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Superstores in UK Reduce Plastic This Christmas

Kate Byng-Hall celebrates the embracing of a plastic-free culture by some of the country’s biggest brands in time for Christmas

Photo by Eduardo Soares

December is always dominated by Christmas, as the shops fill up with gifts, decorations and general nic-nacs to fuel our festive cheer – not to mention line their pockets for the rest of the year. And yet, while the Christmas season is loved by many of us, the escalated level of consumerism around the period can be detrimental for the environment.

This year, however, while our habits of consumption may not have significantly changed, some supermarkets have been cutting down the levels of plastic in their festive products in an effort to reduce their environmental impact.

Big Reductions in Time for Christmas

Multiple big chains, including Morrisons, Waitrose and John Lewis announced earlier in the year that they have banned glitter from appearing on their Christmas products for 2020, including cards, crackers and gift cards. Sainsbury’s has also reduced the material’s appearance on many of their products.

Glitter is essentially constituted by small fragments of non-biodegradable plastic which is counted as a form of microplastic, and can be excessively damaging to wildlife when disposed of and subsequently consumed by plankton, birds and fish. The plastic that glitter is made from is also prone to break down and release chemicals which can be harmful to animal and human hormones when they are consumed by small organisms and spread up through the food chain.

"People can still enjoy the festive season without the glitter and pointless packaging that add to the waves of plastic pollution that pour into our environment every year and threaten our wildlife." – Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth campaigner

Morrisons has also committed to making their Christmas crackers entirely plastic-free, with the crackers themselves as well as the content they contain being made only of paper, wood or metal. The festive staples are one of the most obviously wasteful features of Christmastime, with the tiny plastic toys usually ending up directly in the bin after dinner, so it’s encouraging that stores are making changes to help us continue our festive traditions more sustainably.

Cutting Down on Single-Use Products

Boots has eradicated single-use plastic from the packaging of their Christmas gift sets this year, removing an estimated 2,000 tonnes of plastic from its products. According to company figures, online searches for eco-friendly products have increased by nearly a third this year – another encouraging sign that consumers are adapting their priorities to consider the environment when gift-buying.

Moreover, Tesco has removed an astounding 20 million plastic products from their Christmas range this year, including crackers, fairy lights, cards and the packaging for festive puddings. It’s a significant advancement for the UK’s largest supermarket to make such a commitment, and will set a precedent for more institutions to become responsible in their habits as well.

Sarah Bradbury, Tesco’s quality director, has said the brand’s aim this Christmas is to "ensure everything [they] use is recycled and kept out of the environment" in order to help everyone enjoy "more sustainable celebrations".

Other companies such as Asda and Marks & Spencer have also made significant plastic reductions in preparation for a new Plastic Packaging Tax which will come into effect for retailers from 2022, meaning that all plastic packaging produced or imported in the UK that does not contain at least 30% recycled materials will be taxed. The aim for the legislation is to encouraged companies to adopt more sustainable habits, benefiting both themselves and the environment.

The changes made this Christmas brighten up the season even more, as it’s essential that the festive cheer doesn’t make us forget our obligation to preserve the environment through our habits of action and consumption. So, with sustainable priorities in mind, Merry Christmas!


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