High environmental price of a very merry Christmas

Michael McCarthy,Environment Editor
Saturday 23 December 2006 01:00 GMT

As many as six million Christmas trees, enough to stretch end to end from London to the North Pole and back, will be incinerated or dumped into landfill sites in Britain once the festive season is over, research has revealed.

The festive season comes at a high price in environmental terms, with people being urged to pledge a greener Christmas by making a major effort to recycle the mountain of Yuletide rubbish which is about to accumulate.

As well as the waste firs and pines, more than a billion Christmas cards are likely to be dumped or burnt - which, laid end to end, would stretch around the world five times.

And that's not all. About 83 square kilometres of wrapping paper will also be thrown out or burnt - enough to gift-wrap the island of Jersey. You can also add to that 125,000 tons of plastic packaging - which, the Liberal Democrats helpfully point out, is the equivalent of more than a million John Prescotts.

"This is all totally unsustainable," the Liberal Democrats' green spokesman, Chris Huhne, said. "Britain is facing a season of bad will towards the environment with Christmas tree recycling levels falling like their own needles. The Government needs to provide universal recycling of all Christmas waste, and must put more pressure on manufacturers and supermarkets to cut the massive overuse of packaging. Having a Merry Christmas could end in a rubbish New Year."

Figures dug out by Mr Huhne in a recent Parliamentary answer indicate that nearly two million trees are recycled by local authorities in England and Wales. But the British Christmas Tree Growers' Association estimates that as many as eight million real Christmas trees are bought every year, so as many as six million trees will be dumped or burnt, the Liberal Democrats say. Assuming an average height of 6ft 6in they would stretch end to end a distance of 7,386 miles. (The distance from London to the North Pole is 3588 miles.)

The best way to recycle trees is via local authorities. Some will collect them; with other councils, householders need to take the trees to a collection point. But cards can now be recycled in high street stores, thanks to the green charity The Woodland Trust, which has teamed up with Recycle Now, the national recycling campaign for England, for the third year running as part of its annual Christmas card recycling scheme.

Collections in January 2006 broke all previous records with a remarkable 82 million Christmas cards collected, a 41 per cent increase on 2005. Next month, when the scheme is aiming to hit the 90 million mark, cards will be collected in Tesco, WH Smith and TK Maxx stores nationwide. The cards will then be taken to paper mills for recycling.

The money raised in the scheme will help the Woodland Trust to save existing, and create new woodland, said Sue Holden, the Woodland Trust's chief executive. "You're helping us to plant thousands of new trees and protect the little ancient woodland we have left in the UK," she said.

The UK waste fallout from 25 December 2006

* More than a billion Christmas cards - 17 for every man, woman and child - will be delivered this year. That's enough to stretch around the world five times.

* 52 square miles of wrapping paper - enough to gift-wrap Jersey - will be ripped off by Boxing Day.

* 125,000 tons of plastic packaging - equal to a million John Prescotts - will end up in the bin.

* Six million trees have been bought but only 1.2 million will be recycled. The rest will be left to rot or be thrown away.

* Shops sell 16 million turkeys and 830 million sprouts. Up to 40 per cent of festive food is wasted.

* Turkey foil wrap will create 3,000 tons of waste.

* Within three months, 41 per cent of the toys children receive will be broken. Most will go to the tip.

* Many will get the latest mobile phone but only 10 to 15 per cent are recycled.

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