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Christmas crackers

Pull the other one: is plastic waste at Christmas driving you crackers?

Image credit: Lucian Milasan | Dreamstime

The environmental impact of Christmas is increasingly coming under scrutiny, with the wasteful nature of wrapping paper and crackers firmly in campaigners' crosshairs.

With the news that, from 2020, John Lewis and Partners and Waitrose and Partners will stop selling Christmas crackers containing plastic toys, the pressure is on for other UK retailers to follow suit and reduce their environmental impact.

Figures suggest an extra 30 per cent of waste is generated over the festive period. With Christmas 2019 on the horizon, consumer savings site VoucherCodes.co.uk has put a number of UK High Street crackers to the test to see how eco-friendly they are.

The range of popular retailers selected for the survey were chosen based on the crackers available at the time. The cracker sets selected were the most traditional range available, to be comparable between retailers, and furthermore eschewing the very cheapest sets on offer, which are virtually guaranteed to be a plastic pollution apocalypse.

Assessing the options from a range of retailers, the research found that the majority of crackers on offer include more harmful elements than good. While there was no stand-out winner for the dubious title of 'most environmentally offensive cracker', Tesco’s Gold Cube Christmas Crackers garnered no notable ‘good’ points, instead being filled with plastic in both the packaging and the contents.

Weighing up the analysis, Kirby said: “John Lewis and Partners, Debenhams, Liberty, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose and Partners crackers contain longer-lasting toys, but they’re let down by the plastic packets they come in. We know Waitrose is working towards plastic-free crackers for 2020, so we look forward to seeing that next year.

"While Sainsbury’s limits waste by removing the plastic window on its Home Luxury Cracker box, the crackers themselves are covered in glitter, which is a microplastic that can be harmful to the environment.”

Julian Kirby, lead plastic campaigner, Friends of the Earth, commented: “Christmas crackers come with excess packaging that can’t always be recycled, as well as a lot of single-use tat, so this is one festive product that you should think twice about. There are a number of things you might want to look into when buying your crackers, including whether toys come in plastic wrappers, whether they contain microplastic glitter and if they have novelty toys that will end up in landfill.”

Anita Naik, lifestyle editor at VoucherCodes.co.uk, said: “With most of these crackers you get what you pay for. Tesco has the lowest cost per cracker at 33p – but Julian’s verdict is that they’re not sustainable due to unclear recycling instructions and single-use toys. On the other hand, Waitrose includes built-to-last toys and the packaging is widely recyclable, but at £5 per cracker they’re one of the priciest options.

“My recommendation, if you want to avoid the plastic waste crackers produce, is to make your own. There are lots of great kits available to buy, you just need to pick what you put into the cracker – which means you can decide how much you spend. It also means you can put something inside you know people will use - or eat. I’m a fan of chocolate in crackers!”

Concerned shoppers also have the option to avoid the mainstream high-street retailers altogether, with a growing number of eco-friendly options available from independent retailers. Alternativey, there is burgeoning grass-roots enthusiasm for home-made options, with online how-to guides widely available. The same applies to wrapping paper, with people exploring new ways to present their gifts, such as recycling colourful pages and photos from magazines and newspapers.

Christmas cracker survey results

Debenhams plain and wreath-print Christmas crackers

Good: Built-to-last toys

Bad: No mention of recyclable materials on packaging

Outer packaging has non-recyclable plastic window

Toys come in plastic packet

John Lewis Traditions Luxury Christmas Crackers

Good: Built-to-last toys

Widely recyclable paper box

Bad: Microplastic glitter on crackers

Outer packaging has non-recyclable plastic window

Toys come in plastic packet

Liberty London Santa Claus Christmas Crackers

Good: Built-to-last toys

Bad: No mention of recyclable materials on packaging

Outer packaging has non-recyclable plastic window

Toys come in plastic packet

M&S Gold Christmas Crackers

Good: Widely recyclable paper box

Bad: Novelty plastic toys

Outer packaging has non-recyclable plastic window

Toys come in plastic packet

Sainsbury's Home Luxury Cracker (Berry Christmas Print)

Good: Built-to-last toys

No plastic in outer packaging

Bad: Microplastic glitter on crackers

Toys come in plastic packet

Unclear recycling information

Tesco Gold Cube Christmas Crackers

Bad: Novelty plastic toys

Outer packaging has non-recyclable plastic window

Toys come in plastic packet

Unclear recycling information

Waitrose Suede Ribbon Crackers

Good: Built-to-last toys

Toys not wrapped in plastic packaging

Widely recyclable packaging

Bad: Microplastic glitter on crackers

Outer packaging has plastic window

 

Top tips for choosing sustainable Christmas crackers

Pull the other one

● Does the packaging contain an unnecessary plastic window? Generally, the plastic windows on the front of packaging tend not to be recyclable. For those that are, you can’t guarantee that they won’t just be sent to landfill.

● Check your local council’s recycling guidelines. Each council has different policies when it comes to what they will and won’t recycle, so double check what will be picked up in your local area.

● Opt for paper crackers rather than those decorated with glitter. It is a microplastic that is easily released into the environment, so should be avoided as it does not biodegrade and can be harmful to wildlife.

● Is the packaging made of recycled material? Using recycled card limits further deforestation.

● Does the packaging have an FSC logo on it? This symbol means that the materials are sourced from a forest that meets the required management practices and forest stewardship standard for sustainability.

● Are the toys multi-use or are they going to be thrown away after the meal? A metal keyring, for example, is far more likely to be used rather than a novelty plastic moustache that ends up in the bin. All items should be loose within the crackers, rather than sealed in plastic packets.

● Do I need to order the crackers online? Getting items delivered creates further packaging, such as unnecessarily large cardboard boxes and bubble wrap. Collecting direct from store means you can ditch the excess, single-use materials and either carry them home in a bag-for-life or, even better, just the packaging they come in.

 

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