Unwrapped: Christmas Waste Costs the UK £26 Million

An image of Lucy Dodds
27 Nov 20194.5 min read

70% of Brits admit they buy far more than they need at Christmas. We've unwrapped the true scale of overspending, discovering that the UK throws away a huge 275,613 tonnes of Christmas waste, weighing 1.5 times the Sydney Opera House. This totals a huge £26 million spent on the disposal of our festive rubbish if it went to landfill.

The cost of Christmas waste in the UK

  • A total of £26 million is spent disposing of Christmas rubbish
  • Christmas tree landfill alone costs £1.1 million
  • £4.8 million of leftover festive food is thrown away
  • Discarded Christmas cards cost £2.8 million
  • £13.3 million is spent on food and drink package waste

We visualised the UK’s festive rubbish weighs compared to popular landmarks, so you can get an idea of how much we really bin at Christmas.

Read on for the breakdown behind the costs and weight of the UK’s Christmas rubbish. As Britain creates 30% more waste during the season, find advice on how you can enjoy eco-friendly alternatives come December 25th.

Ditched Christmas trees cost £1.1 million

The UK discards 12,500 tonnes in Christmas decorations, which is shockingly as heavy as the Eiffel Tower. That’s also the equivalent of £1.2 million in landfill.

The weight of our waste is mostly made up of Christmas trees (£1.1 million), as 3/4 of Brits let their tree go to landfill. A massive 12,000 tonnes in trees end up thrown away, or the equivalent of The Shard’s total weight.

Christmas lights are another culprit. We bin 68,488 miles of them – that’s enough Christmas lights to travel up and down the UK 78 times!

£4.8 million of leftover festive food is thrown away

2/3 of Brits admit some of their turkey ends up in the bin, but this isn’t the only part of our festive feast which is thrown away. The UK discards so many plates of food, it amounts to 50,544 tonnes – that’s 3,673 times heavier than Big Ben. That's also equivalent to £4.8 million in landfill costs.

Half-eaten mince pies cost £452k alone

In our Christmas dinner breakdown, we discovered that leftover mince pies weigh over 4,800 tonnes, around the same as 195 boulders from Stonehenge. At landfill, that would be £452k in waste.

Even cheese is chucked out, with 2,000 tonnes of cheddar, blue and more heading for the bin, which is three times heavier than Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer. That also means we throw away £188k worth of cheese.

Binned cards and gift wrap costs £6.7 million

Weighing a colossal 71,044 tonnes, our Christmas gift wrapping, sticky tape and cards are astoundingly 348 times heavier than the Statue of Liberty. That equates to £6.7 million spent at landfill.

Chucked-out cards cost £2.8 million

Christmas cards are the worst offender, with 30,000 tonnes tossed out every year, which is the equivalent of £2.8 million in landfill costs. This is followed by 17,444 tonnes of wrapping paper thrown away by the UK, totalling £1.6 million.

We also bin over 1.2 million miles of sticky tape – that’s enough tape to wrap around the Earth 499 times.

For all those toys with ‘batteries not included’, the UK has it covered – over Christmas, we use enough batteries to power 189,000 cars!

Discarded food packaging costs £13.3 million

From plastic turkey wrapping to foil cases for mince pies, the UK throws away a lot of food packaging. 141,525 tonnes are disposed of, weighing a huge nine times more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At landfill, this would cost a shocking £13.3 million.

For a different perspective, the weight of our discarded food packaging is equivalent to 1.8 billion bottles of prosecco.

Discarded Christmas drink cans cost £700k

Plastic packaging and glass are the biggest causes of waste, but drink cans aren’t too far behind. 7,500 tonnes of aluminium cans are thrown out in the UK, which totals £700k in landfill costs. If you stacked these cans, they’d be 3.8 million times taller than the world’s biggest building, the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

If you’ve been shocked by these huge comparisons, there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint this Christmas.

Emi Murphy, Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, says: 

It’s such a special time of year, but Christmas can risk becoming quite intense when it comes to resource use and emissions. It’s actually easier than you might initially think to have a planet-friendly Christmas though. It’s not about being a Scrooge; just making slightly different choices around decorations, food, gifts and travel can really cut down on the impact your festivities have.”

Here’s 10 tips on how you can cut down on your waste throughout the festive period.

10 festive eco-friendly alternatives

  1. Opt for solar-powered outdoor lights to save energy
  2. Use brown paper and twine for on-trend, eco wrapping
  3. Send e-cards or donate what you would have spent on cards to charity
  4. Purchase loose food where possible to reduce packaging
  5. Be creative with leftovers – consider a Boxing Day turkey curry
  6. Buy or rent a real tree from a UK supplier, like The Christmas Forest
  7. See if your local council will recycle your tree for you
  8. Make lists for foods and gifts and stick to them
  9. Buy rechargeable batteries for toys and electricals
  10. Go for green gift alternatives like a grow-your-own plant kit

Looking after the environment isn’t just for Christmas – we can help the planet all year round. Want to know more about how you can make eco-friendly choices at home? Check out our guide to choosing sustainable furniture. Or why not take our quiz to see what type of recycler you might be?

You’ll find even more eco and wellbeing advice in the Mattress Online blog.