holding cardboard

Brits are dreaming of a green Christmas

Yet confusion means recyclable packaging will be sent to landfill

  • New study reveals one-fifth of Brits will be more waste-conscious than ever this Christmas
  • Despite this, three in five have their tinsel in a tangle when it comes to what they can and can’t recycle – and more than half of UK adults say they’re so confused that they regularly throw recyclable materials in the rubbish bin
  • Sustainable packaging initiative, Beyond the Box, calls on consumers to try The Scrunch Test to determine whether Christmas wrapping paper can be recycled


Christmas turkey, mince pies and… Recycling. New research from Beyond the Box reveals that this Christmas will be a sustainable one for millions of Brits, with over a fifth (21%) claiming they will be more conscious about waste than ever before.

According to a study of 2,003 UK adults, well-meaning Britons plan to re-use gift bags (48%) and even wrapping paper (19%) from Christmas festivities gone by in order to reduce their environmental impact.

Many people (16%) plan to use more recyclable, paper-based wrapping paper– and one in five (19%) will reduce the amount of wrapping paper they use altogether over the course this year’s celebrations.

Yet despite the best of intentions, the study revealed that many of the 1 billion Christmas cards and much of the 188 million metres of wrapping paper used by Brits during December may be dumped in landfill.


Despite increasing concern about packaging and its impact on the environment, when it comes to recycling Britons are very confused: Three in five (60%) admit they don’t know what can and can’t be recycled at Christmastime.

Sources of Christmas confusion range from wrapping paper to sticky tape. A third of those polled (32%) mistakenly deemed all Christmas wrapping paper to be recyclable*, while many respondents came unstuck with sticky tape – just half (51%) confident that the non-recyclable material was best disposed of in the rubbish bin**.

Meanwhile, a third of clueless Brits (31%) are so confused about recycling they’ll be tossing their turkey bones in the recycling box, come Boxing Day morning.

Beyond The Box

Andy Barnetson, spokesperson for Beyond the Box, which commissioned the research, comments: ”Following a year in which the general public have become increasingly concerned about packaging – and with two in three Britons now admitting they’re worried about the types of materials used to package their favourite products, it’s great to find that many of us are committing to a waste-conscious Christmas.

“That said, the obvious confusion around recyclable materials is certainly a big concern. Over the festive season it’s more important than ever for households to prioritise recycling, particularly items like cardboard boxes and paper-based wrapping paper, which can typically be recycled up to seven times.

“With a recycling rate of over 80%, cardboard has the best UK recycling record of any packaging material. To put this into perspective, this rate saves an area of cardboard the size of Greater London from landfill every four months. Sadly though, if cardboard is lost to landfill, we also lose the paper fibres that might have been used again and again.”

“This Christmas, we’re calling on the British public to give some extra thought to reducing their household waste with simple initiatives like The Scrunch Test for wrapping paper – and make recycling a priority into the New Year and beyond.”

Recycling: Expectations vs Reality

And, while Britons may have good intentions to host more sustainable Christmas celebrations, these may be a far cry from reality.

Although 86% of UK adults believe they are good at recycling, half (53%) admit it’s sometimes easier to throw things in the bin rather than working out whether they can be recycled, while a staggering 57% have knowingly thrown recyclable materials in the rubbish bin.

Regional Recyclers at Christmas

Across the UK, those in the North East were most likely to be looking forward to a waste-conscious Christmas (28%), while those in Northern Ireland and Yorkshire & Humberside are the country’s biggest environment Scrooges. Just 12% and 17% respectively plan to be more conscious of waste during this year’s festivities.

The nation’s most enthusiastic recyclers are householders in Wales, Scotland and the East of England, with those living in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Norwich claiming to put out around two thirds of their total household waste for kerbside recycling.

On the other hand, those from Birmingham and Belfast top the naughty list as least likely to recycle household waste during the festivities, with just over half of total waste (56%) sent to be recycled. Similarly, low recycling rates were documented in Greater London (48%), East Midlands (50%) and the North East (52%).

The Scrunch Test

“It’s easy to discover whether Christmas wrapping paper is recyclable,” explains Barnetson.  “Simply scrunch a piece of the paper in the palm of your hand – if the paper remains ‘scrunched’ it is paper-based and widely recycled in the UK. If the wrapping paper unfolds or springs back it probably contains metallised plastic film and cannot be recycled.”

A Waste-Conscious Christmas Source: Beyond the Box

Rank Region People committing to a waste-conscious Christmas (%)
1 North East 28
2 Wales 26
3 East Midlands 25
4 South West 24
6 London 23
6 West Midlands 23
7 South East 22
National Average: 21%
8 North West 20
10 East of England 18
10 Scotland 18
11 Yorkshire & Humberside 17
12 Northern Ireland 12

The Nation’s Top Recyclers Source: Beyond the Box

Rank Region People committing to a waste-conscious Christmas (%)
1 Wales 69
2 Scotland 66
3 East of England 60
4 North West 59
5 South West 58
6 West Midlands 57
National Average: 56%
7 Northern Ireland 56
9 Yorkshire & Humberside 55
9 South East 55
10 North East 52
11 East Midlands 50
12 London 48

Notes to Editors Research Data:

  • Censuswide, 2,008 nationally representative survey of UK adults, 16th May 2018
  • OnePoll, 2,000 nationally representative survey of UK adults, 24th September 2018
  • Opinium, 2,003 nationally representative survey of UK adults, 16th November 2018

Research from Beyond the Box also reveals that two in three consumers are worried about packaging, while for 2.7 million Britons, packaging is the ‘biggest’ concern in their lives. 5.3% of UK adults say that packaging is currently the biggest concern in their life. The UK adult population is 50,909,000. Population x those who believe packaging is their biggest concern = 2,698,177

Research revealed consumers will send an average of 20 cards and use 3.7 metres of wrapping paper:

  • 20 cards x 50,909,000 = 1,018,180,000
  • 3.7 x 50,909,000 = 188,363,300

*While paper-based wrapping paper is widely recyclable, shiny metallic wrapping paper which is made from metallised plastic film is not currently recycled. More information can be found here. **Sticky tape is not recyclable and should be thrown away in a rubbish bin. More information can be found here.

About Beyond the Box Bringing together experts from leading UK packaging companies, Beyond the Box, launched by the Confederation of Paper Industries, helps Britons learn more about the nation’s sustainable packaging choice: Cardboard.

For more information, including spokesperson requests, please contact Rob Waldon or Sophie Menzies at Richmond & Towers Communications: robwaldon@rtc.london / sophie@rtc.london

020 7388 7421