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If Christmas cards were plastic, would they be banned?

All together we sent around 1 billion Christmas cards in 2020. These cost around £400 million, with a further £65 million spent on postage. So, the total cost was around £465 million. However, each card weighs, on average, around 12g, with the envelope around half that figure, if we then add in the weight of 83 million boxes, in which around 50% of these cards were sold, we can estimate around 22,000 tonnes of extra domestic waste is created by maintaining this Christmas tradition of sending cards.  

No doubt the proponents of paper / board recycling would suggest that all this additional waste is acceptable as it is recyclable and thus of no real concern. But this is simply not correct, for all of these cards to be recycled, any glitter or adornments have to be removed before being placed in the normal recycling bin and which of us does that? As a consequence, many of these cards go to landfill or incineration but no one knows just how many.

Unfortunately, all of us who confess to be involved in the sale of plastic packaging in whatever role, has felt the horror from the listener when this confession is made. It seems we “Plastic People” have taken over the role previously held by Estate Agents and Bankers as the professionals who the public ‘Love to Hate’. All of which stems directly from the regular outpouring of anti-plastic rhetoric from the Media and the BBC. But where is the condemnation of Christmas cards and the natural carnage they create from the Eco Warriors?

Production of these Christmas cards will have resulted in the destruction of some 330,000 trees, they will have consumed around 1.2 billion litres of water in their manufacture. (Enough to fill 480 Olympic sized swimming pools), not to mention the chemicals that have been used in the transformation of wood pulp to paper. All this natural destruction just to send our Christmas wishes to our family and friends!!

But it’s reasonable to ask, why isn’t this pillaging of the Earth’s resources not being criticised by the Environmental Groups? Where is the condemnation from the Ellen McArthur Foundation, Friends of the Earth, A Plastic Planet, Greenpeace, and their like?

Need we ask? It is beyond doubt that the reason is all this extra waste is not Plastic, if it were, all these Eco Warriors, along with their cohorts in the BBC and popular press, would be screaming for this ‘unnecessary waste’ to be stopped. They would be encouraging their members to join campaigns to Government to immediately put an end to all this pollution and environmental vandalism. The message would be clear “All Christmas cards should be banned!”.

But the reality is, nothing is heard, no rhetoric, no campaigns, no claims of environmental vandalism, because all this extra ‘use’ of the Earth’s resources, all the extra waste generated, all the extra transport incurred, is not Plastic and therefore there is no need for any condemnation! They will ignore the fact that plastic can be recycled just as easily as paper, the Eco Warriors arguments are simplistic. ‘Plastic is not collected’ which then translates into a problem with the material and it contaminates our Oceans, which again, is the fault of the material.

The fact is that if the cards were plastic, 330,000 trees could continue to grow, all absorbing and storing CO2. All that precious water conserved and the chemicals remain instore. In addition, if Christmas cards were plastic, the waste generated would be reduced by around 70% and the postman would carry a lighter load.

Christmas, with all its excess of waste, including cards, paper, boxes, and packaging, is just one glaring example of the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the anti-plastic argument. All the science clearly demonstrates that for most packaging applications plastics use less of the Earth’s resources and generate less CO2 emissions in their use and manufacture and thus make a lower contribution to global warming. In addition, using plastic reduces the amount of domestic waste generated by millions of tonnes.

All of which is known to our Eco Warrior organisations, but they are unlikely to tell their membership if they want to maintain their subscription. It is possible that eventually the BBC and the Media will recognise the environmental benefits of using plastics, at which point all the anti-plastic rhetoric will stop – but I am not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, I would welcome your views and why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular updates.



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Ross McManus

Great comment, Barry. I like the Amazon advert with the manager on the beach with his child, picking litter, with no one commenting on the packaging and transport waste they make. My pet hate, being a food manufacturer, is the drive to get recycled or biodegradable packaging into food contact.

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