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Plastic-based decorations and wrapping
Plastic decorations

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Poly (mers)...

Christmas is ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but it’s also the most wasteful time of the year, according to a variety of sources; GWP Group claim that the UK generates around 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the festive period. So how can we maintain peace and joy over Christmastime, whilst still heeding the eco-conscious side of our brain? Here’s a few ways to reduce your plastic consumption over Christmas that you may not have already thought of, and some reasons why plastic may be more important than you think for your Christmas holiday.

Reducing plastic waste this festive season

There are a few tips for reducing plastic waste at Christmas which are becoming much more well-known, such as only using recyclable wrapping paper, avoiding glitter, avoiding plastic in Christmas crackers, and reducing use of disposable cutlery, but have you considered the below?

  1. Christmas Jumpers and Party Wear

Believe it or not, most of your clothing is made from synthetic fibres made from polymers (i.e. plastic) so most of the time when you introduce a new piece of clothing to your wardrobe, you are also increasing your plastic footprint!

Christmas jumpers and sparkly outfits are always an attractive prospect for a ‘treat yourself’ winter shopping haul, but do we really need new ones every year? Consider re-wearing old items of clothing or swapping clothes with a friend where you can. If you really need to buy new clothes, consider buying second-hand in charity shops or online, you could even sell off your old ones!

  1. Gift sustainably

Gifting sustainably and avoiding plastic-heavy gifts is a great way to reduce plastics at Christmas, and yes- this includes not gifting more reusable cups! Try to only buy items that you know will be used or gift an experience instead. If you’re gifted something that you don’t want, don’t throw it away, take it to a charity shop or sell it online instead, for example on an app like Vinted, or Hazaar, a zero-waste marketplace app designed for UoB students.

Additionally, if you are buying gifts for loved ones, choose to shop locally wherever possible rather ordering items for delivery, as this may reduce the need for additional packaging plastics in the shipping process with the added benefit or boosting your local economy.

  1. Decorations

This one may seem obvious, but many of our Christmas decorations are made from plastic and will therefore be with us for a long time, whether it’s in our lofts or landfill. Where possible, reuse any Christmas decorations you already own, or try swapping with a friend if you want to try something new. Research suggests that plastic-based artificial trees need to be used for at least 10-20 years AND recycled appropriately for them to rival real trees from an environmental perspective.

Again, if you are desperate for new decorations, try buying some second-hand and sell/donate yours on to someone new, too. Just because you don’t want them, doesn’t mean nobody else will! Hand-making your own decorations can make a fun Christmas activity too!

  1. Food packaging

We are all aware of the struggles of the Christmas food shop, and at this time of year in particular it is important that our veg stays fresh until the big day. This makes it very tempting to purchase plastic-wrapped produce instead of loose goods. However, a recent study by WRAP suggests that plastic packaging may not actually make food last any longer, but instead encourages buying more than you need and increases food waste.

This Christmas, why not try purchasing loose vegetables and see for yourself? If you’re worried about spoilage, you could always wrap your veg in beeswax food wraps once you arrive home as this should help to keep them fresh in the fridge.

  1. Remember, not everything can go in your recycling bin

A big message for all households this Christmas is to pay close attention to recycling labels and guidelines; not all plastics can go in your recycling bin! Remember that biodegradable and compostable does not mean recyclable, and any soft plastics should be taken to the supermarket for recycling (there is usually a collection bin at the front of the store). If plastics recycling is ‘contaminated’ with non-recyclable goods, this can cause the entire load to be sent to landfill, so it’s important that we avoid contamination at all costs.

If you’re unsure on what you can recycle at home, RecycleNow have a handy tool which tells you what you can recycle in your postcode, as well as explaining what each recycling label means.

So… can I really go plastic-free?

Well… it depends on what you mean. If you’d like to spend Christmas inside your furnished home, wearing clothes and watching Christmas specials, probably not. Plastics are ubiquitous in our lives today and often present unique benefits that other materials cannot. In fact, you may be reading this on a plastic-based device right now!

Whilst we should all do our bit to reduce our consumption of single use and unnecessary plastics at Christmas and throughout the year, we can also take an opportunity this Christmastime to be thankful for the role plastics play in enabling our modern lifestyles; the car you drive, the pipes that transport clean water to your home, and the insulation keeping you warm indoors! Perhaps there are even people sat around the table who have their lives to show for the exceptional transformation that plastics have enabled within the healthcare industry; from PPE and blood bags to IV tubes and heart valves, plastic has been a game-changer in the health industry due to its unique properties, including its ability to safely guard against contamination.

Plastic has its pros, and it certainly has its cons, so here at the Birmingham Plastics Network, we encourage you to have a sustainable Christmas, keeping in mind reduce, reuse, recycle – reducing unnecessary plastics, reusing any plastic decoration and gifts, and recycling essential plastics responsibly. Happy holidays!