An Often Over-Looked Part of Christmas
A list of fun (and serious) Christmas packaging facts…
It’s easy to forget about packaging during the festive season.
With the presents stacked high and the smell of turkey and Christmas pudding making its way through the house, it’s unlikely many of us will turn our thoughts toward the packaging of all of these gifts, food, and pleasantries.
However, when you start looking at the facts and figures associated with Christmas packaging, it can be both surprising and eye opening.
This article therefore sets out a wide selection of Christmas packaging facts. These have been updated for 2021, and take into account the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on Christmas in 2020.
The facts, figures and statistics are also broken down into a number of distinct topics, whilst there are a number of tips on how you can minimise waste and increase recycling during the festivities too.
Quick Reference / Contents
01: Christmas Food Packaging Facts
Just how much food (and packaging) do we get through at Christmas?
For many of us, overindulging in food (and / or drink!) is our favourite part of the Christmas season. However, the amount and type of packaging that these foods use is often given little thought.
As such, we’ve curated the below list of food packaging facts for you.
The Christmas Turkey
It is estimated that 10 million turkeys are consumed each Christmas.
This equates to 19,000 tonnes of turkey being cooked in the UK this festive season.
Breaking this down further around 6,711 tonnes of fresh turkey, and 12,472 tonnes of frozen turkey will be purchased / consumed.
This also means over 3,000 tonnes of turkey packaging will be used (with the plastic element of this alone being equivalent to the weight of 30 blue whales).
As well as this, UK consumers will also use more than 4,500 tonnes of tin foil when preparing and storing Turkey and other Christmas foods. This is the equivalent to the weight of 2,000 Rhinoceros!
7 in 10 people will readily admit to buying far more food than they need – and arguably the worst offender is the turkey. Around two thirds of people report that at least some it usually ends up in the bin.
Looking beyond just the Turkey, Unilever suggests that 4.2 million Christmas dinners were wasted in the UK (this figure relates to 2014, however).
Taking this 4.2 million figure, it would mean 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 portions of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts (more on them later!), 11.9 million carrots and 11.3 million roast potatoes are thrown away.
What this means in practice is that the equivalent of a whole plateful of food per household will end up going to waste on Christmas Day (along with at least another plateful in days immediately after).
And don’t forget the Turkey needs to be cooked. Gocompare.com Energy conducted research showing that cooking a turkey (which takes approximately five hours on average) will actually cost 1.5 times as much as a typical family’s electricity bill – for an entire day!
As such, UK-wide turkey cooking will generate around 14,000 metric tonnes of CO2 – or enough to fuel an entire household for a year.
Brussel sprouts (groan)
As well as the huge amounts of turkey, approximately 750 million individual Brussel Sprouts are sold in the run up to Christmas – the majority in disposable plastic bags.
In fact, 25% of the whole year’s sprout sales are in the two weeks before Christmas.
The area required to grow them is the size of over 3000 football fields.
If you lined all of the sprouts the UK buys for the festive period, they would stretch from London to Sydney.
However, it is estimated that of all the sprouts sold, only half are eaten.
Other sources suggest this means that 17.2 million Brussels sprouts will go uneaten.
This could however be due to the fact that 70% of the UK population carry a gene that makes the brain detect sharp, bitter flavours (resulting in a dislike of them).
If you took all of the sprouts wasted at Christmas, it could power a home for 3 years.
A whole lot more Christmas food
Sticking with the Christmas Dinner, pigs in blankets are partly responsible for almost 150 tonnes of polystyrene packaging at Christmas that can’t be recycled (double the weight of a Space Shuttle).
After the turkey, the UK will also eat 25 million Christmas puddings. The majority of which will be packaged in some form of plastic and cardboard packaging.
Besides this, Brits eat 175 million mince pies.
Putting this in perspective, 1 million mince pie cases equate to 1 tonne of aluminium material.
Not a fan of Christmas pud or mince pies? Well, Britons eat almost twice as much chocolate than our American counterparts over the festive period – much of which has excess packaging (see the food waste section further down).
A popular choice for seasonal party food is crisps. But did you know that all crisp packets made in the UK have a Saturday expiry date (this is due to manufacturing days if you were wondering)?
However, the Coronavirus restrictions in place during 2020 meant that spending on Christmas dinner actually fell by 5.3%.
And finally, a typical Christmas would also see 3,700 chefs working on the big day itself (along with 145,000 care workers, 82,000 nurses).
Food / food packaging waste
Across the world, approximately 1.6 billion tonnes of food goes to waste each year. This is around one-third of the total food produced (globally) by weight.
In the UK, a typical Christmas will see Brits throw away two million turkeys.
Five million Christmas puddings will also be discarded.
As mentioned above, 17 million Brussel sprouts will also be thrown away.
Some estimates suggest 74 million mince pies – of the total 175 million purchased – will also be chucked out.
And two million kilos of cheese will binned as well.
If all of this Christmas food waste was recycled into energy, it could power an average UK home for around 57 years.
Besides food waste, huge amounts of food packaging will also be discarded. This includes 300 million plastic cups and straws.
Consumer group Which has also found that packaging makes up approximately half of total weight of chocolate sold at Christmas (Ferrero Rocher for example is 42% packaging, 58% product!).
In total, around 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrapping used for food will also be discarded over the festive period.
02: Christmas Drinks Packaging Facts
Head-ache inducing statistics on the drink (and its packaging) consumed at Christmas
So we’ve covered Christmas food packaging facts (and the waste generated), but what about all the drink – including your favourite alcoholic tipples – consumed during the festivities?
This section provides a comprehensive list of Christmas drink / alcohol packaging facts.
Soft drink packaging & consumption
As many as 500 million canned drinks are sold over the festive period (on top of the baseline sales figures).
Recycling just one of these aluminium cans saves enough energy to run a set of Christmas tree lights for two whole hours!
Talking of drinks, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Coca Cola. But were you aware they began marketing and packaging for Christmas as far back as the 1920’s? One of their first adverts even featured Santa Claus drinking a Coke.
However, although it is commonly believed that Santa only started wearing red because of the fizzy drink, it is actually a myth. In fact, there are many portrayals of St Nick wearing a scarlet coat before Cola was even invented.
Sticking with the drinks giant, research published a few years ago indicated that 94% of the world population recognises the red branding of Coca-Cola. Even more remarkably, the name of the brand is the second most understood word globally (just after the phrase “okay”)!
Alcohol packaging at Christmas
Taking into account wine and other bottled drinks, 13,350 tonnes of glass is binned every year during December and January.
According to some estimates, this equates to 5 out of every 6 glass bottles being thrown away – even though they are widely collected and there being more than 50,000 bottle banks in the UK.
Every tonne of glass that is recycled saves approximately 246 kg of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
In fact, if all of discarded glass was recycled it could save 4,200 tonnes of CO2 – the same as taking 1,300 cars off the road every year.
Drink wine at the office Christmas party (COVID restrictions permitting) or to celebrate the day itself? Well, did you know that a wine bottle is the size it is (750ml) because it is the average capacity of a glassblower’s lungs?
Besides wine and spirits, the amount of beer consumed in the UK over Christmas would fill 57 Olympic sized pools.
Other estimates indicate that 250,000,000 pints of beer will be consumed over the holiday period.
This is perhaps not surprising, when you consider that on Christmas day itself, the majority of Brits will have poured themselves a glass of wine, champagne, or other alcoholic drink by – on average – 11:07am.
Although COVID restrictions hit spending on alcohol in pubs in 2020, spending on alcohol rose slightly. The big winners (in terms of supermarket sales) were San Miguel (+63%), Corona (+40%), and Budweiser and Stella (+18% respectively).
Bit too much alcohol made you think some karaoke was a good idea? The big three Christmas songs – ‘Last Christmas’, ‘Fairy-tale of New York’ and ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ – will be played 404,000,000 times (on UK radio) if you want to sing along.
And finally, if you have overdone it on the alcohol, a common remedy is to have a strong coffee in the morning. But were you aware that delightful aroma you smell after opening a jar is often the result of a special type of spray fragrance used under the lid?
03: Other Christmas Packaging Facts
Wrapping paper, toys, greetings cards and more…
As the sections above show, a lot of packaging (and waste) is generated just by Christmas food and drink alone.
However, the amount of packaging used – and potentially discarded – doesn’t stop there.
This next section highlights some of the other forms of packaging or material usage that is heightened during the Christmas season.
Consumers in the UK will use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year – over 83km2 of this will end up in our bins.
This in turn means that the average household will get through four rolls of wrapping paper each.
Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimate that the paper used each year is enough to wrap the island of Guernsey.
Alternatively, the amount of wrapping paper thrown away could reach to the moon – equivalent to 384,400 km.
However, this figure has dropped from that reported in 2016, when the amount of wrapping paper UK consumers are estimated to have used was enough to wrap around the world 22 times.
Regardless, Brits will bin – in total – what equates to 108 million rolls of wrapping paper each year.
Research by Greenpeace found that 1kg of wrapping paper is responsible for more that 3kg of CO2 emissions during its production process – largely due to the 1.3kg of coal needed to manufacture it.
Even worse, the vast majority of this paper could not be recycled, as a lot will contain plastic (either glitter or laminates)
On the theme of wrapping paper, the traditional Christmas colours (and so often used on gift wrap) are greens, reds, and golds. But did you know the human eye can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour?
What is often forgotten is that all of this wrapping paper creates a need for a lot of sticky tape as well – with some estimates putting this at around 40 million rolls!
This is the equivalent of a roll-and-a-half of sticky tape being used per household.
That’s a lot of card…
On average, each person in the UK will send / receive 17 Christmas cards.
However, other estimates say that an average of 24 Christmas cards (per person) will also be discarded once the festive period is over.
The Royal Mail estimates that it delivers 150 million cards during the Christmas period.
And other sources claim that one billion Christmas cards are sold in the UK each year.
It takes 1 tree to make 3,000 Christmas cards. Using the first estimate above, 1 tree is only enough for 176 people to send cards to their loved ones.
So if as many as 1 billion Christmas Cards will end up in bins, that is the equivalent of 33 million trees!
The total amount of Christmas cards sent, along with other card packaging used over Christmas, could cover Big Ben 260,000 times.
Put another way, 300,000 tonnes of card packaging / material will be used during the festive period.
This volume of card would stretch between London and Lapland (and back again) 103 times!
Sticking with this theme, the card packaging consumed at Christmas is enough to cover the Giants Causeway over 1,800 times.
Or finally, it would cover the London Eye almost 50,000 times.
Christmas gift packaging (and spending)
Christmas spending hit £78.5b in 2019, although spending specifically on gifts fell by 9.0% in 2020 (potentially due to Coronavirus restrictions and changed consumer behaviour).
An average UK adult will usually spend around £330 buying Christmas presents.
The average child in the UK will receive 16 gifts in total (the vast majority of which will include corrugated packaging).
This is despite UK consumers (around 39%) saying they’d be limiting themselves to shopping for between 5 and 10 people.
All of these toys and gifts generate a large amount of packaging themselves. But saying that, 80% of toy packaging is usually made from both paper and card – both of which are fully recyclable.
Other estimates suggest that only 1% of household packaging is toy packaging.
A lot of these toys will need batteries to work (much to many frantic parents’ chagrin on Christmas morning). Factoring in these and other gifts, people in the UK will use 189 million batteries over Christmas (and throw away seven batteries over this period).
At least one of the gifts you order online will have used bubble wrap as a protective layer for shipping (inside the outer ecommerce box), but did you know its original purpose was to be used as textured wallpaper?
Got a new iPhone or iPad? You are not alone – approximately 6.8 million iOS and Android devices are activated on Christmas day.
Talking of iPhones / iPads, your Apple device packaging was specially designed in a dedicated secret room (used for packaging only) at Apple Headquarters in California.
Games consoles are popular presents, but themselves generate a lot of packaging. The PlayStation 4 selling 18.5 million units in just 7 weeks during 2014 (the PS5 is expected to do similar this year) would have generated 18.5 square kilometres of packaging.
Put another way, PlayStation boxes would generate enough cardboard to cover central London (and this is before considering Xbox, Nintendo etc.).
Not everyone can get a PlayStation though. In fact, each year the UK spends a total of £700 million on unwanted presents!
As such, approximately £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents are thrown out in landfill each year.
And finally, around half of British adults still expect to receive an advent calendar (which consists of cardboard / plastic which can potentially end up in landfill).
Weird and wacky Christmas facts
DHL report that their busiest day at their depots / service points is 13th December (suggesting this is when most people begin their online Christmas shopping).
Similarly, Amazon receives 47 orders per second on their busiest day in the run up to Christmas.
If online shopping fails, there is always Santa to fall back on. Although he has his work cut out – his sleigh needs to travel at 2,340,000 mph to successfully visit every home on Christmas eve.
Not to mention the fact that his sleigh would weigh approximately 354,430 tonnes due to the volume of presents (and their packaging)!
Clearly not everyone gets the presents they want on Christmas day, however, with 2,590 people filing their online tax returns on December 25th in 2017.
Saying that, some will get an extra special present – 1,391 babies were born on Christmas Day in 2016 (in England and Wales).
And the shopping (and packaging generated) doesn’t stop on 25th December. UK consumers will spend 17,000,000 hours shopping online in the Boxing Day sales.
04: Christmas Packaging Waste
How much packaging (and other items) is discarded over Christmas?
We often discard rubbish without a second thought – not just at Christmas, but at any given time of the year. This means there are some informative (and arguably depressing) facts displaying exactly how much is thrown away.
An extra 30% of rubbish is produced and discarded throughout the festive period when compared with the rest of the year.
Biffa – a waste management company – also suggests that more than 100 million bags of rubbish are sent to landfill each Christmas.
Of this, it is estimated that three-and-a-half black bags full of festive packaging will be thrown out per household.
This additional waste equates to somewhere in the region of 3 million tonnes.
Part of the waste generated will be the 54 million platefuls of food discarded over the period (as highlighted previously).
The UK will also throw away approximately 500 tonnes of Christmas lights each year.
This is on top of the £42 million of unwanted Christmas presents are thrown out in landfill each year.
Brits will also bin what equates to 108 million rolls of wrapping paper.
400,000 tonnes of both paper and card / cardboard packaging weren’t collected for recycling from UK households in 2014 – even though they could have been.
Our friends across the pond are no better – with Americans throwing away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than any other period throughout the year.
More specifically, 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging (weighing as much as 5 Statue of Libertys) will be generated during the festive period in the UK.
In 2018, 114,000 tonnes of this plastic packaging (equivalent to the weight of 650,000 reindeers if you prefer) was thrown into landfill instead of being recycled.
Six in ten people say they don’t feel guilty about what they throw away over the festive period.
But, one in ten has rows with their family because of the amount of waste they produce.
And Go Ultra Low conducted a survey which suggested 72% were keen to reduce their plastic waste this Christmas.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of those most concerned about Christmas waste are either millennials (aged 24-35) or Gen Z (aged 18-24).
12,000 tonnes of the total waste generated this Christmas will be the 8 million Christmas Trees which people have bought specifically for the period.
Nordmann firs account for 80% of all real trees sold, which take around 10-12 years to grow to six ft. tall.
Other estimates put the number of trees thrown away at closer to six million, creating more than 9,000 tonnes of additional waste.
And WRAP estimates that 160,000 tonnes of trees are dumped each January.
The lower of these two estimates would still equate to a volume of Christmas trees weighing around five times as much as the London Eye!
14 per cent of people will even be binning their fake Christmas tree in any given year.
It has been calculated (by the Carbon Trust) that a 2-metre-high real Christmas tree will have a carbon footprint of 16 kg CO2 (if it ends up in landfill).
The Carbon Trust also found that an equivalent artificial tree has a carbon footprint of 40 kg CO2 – and typically cannot be recycled either.
05: Packaging Recycling Facts
Why it is so important to recycle as much as possible
The amount we choose to either recycle or discard has a direct impact on our environment.
So, not only this year but every year, why not consider the environmental impact of the products you consume with these thought-provoking sustainability facts.
General recycling facts
Just one single tonne of landfill costs £56 in taxes – this year’s potential tax bill for the disposal of the plastic, card, foil, and other materials could reach up to £168 million.
Household packaging waste is on average 20% by weight of the contents of your rubbish bin. However, when compressed in landfill all sources of packaging accounts for less than 5% by weight of the total waste.
Following the introduction of the 5p charge, plastic carrier bags now make up only 0.06% of waste sent to landfill.
If you were to drive a mile less per day, or turned your thermostat down by two degrees, you’d save enough energy to make the packaging for an average household’s whole year’s supply of packaged goods
Every UK council in the UK will accept paper for recycling, whilst 98% will accept card for recycling too.
However, many UK councils are now rejecting bins containing glitter altogether, deeming the entire load to be ‘contaminated’ (as glitter can clog up recycling machinery, and contaminate the recycled material which becomes unsellable).
If every single newspaper was recycled, it would save 250 million trees every year.
However, the average family throws away 6 trees of paper – if all of this was recycled it would require 70% less energy than making it from raw materials.
Just one tonne of recycled paper would save 17 trees, 18.7 square foot of landfill space, and a huge 4,000 kilowatts of electricity.
Hallmark, manufacturers of gift wrap and greetings cards, claim to use 100% recycled content for the cores of wrapping paper.
But damningly, the company suggests that while they have experimented with using recycled materials in their products, the results amongst consumers have been less than popular.
One recycled plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours.
But if you recycle one glass bottle, you will save enough energy to run a 100W bulb for 4 hours.
And in fact, if all of glass packaging used at Christmas was recycled, it would save approximately 4,200 tonnes of CO2.
This saving would be the same as taking 1,300 cars off the road every year.
Recycling a single glass jar will also save enough energy to power an iPad for 15 days.
And on the subject of glass jars, they are now on average 30% lighter than they were in 1980.
Cans & aluminium
Cans have also reduced material usage over the last 20 years – the thinnest part of an aluminium can is now the same thickness as a human hair.
Aluminium tins / cans can also be recycled over and over with no limit – it takes just 60 days for a can to be recycled and made into a new one.
06: Recycling Tips
How to alleviate the negative effects of Christmas packaging
Up to 70% of our waste can be recycled or reused… read below for our top tips on how to recycle this Christmas.
Recycling bin filling up too quick? Save on space by dropping items at your local recycling centre on your way to work or dropping the kids off – follow Recycle Now to find your nearest recycling location.
Save more space by flattening cardboard boxes / containers.
Remove the bows and ribbons before recycling wrapping paper – flattening this into a nice neat pile will also save you additional space.
All food should be emptied from card, paper, glass and tins to eliminate the risk of the recycling being rejected, although, you don’t need to be overly thorough.
Any card or paper with glitter on should not be recycled.
Remember to do the scrunch test – as not all types of wrapping paper can be recycled. The easiest way to determine this is to scrunch the wrapping paper in your hand, and if the paper remains scrunched it’s recyclable. If it springs back it’s more than likely to be covered with a plastic film which can’t be recycled.
All plastic bottles can be recycled, including shampoos, body washes etc.
Additionally, it’s not just cans and tins that can be recycled – most metallic items are also recyclable (this includes empty deodorants and even kitchen foil).
Finally, make it easier for loved ones to recycle by wrapping your gifts in brown paper and jazz up with stamps / ribbons etc. Alternatively, you can source 100% environmentally friendly / recycled wrapping paper from various companies.
07: The Effect of COVID Restrictions
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected Consumer behaviour at Christmas?
Obviously, a lot of the Christmas packaging facts and figures detailed on this page are taken from pre pandemic behaviour, surveys etc.
But how has Coronavirus affected consumer behaviour (and by extension the packaging generated)?
This next section highlights some key facts on how December 2020 was different from previous years, and what we may expect looking towards 2021.
Winners of Coronavirus restrictions
It has been widely reported that online retailers benefited most from the Coronavirus restrictions. In fact, overall online sales rose by 56% compared with 2019.
This meant that online spending was approximately £18,626m.
In November 2020 – in the face of a national lock down – the rise was even more acute, with online sales increasing by as much as 80% year on year (and resulting in cardboard shortages).
The share of retail sales made online also rose to 32.8%, compared to only 21.5% in Christmas 2019.
Food retailers (including Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys etc.) capitalised on Government curbs on pubs, restaurants, and cafes, and saw their overall sales increase by 3.0%.
Supermarkets reported that whilst footfall was down, spending per shopper was almost double what had been in 2019.
Spending on alcohol rose at these retailers, although perhaps not as much as expected (considering closures of pubs etc.).
Sales of household goods, hardware, paints, furniture, lighting, and floor coverings all increased significantly versus the previous 12 months.
And hearteningly, smaller stores in residential areas also saw increased spending (+7.2%). This may have been due to consumers wanting to support local businesses, or being more wary of travelling to larger stores.
Bricks-and-mortar stores had – as would have been reasonably predicted – a difficult Christmas in 2019. Retail stores suffered sales losses of 12.7% compared to the same 6-week Christmas period the previous year.
The average amount spent by consumers on Christmas gifts fell by around 9.0% overall.
Spending on Christmas dinner also saw a drop of 5.3% (although food retailers saw sales increase overall). This is likely due to limits on travel and family gatherings.
And as expected, spending on holiday travel fell significantly too.
08: Use of Packaging
Why is packaging so widespread?
The industrial revolution sparked the need for products to be protected as trading took off – 3 centuries later and packaging has evolved into the innovative product we see today.
The section below contains packaging facts that show how widespread packaging is in the present day.
General facts about packaging
Cardboard was first made in 1856 and has been used for custom shipping boxes– since 1903. This means that for more than a century, tailored shipping boxes have been a part of everyday life.
Today, the average person in the UK will handle over 50 types of packaging every single day.
52% of online shoppers, however, are more likely to purchase products again from the same company if the ecommerce packaging is personalised.
Additionally, these consumers will spend an average of 30% more online if shipping is included for free.
Whereas consumers who shop in-store are more likely to impulse buy a product without first researching it. Packaging can directly influence the decision to purchase one product over a competitors.
30% of businesses find that consumer interest rises when they pay attention to the details of their packaging
09: GWP Packaging
GWP’s Involvement with Recycling and the Environment
What the above facts highlight is that, whilst it is absolutely essential for getting your Christmas presents and goodies to you in one-piece, great care must be taken to ensure that packaging does not end up in landfill.
At GWP, we aspire to be as actively involved with recycling and protecting the environment as possible, as reflected in our ISO 14001/ ISO 14000 environmental management accreditations. We are also FSC® certified.
We demonstrate a proven track record in supporting the environment throughout all aspects of our business, maintaining environmentally friendly procedures.
Alongside our ISO 14001 and FSC® certifications, GWP has also installed automatic waste collection in order to dynamically encourage a waste- free manufacturing and designing process.
We also use initiative to provide environmentally friendly designs such as our eco-bins and fully recyclable packaging.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
GWP Group also takes a universal approach to sustainable packaging by reducing waste where possible by adhering to three main steps.
We actively seek new ways to reduce the extent of material that we use when designing and manufacturing our bespoke packaging and corrugated cardboard products.
We are constantly reviewing new applications for our range of reusable packaging products to reduce excess materials being produced.
And in terms of recycling, we aim to incorporate higher levels of recycled and renewable materials in all of our bespoke packaging designs whilst ensuring that our products are always as recyclable as possible.
Besides this, we take pride in our environmental management systems in relation to our business. We therefore aim to foster an integrated approach to protecting the environment with our products, whilst still ensuring optimum levels of performance.
Ho Ho Ho...
Merry Christmas from everyone at GWP
With that, the only thing left to say is that from everyone here at GWP Group, we wish you a very Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.
We hope you found these Christmas packaging facts interesting, and that you enjoy the festivities!