Saturday, January 18News For London

The ‘unaccounted for’ waste is the real Grinch this Christmas

Every year millions of Britons generate large amounts of waste during Christmas that goes unrecycled.

Trash full of Christmas decoration. | Photo: Sneha Chakraborty

From early December a Christmas season centered around the early festivities takes over the city of London. Celebrating the most wonderful time of the year in London is a dream, but the hangover of waste it generates is often a nightmare for the city. From hunting the crisp mince pies to shopping for the perfect Pinterest-inspired decorations, the future of the cute wrapping papers is hardly a matter of concern. About 9,000 tonnes of waste are created per year from unusable Christmas trees that end up in landfills. It can take decades to decompose and  release 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane adding to the ever rising carbon footprint. 

The beautiful and funny cards at the heart of every Christmas ends up in the trash, adding to the catastrophe of waste. So does wrapping papers, single use plastic containers, cling wraps, confetti, plastic streamers, Christmas themed clothing, aluminium foils, glitters, batteries and  busted string lights. 

Companies such as Fulham Pines and Needles are witnessing a growth in fir tree sales each year and have recently opened new sites to keep up with the demands of the real trees. A sales representative of the company says: “We are not using that much plastic apart from the nettings to wrap the tree but most of it is recyclable.” Tree companies recommend recycling the trees by cutting down the branches, offcuts, needles, and wood into smaller pieces for easy compost processing. 

Lack of concerns during the Christmas period is exacerbating the unsustainable consumption of plastic and single-use materials creating a crisis for recycling agencies. In addition to that, glitters are creating mayhem in land and water. It is hard to recycle and the tiny particles take at least hundreds of years to degrade. The shiny materials are extremely light and easily carried by light breezes over vast surfaces. It then enters the ocean and adds to the microplastic problem.

The tiny particles are easily misinterpreted as plankton, major food sources for aquatic animals and wreak havoc on their digestive system. But it does not end there, it becomes a part of our food chain too when we consume plates of seafood. Trisia Farrelly, an environmental anthropologist says: “All glitter should be banned because it’s microplastic and all microplastics leak into the environment.” 

Glitter endemic across London | Photo: Sneha Chakraborty

 Christmas also adds to the fast-fashion problem with cheap and low-grade clothing material themed according to the holidays. The charity organisation Hubbub states that ‘two out of five Christmas jumpers only being worn once over the festive period.“ A major portion of unsold clothing stocks are burned every year adding to air pollution and the sold products often end up in the trash after a single-use. 

55.6% of people interviewed said that they do not use sustainable decorations but sometimes they use the same product for two or three years. One responder said: “I think the only thing that I will definitely try to do is use reusable bags while Christmas shopping. I don’t think much about recycling because there’s often so much waste that it ends up being ‘I’ll just shove it in whatever bin that has room’.”

The Head of marine policy at WWF, Dr. Lyndsey Dodds said: “A staggering amount of plastic is set to be wasted this Christmas. If we don’t take action to turn the tide, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.”

One Londoner said: “We have an open fire so we burn rubbish rather than recycle. I guess that’s not too good.” Many interviewees even admitted that they do not worry about waste generation during Christmas time but given the recent climate protests they will try to reduce as much waste as they can. 

But all hopes aren’t a loss, various areas across London are revamping their decoration to create a sustainable Christmas. Project Zero on Carnaby street is at par with the current climate change advocacy and is sharing the message of ‘one ocean one planet’. The installations are creatively designed with eco-friendly vegan paint and recyclable trash such as plastic bottles, repurposed fishing nets, and bubble wrap. 

Editor: Beatriz Bandeira |Writer: Kuheli Biswas
Photographer: Sneha Chakraborty |Videographer and video editor: Fabio Angeli
Interviewer: Rui Tsai

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