UK Christmas statistics
Over 100 fun facts about Christmas packaging and waste
If you’re interested in consumer behaviour or concerned about the environmental impact of the festive season, some of these Christmas packaging facts and waste statistics are mind-boggling.
Barely believable Christmas packaging facts include the UK using 300,000 tonnes of card, enough to cover Big Ben 260,000 times. As much as 114,000 tonnes – equivalent to 650,000 reindeer – of plastic packaging goes to landfill. And UK Christmas waste statistics suggest a typical household generates over three black bags of packaging each Christmas.
Yet it is easy to forget about packaging during the festive season.
This article sets out a wide selection of Christmas packaging facts, organised into several topics for 2023. There are several tips on minimising waste and increasing recycling, too.
Christmas in numbers
The top 10 Christmas packaging waste facts
The top 10 Christmas packaging waste facts for 2023 are:
- UK consumers bin 13,350 tonnes of glass over the festive period.
- Brits eat approximately 175 million mince pies over Christmas, using 175 tonnes of aluminium packaging.
- The UK uses 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year.
- The card material used at Christmas would stretch between London and Lapland over 100 times.
- The amount of cardboard used to package Playstation, Nintendo, and Xbox consoles covers an area larger than central London.
- Eight million Christmas (around 12,000 tonnes) become waste after the festivities.
- On their busiest day in the run-up to Christmas, Amazon receives 47 orders per second.
- UK residents send around 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging to landfills instead of being recycled.
- UK households throw away three-and-a-half black bags full of Christmas packaging.
- The average person in the UK handles over 50 types of packaging every single day.
Christmas card and packaging facts
How many Christmas cards are sent each year in the UK?
The Royal Mail estimates that it delivers 150 million cards during the Christmas period. On average, each person in the UK sends and receives 17 Christmas cards. Other sources claim that one billion Christmas cards are sold in the UK annually.
Other Christmas card and card packaging facts include:
- A typical UK resident discards 24 greeting cards after Christmas.
- One tree makes 3,000 Christmas cards, meaning a single tree is enough for only 176 people to send cards.
- If as many as 1 billion Christmas Cards end up in bins, that is the equivalent of 33 million trees.
- Consumers and businesses use 300,000 tonnes of card packaging and material during the festive period.
- The amount of card material (cards and packaging) used over Christmas could cover Big Ben 260,000 times.
- The volume of card used in the UK at Christmas would stretch between London and Lapland (and back again) 103 times.
- The card packaging used at Christmas is enough to cover the Giants Causeway over 1,800 times.
- The amount of card used over Christmas could also wrap the Angel of the North approximately 2 million times.
- The card packaging used in the UK each year would cover the London Eye almost 50,000 times.
Wrapping paper waste statistics
How much wrapping paper is used at Christmas?
Consumers in the UK use 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year. The average household uses four rolls of wrapping paper. Over 83km2 of wrapping paper ends up in bins.
Other statistics on wrapping paper include:
- Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimate that the paper used each year is enough to wrap the island of Guernsey.
- The amount of wrapping paper the UK uses has reportedly dropped since 2016 when it was enough to wrap around the world 22 times.
- Brits bin the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper each year.
- The amount of wrapping paper thrown away could reach the moon – equivalent to 384,400 km.
- A large proportion of wrapping paper cannot be recycled, as much contains plastic (glitter or laminates).
- Research by Greenpeace found that 1kg of wrapping paper is responsible for more than 3kg of CO2 emissions during its production process (primarily due to the 1.3kg of coal needed to manufacture it).
- Traditional Christmas colours 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?
How many rolls of sellotape are sold at Christmas?
Estimates indicate that the UK uses around 40 million rolls of sellotape each Christmas. On average, every UK household uses a roll-and-a-half of sticky tape each. As a whole, the UK uses a million rolls of tape on Christmas Eve alone.
Christmas gift packaging (and spending) facts
How much does the UK spend on Christmas gifts?
An average UK adult spends around £300 buying Christmas presents. Total spending on Christmas gifts was £20.1 billion in 2022. 39% of UK consumers limit themselves to shopping for between 5 and 10 people.
Other facts on UK spending on Christmas gifts include:
- The average child in the UK receives 16 gifts (mostly in corrugated packaging).
- Christmas spending on gifts was £26.9 billion in 2019
- Spending specifically on gifts fell by 9.0% in 2020 to £24.2 billion
- Spending on gifts increased in 2021, although it was still below pre-pandemic levels at £25.6 billion.
- The cost of living crisis meant spending on gifts dropped to £20.1 billion in 2022.
How much packaging is generated by Christmas gifts each year?
Estimates suggest that only 1% of overall household packaging is toy packaging. Around 80% of toys use card and paper packaging, which is fully recyclable.
Similar Christmas packaging facts also include:
- The PlayStation 4 sold 18.5 million units in just seven weeks in 2014 (industry experts expect the PS5 to do similar this year), generating 18.5 square kilometres of packaging.
- PlayStation boxes would generate enough cardboard to cover central London (and this is before considering Xbox, Nintendo, etc.).
- Approximately 6.8 million people activate iOS and Android devices on Christmas Day.
- Apple device packaging is specially designed in a dedicated secret room (used for packaging only) at Apple Headquarters in California.
- At least one of the gifts you order online will likely use bubble wrap as a protective layer for shipping (inside the outer eCommerce box), but did you know its original purpose was a textured wallpaper?
- People in the UK use 189 million batteries over Christmas (and throw away seven batteries over this period).
How many unwanted Christmas gifts are given each year?
Each year, the UK spends £700 million on unwanted Christmas gifts. Consumers throw away approximately £42 million of unwanted presents each year (most end up in landfill). Of all purchases made in the UK for Christmas, only 1% will still be used six months after the big day.
Christmas packaging waste statistics
How much waste is produced at Christmas?
The UK typically produces and discards an extra 30% of waste throughout the festive period compared to the rest of the year. Typical UK households throw away three-and-a-half black bags of festive packaging. More than 100 million bags of rubbish go to landfills each Christmas.
Other shocking Christmas waste statistics include:
- The additional waste from Christmas equates to approximately 3 million tonnes.
- The UK discards 54 million platefuls of food over the period.
- The UK throws away approximately 500 tonnes of Christmas lights each year.
- £42 million worth of unwanted Christmas presents are sent to landfills annually.
- Brits bin the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper.
- Four hundred thousand tonnes of paper and card or cardboard packaging weren’t collected for recycling from UK households in 2014 – even though they could have been.
- Biffa – a waste management company – suggests that collectively, people send more than 100 million bags of rubbish to landfills each Christmas.
- Americans throw away 25% more trash from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than any other period.
- Six in ten people say they don’t feel guilty about what they throw away over the festive period.
- One in ten people have rows with their family because of the amount of waste they produce.
- Those most concerned about Christmas waste are millennials (aged 24-35) or Gen Z (aged 18-24).
Plastic waste at Christmas
The UK generates around 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the festive period. The weight of plastic packaging not recycled in the UK is equivalent to 650,000 reindeer. 72% of UK residents are keen to reduce their plastic waste this Christmas.
Other plastic waste facts to consider this Christmas include:
- The amount of plastic packaging consumers use each Christmas weighs five times as much as the Statue of Liberty.
- In 2018, consumers sent 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging to landfills instead of being recycled.
- A lesser-known source of plastic – Christmas jumpers – are often also discarded.
- Around 50% of the plastic microfibres escape from Christmas jumpers during the first wash.
- Go Ultra Low conducted a survey which suggested 72% were keen to reduce their plastic waste this Christmas.
How many Christmas trees are wasted each year?
The 8 million Christmas trees bought in the UK specifically for the festive period generate twelve thousand tonnes of waste. The weight of discarded Christmas trees weighs around five times as much as the London Eye. Fourteen per cent of people also bin their fake Christmas trees in any given year.
Similar facts on Christmas tree waste include:
- WRAP estimates that the UK dumps 160,000 tonnes of trees each January.
- Other estimates put the number of trees thrown away at 6 million, creating more than 9,000 tonnes of additional waste.
- Nordmann Firs account for 80% of all real trees sold, which take around 10-12 years to grow to six feet tall.
- It has been calculated (by the Carbon Trust) that a 2-metre-high real Christmas tree has 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.
- Rotting Christmas trees also produce 100,000 tonnes of methane whilst decomposing (25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas).
Christmas recycling facts
General recycling facts
This year’s potential tax bill for the disposal of 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. Just one single tonne of landfill costs £56 in taxes.
Other Christmas recycling facts to consider include:
- All sources of packaging account for less than 5% by weight of the total waste when in landfills.
- Following the introduction of the 5p charge, plastic carrier bags now make up only 0.06% of waste sent to landfill.
- If you drive a mile less daily or turn 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.
Facts on paper recycling in the UK
The average family throws away six trees of paper each year. Yet recycling all the paper an average UK family uses would require 70% less energy than making it from raw materials. Every UK council in the UK accepts paper for recycling, whilst 98% accept card material for recycling too.
Other statistics on paper recycling include:
- Recycling every single newspaper would save 250 million trees annually.
- One tonne of recycled paper saves 17 trees, 18.7 square feet of landfill space, and a vast 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.
- Experiments with using recycled materials in Hallmarks products found the results less popular amongst consumers.
- UK councils reject bins containing glitter altogether, deeming the entire load ‘contaminated’.
- Glitter can clog up recycling machinery and contaminate the recycled material (which becomes unsellable).
Glass recycling facts
The CO2 savings from recycling all glass used in the UK at Christmas would be the same as taking 1,300 cars off the road annually. Recycling a single glass jar saves enough energy to power an iPad for 15 days.
Other glass recycling facts relating to Christmas include:
- One recycled plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours.
- One recycled glass bottle saves enough energy to run a 100W bulb for 4 hours.
- If the UK recycled all of the glass packaging used at Christmas, it would save approximately 4,200 tonnes of CO2.
- Glass jars are now, on average, 30% lighter than in 1980.
Recycling cans and aluminium
It takes just 60 days for a can to be recycled and made into a new one, and you can recycle aluminium tins over and over with no limit. The thinnest part of an aluminium can is now the same thickness as a human hair.
Christmas food (and packaging) facts
How many turkeys are eaten at Christmas in the UK?
Estimates suggest that UK consumers purchase (and eat) 10 million turkeys each Christmas. UK consumers purchase around 6,711 tonnes of fresh turkey and 12,472 tonnes of frozen turkey. The amount of turkey sold uses 3,000 tonnes of packaging.
Other statistics on turkey consumption at Christmas (and its packaging) are as follows:
- UK residents cook 19,000 tonnes of turkey over the festive period.
- The plastic element of all Turkey packaging is the equivalent weight of 30 blue whales.
- UK consumers typically use over 4,500 tonnes of tin foil when preparing and storing Turkey and other Christmas foods.
- This amount of foil used for cooking and storing Christmas food is equivalent to the weight of 2,000 Rhinoceros.
- 7 in 10 people readily admit to buying far more food than they need.
- Around two-thirds of people report that at least some turkey usually ends up in the bin.
- Gocompare.com Energy conducted research showing that cooking a turkey (which takes approximately five hours on average) costs 1.5 times as much as a typical family’s electricity bill for an entire day.
- UK-wide turkey cooking generates around 14,000 metric tonnes of CO2.
- The energy used to cook Christmas turkeys in the UK is enough to fuel an entire household for a year.
- The carbon footprint of cooking all these Christmas dinners is the same as a single car travelling around the globe 6,000 times.
How many Brussels sprouts are eaten at Christmas in the UK?
There are sales of approximately 750 million individual Brussels Sprouts leading up to Christmas. 25% of the entire year’s sprout sales are in the two weeks before Christmas. Estimates indicate that consumers only eat half of all the sprouts sold.
Other barely believable Brussels sprouts facts include:
- The area required to grow Brussels sprouts eaten at Christmas (the majority sold in single-use plastic bags) is the size of over 3,000 football fields.
- If you lined up all of the sprouts the UK buys for the festive period, they would stretch from London to Sydney.
- Some sources suggest that 17.2 million Brussels sprouts go uneaten.
- 70% of the UK population carries a gene that makes the brain detect sharp, bitter flavours, resulting in a dislike of sprouts’ taste.
- All the sprouts wasted at Christmas could power a home for three years.
- How many Christmas puddings are sold in the UK on average?
- The UK eats 25 million Christmas puddings each year. The majority of these use plastic and cardboard packaging. UK residents discard approximately 750,000 portions of Christmas pudding over the festive period.
How many mince pies are eaten in the UK?
The UK eats approximately 175 million mince pies annually. One million mince pie cases equate to one tonne of aluminium material, meaning the use of 175 tonnes of aluminium for their packaging.
Other Christmas food consumption statistics
Other Christmas food consumption statistics include:
- Pigs in blankets are partly responsible for almost 150 tonnes of polystyrene packaging at Christmas that you can’t recycle.
- The amount of polystyrene packaging used at Christmas is double the weight of a Space Shuttle.
- Consumers throw away around 7.1 million pigs in blankets over Christmas.
- Britons eat almost twice as much chocolate as our American counterparts over the festive period.
- Around half of British adults still expect to receive an advent calendar (which consists of cardboard and plastic, which can potentially end up in landfill).
- 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 (due to manufacturing days)?
- A typical Christmas sees 3,700 chefs working on the big day itself (along with 145,000 care workers and 82,000 nurses).
Christmas food waste facts (UK)
How much food is wasted at Christmas?
As many as 4.2 million Christmas dinners are wasted in the UK. Consumers discard 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 portions of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.9 million carrots and 11.3 million roast potatoes. More than one in every seven UK consumers purchases more food than they need.
Other facts and statistics on Christmas food waste, many of which are astonishing, include:
- In the UK, a typical Christmas sees Brits throw away two million turkeys.
- Five million Christmas puddings go to waste in the UK each year.
- UK residents throw 17 million Brussels sprouts away.
- The equivalent of a whole plateful of food per household goes to waste on Christmas Day, along with at least another plateful in the days immediately after.
- Some estimates suggest 74 million mince pies – of the total 175 million purchased – are also likely discarded.
- UK consumers bin two million kilos of cheese each Christmas.
- If you were to recycle all Christmas food waste into energy, it could power an average UK home for around 57 years.
- UK consumers discard vast amounts of food packaging, including 300 million plastic cups and straws.
- Consumer group Which found that packaging makes up approximately half the total weight of all chocolate sold at Christmas (Ferrero Rocher, for example, is 42% packaging and 58% product).
- Around 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrapping used for food is discarded over the festive period.
- Around 40% of groceries and Christmas food is sold as part of a sales promotion (i.e. reduced prices or multibuy offers), leading to overspending.
- Across the world, approximately 1.6 billion tons of food go to waste yearly.
- The amount of food wasted annually is roughly one-third of the total food produced (globally) by weight.
How much do Brits drink at Christmas?
How much soft drink packaging is used at Christmas?
Retailers sell 500 million canned drinks over the festive period on top of the baseline sales figures.
Besides this, other facts on soft drinks and their packaging include:
- Recycling one aluminium can saves enough energy to run a set of Christmas tree lights for two hours.
- Although a common belief is that Santa only started wearing red because of the fizzy drink, this is actually a myth.
- Research published a few years ago indicated that 94% of the world population recognises the red branding of Coca-Cola.
- The Coca-Cola brand name is the second most understood word globally (just after the phrase “okay”).
How much alcohol is drunk in the UK over Christmas?
The amount of beer consumed in the UK over Christmas would fill 57 Olympic-sized pools. Other estimates indicate that Brits drink 250,000,000 pints of beer over the holiday period. On Christmas day itself, most Brits have poured themselves a glass of wine, champagne, or other alcoholic drink by – on average – 11:07 am!
This level of consumption creates a large volume of packaging waste, such as:
- UK residents bin 13,350 tonnes of glass (from wine and other bottled drinks) during December and January each year.
- Some estimates suggest that UK households discard five of every six glass bottles.
- Most UK councils collect glass for recycling, and there are more than 50,000 bottle banks in the UK.
- Every tonne of recycled glass prevents the release of approximately 246 kg of CO2 into the atmosphere.
- If the UK recycled all discarded glass, it could save 4,200 tonnes of CO2.
- The amount of CO2 potentially saved by recycling all glass the UK uses equates to taking 1,300 cars off the road every year.
- A wine bottle is 750ml in size because that is the average capacity of a glassblower’s lungs.
- A common remedy to too much alcohol is to have a strong coffee, but often, the aroma you smell after opening a jar results from a special type of spray fragrance used under the lid (not the coffee itself).
Weird and wacky Christmas facts
Unusual Christmas statistics
Some of the more unusual Christmas packaging facts include the following:
- DHL report that their busiest day at their depots and service points is usually around 13 December (suggesting this is when most people begin their online Christmas shopping).
- Amazon receives 47 orders per second on their busiest day in the run-up to Christmas.
- If Santa were to visit every home on Christmas Eve successfully, his sleigh must travel at 2,340,000 mph.
- Santas’ sleigh would weigh approximately 354,430 tonnes due to the volume of presents (and their packaging).
- Not everyone gets the presents they want on Christmas day, with 2,590 people filing their online tax returns on 25 December (in 2017).
- In England and Wales, 1,391 babies were born on Christmas Day in 2016.
- UK consumers spend around 17,000,000 hours shopping online during the Boxing Day sales.
- The big three Christmas songs – ‘Last Christmas’, ‘Fairy-tale of New York’ and ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ – are played around 404,000,000 times on UK radio each year.
A few other facts about packaging
Although often seen as boring (or overlooked altogether), there are some surprisingly interesting facts about packaging you may like:
- The invention of cardboard took place in 1856, with businesses using custom cardboard shipping boxes since 1903.
- The average person in the UK handles over 50 types of packaging every single day.
- Shoppers form an impression of a brand – often from packaging – within seven seconds.
- 52% of online shoppers are more likely to purchase products again from the same company if they personalise their eCommerce packaging.
- Consumers spend an average of 30% more online if companies include free shipping.
- Consumers who shop in-store are more likely to impulse buy a product without first researching it.
- 30% of businesses find that consumer interest rises when they pay attention to the details of their packaging.
Christmas recycling tips
How to reduce the harmful effects of Christmas packaging
Up to 70% of our waste can be recycled or reused. And, by taking a number of steps, it is possible for us all to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas.
The top tips for recycling at Christmas are:
- Is the recycling bin filling up too quickly? Save on space by dropping items at your local recycling centre on your way to work or dropping the kids off at school.
- Save more space by flattening cardboard boxes and cartons.
- Remove the bows and ribbons before recycling wrapping paper, as flattening this into a neat pile also saves you additional space.
- You should empty all food from card, paper, glass and tin packaging to prevent the (risk of) rejection of the recycling, although you don’t need to be overly thorough.
- You should not recycle any glitter-covered card or paper.
- You cannot recycle all types of wrapping paper. The easiest way to determine this is to scrunch the wrapping paper in your hand; if the paper remains scrunched, it’s recyclable, but if it springs back, it will likely have a covering of plastic film you cannot recycle.
- All plastic bottles can be recycled, including shampoos, body washes, and those containing cleaning products.
- It’s not just cans and tins that you can recycle – most metallic items are also recyclable (this includes empty deodorants and kitchen foil).
- Make it easier for loved ones to recycle by wrapping your gifts in brown paper and jazz up with stamps, ribbons, and similar items. Alternatively, you can source 100% environmentally friendly and recycled wrapping paper from various companies.
Ho Ho Ho
Merry Christmas from everyone at GWP
With that, the only thing left to say is that from everyone here at GWP, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Hopefully you found these Christmas packaging facts and waste statistics interesting, and you enjoy the festivities!