Such a load of festive rubbish! From cheese packed in plastic AND a cardboard sleeve to a Barbie doll that took 20 minutes to unwrap
From where I’m sitting, I’d say we’ve had a pretty rubbish Christmas this year — literally speaking.
I’m surrounded by the debris and detritus generated by a family of five during the festive season and believe me, it’s not a pretty sight.
There are four black sacks and two huge shopping bags brimming over with wrapping paper and bubble wrap, a cardboard city of boxes in all shapes and sizes, not to mention cardboard tubes, a ribbon spool, empty drink cartons and a heap of twisty wire that secured various toys in place.
It”s estimated that the amount of Christmas waste we”ve all produced would fill Big Ben 1,500 times
Then there are the plastic trays that some of the food came in, the plastic netting bags that were filled with clementines, satsumas and Brussels sprouts and the silver cups that cradled mince pies. The whole lot weighs an eyebrow-raising 33lb.
Everything, from the Christmas pudding to the crackers, has generated a mountain of unwanted packaging that is now all destined for the bin.
Britain produces the equivalent weight of 245 jumbo jets in packaging waste every week.
But as this sea of litter demonstrates, the problem is particularly acute at this time of year.
Seeing how much wrapping paper my own family got through, the latest Government statistics suddenly made sense.
Apparently over the past week, we will have binned 227,000 miles of Christmas paper — that’s enough to go round the world nine times.
The packaging from 10 million turkeys and 25 million Christmas puddings has also been binned and, in total, it’s estimated that the amount of Christmas waste we’ve all produced would fill Big Ben 1,500 times.
Of course, some of this waste can be recycled — 60 per cent of packaging is now reused. But even so, the potential bill for the taxpayer is set to run into several hundred million pounds.
There’s the cost of collecting and sorting the waste for a start and what does end up in landfill will cost us even more — a staggering 168 million — as councils now pay 56 for every ton of rubbish.
So while myself, my husband and our three daughters — Amelia, nine, Bea, six and Martha, two — may have had a lovely time with family and friends over the past week, the true cost of Christmas is quite staggering — and more than a little depressing.
I”d tried to avoid buying heavily packaged goods where I could over Christmas, but cheated a little with the catering
‘Your experience is typical of many households,’ Friends of the Earth waste campaigner Julian Kirby tells me.
‘Excess packaging is particularly annoying at this time of year, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“We need firm Government action to ensure products are built to last and that even more of our rubbish is collected for reuse and recycling.’
I’d tried to avoid buying heavily packaged goods where I could over Christmas, but cheated a little with the catering, splashing out on a few pre-prepared treats and nibbles from good old Marks & Spencer.
What I didn’t bargain for was the amount of packaging involved in buying 12 cocktail pizzas, a tray of miniature salmon bagels, a box of stollen bites and a selection of mini Christmas cupcakes.
Even the M&S macaroons I bought for a friend came in a plastic box with a cardboard sleeve over the top.
The cheese board also generated a mound of plastic wrapping — one of the blue cheeses I selected at Waitrose came in a plastic container AND a cardboard sleeve.
Under the 2003 Packaging Regulations Act, manufacturers and retailers are prohibited from using excess packaging. The materials should be limited to the ‘minimum adequate amount’ to ensure safety and hygiene.
But if my Christmas haul is anything to go by, this is clearly not happening.
For parents, it’s often the toys that generate the most packaging at Christmas.
The British Toy and Hobby Association in conjunction with WRAP, the Government’s waste reduction agency, says it has been closely monitoring the amount of packaging used to sell toys.
They’ve concluded that as toy packaging makes up less than one per cent of household packaging and around 80 per cent of this is paper or card which is recyclable, it isn’t one of the worst offenders.
But tell that to anyone who has spent 20 minutes trying to cut a Barbie free from a plastic-fronted box or assemble a toy that comes in separate parts, all individually wrapped, and they won’t believe it.
This Christmas, I bought a tiny dolly from the Early Learning Centre which was trussed up with twisty wire and sat on her own little cardboard plinth within a box.
Under EU legislation, local authorities are able to prosecute companies that over-package goods. But there have only been a handful of prosecutions so far
Ordering toys online means even more boxes. At least these can be recycled, although it is a trial having to flatten them all down and fit them in the recycling bin.
But the bubble-wrap and padding involved when I bought some last-minute stocking-fillers really was ridiculous.
Fed up with a house full of plastic toys, I bought my youngest daughter a cardboard playhouse only for it to arrive smothered in plastic and bubble-wrap.
My husband’s present, meanwhile — a pair of Hunter wellies — came in a huge box. Clearly, a smart box helps to justify the cachet and the hefty price tag.
Under EU legislation, local authorities are, in theory at least, able to prosecute companies that over-package goods.
But there have only been a handful of prosecutions so far, one of which was Office World, fined 2,000 for using boxes up to 14 times bigger than the items they contained.
Perhaps inevitably, some environmental campaigners are now taking matters into their own hands. Wastewatch, a website which promotes waste reduction, currently has a campaign called Pack It In to expose examples of excess packaging.
This includes a rogues’ gallery where consumers can post pictures of over-packaged goods.
So what do the stores have to say about all the rubbish they generate at this time of year
The operations director at John Lewis, Dino Rocos, says it’s all about striking the right balance.
‘We fully recognise our responsibility to ensure that customers receive their parcels in good condition, while taking reasonable measures to ensure that we do not use excess packaging,’ he says.
‘In the last year, we achieved 100 examples of “light-weighting” — using less material in our own-brand packaging.
“This includes removing plastic and polystyrene from eight lines of toys, reducing the card backing used for 30 lines of Cookshop products and reducing the plastic used for 30 lines of curtain poles.’
“M&S, meanwhile, claims to be ‘totally committed to reducing packaging’.
‘Since 2007 we have reduced our packaging by over 20 per cent and increased the amount that is recyclable to 92 per cent.
“We also use as much recycled packaging as possible,’ says a spokesperson, adding that recycling information is included on every pack to help customers.
The chain has also been involved in a recycling scheme in Somerset in conjunction with Somerset Waste Partnership, which has seen the collection of more than 5,000 tonnes of packaging — materials that would have previously gone to landfill or incineration.
But compared to the amount of waste Britain’s generated over the past week alone, this is a small drop in the ocean.
As far as environmental campaigners are concerned, the Christmas message is clear — retailers must cut down on the amount of packaging as a matter of urgency.
Maybe that way, mothers like me will be able to spend less time sorting out the recycling and more time watching our children play with the toys it once wrapped.