal events statistics were calculated relative to Christmas waste (based on spending amounts of each gifting event) or were found using additional sources:
https://www.veolia.co.uk/nottinghamshire/Valentines
https://www.finder.com/uk/valentines-day-statistics
https://www.finder.com/uk/easter-spending-statistics
https://www.lesswaste.org.uk/2019/04/07/easter-waste-prevention-tips/
https://dontdisappoint.me.uk/resources/lifestyle/valentine-day-statistics-uk/
https://www.serenataflowers.com/en/uk/flowers/floral/mothers-day-spending
https://muchneeded.com/mothers-day-statistics/
https://www.evolutionmoney.co.uk/our-loans/joint-couple-loans/love-money-valentines-day-uk-advice

 
 

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