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Opinion: Why the planet needs us to cut our consumption this Christmas

Environmental campaigner Lyndsey O’Connell explains how our online festive shopping habits are leading to an excess of cardboard and plastic waste.

Lyndsey O’Connell, Sick of Plastic

I’LL BE THE first to admit that when it comes to Christmas, it’s not plastic packaging I am thinking of when panic ordering gifts in Christmas week. But maybe it needs to be.

According to Repak, our online spending habits this year are set to impact the amount of waste we’re producing

Up 25% on 2019’s figures, we’re set to produce an extra 2,953 tonnes of packaging waste from online shopping this year -  the equivalent weight of 15 million standard size packages. 

It’s easy to see how. We’ve all gotten the box, within a box, wrapped in plastic, making the search for our purchases like a predictable version of pass the parcel. 

How much of this packaging could have been avoidable? Currently, there is no legislation making suppliers’ sources more sustainable packaging solutions or for overseas retailers to fund the sorting of their waste. 

According to Repak, the cost to collect and recycle packaging waste of oversea online retailers is a whopping €1m per year.

  • The Noteworthy team wants to find out if Irish recycling waste is ending up in illegal dumps abroad? Support this project here.

But it’s not just the postman delivering bad news. The overuse of packaging and Christmas waste is all around us. Our cheap Christmas jumpers are made of plastic fibres, wrapping paper is largely non-recyclable and then there is the packaging wrapped around our food. 

At 15 million tones, Ireland is one of the top plastic waste producers, and the lion’s share of that waste comes from items purchased at our supermarkets. 

Unnecessary, poor quality and single use plastic encase our food, leaking chemicals and filling up our green bins at home.

The environmental impacts of waste pollution on our oceans and rivers are well documented with estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish.  

Polluting even as it sits of shelf

Less known, however, is the cost of plastic waste on our health. Microplastic pollution is created by the disintegration of plastic as it breaks down in the earth, during incineration, or simply leaking as it sits on a shelf, affecting every single one of us on the planet.  

According to a recent WWF report on the problem, the average person ingests around the size of a credit card worth of plastic every week. 

While experts don’t know the full extent of the long and short term health issues around plastic ingestion, we do know it is linked to obesity, cancer, hormone disruption and cardiovascular disease.

Taking steps to reduce the amount of waste we send out of our homes this Christmas can only benefit us all in the long run. But it’s not just about recycling. Where possible we need to reduce and reuse.

If you’re like me, and want to avoid making bin night an audition for a Strong Man Competition, there are a few simple waste reducing tips to lighten the load.

Watch out for plastic-based Christmas jumpers

For example, you can request less packaging from retailers at the online checkout. You could also avoid buying a cheap novelty Christmas jumper this year as they are generally made from acrylic, nylon and polyester, all of which are plastic fibres. 

If you have a fake tree, keep using it as long as possible or decorate a house plant. If however, you want to buy a real tree; a locally grown natural one is best. 

Not all wrapping paper is recyclable. Foil and glitter paper must go in the general bin. Glitter on Cards and wrapping paper mean it can’t be recycled either. Opt instead for craft brown paper, old newspaper, or glitter/plastic free paper options that can be recycled. 

If asking your in-laws to think about plastic waste makes you feel as awkward as a vegan at Christmas dinner then why not ask for something you want instead. To make sure we all get the gifts we’ll actually use don’t leave the gift buying up to chance. 

Finally, when doing your Christmas dinner food shopping, choose loose fruit and veg as much as possible and try to use zero waste stores and local butchers and fishmongers that will let you bring your own containers to fill up.

Lyndsey O’Connell is the campaign lead of the Sick of Plastic campaign to pressure industry and decision makers to take action on single use plastic.

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EXOTIC WASTE Investigation

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The Noteworthy team wants to examine the full scale of Ireland’s waste export problem and what needs to happen here to close the waste loop, reduce our exports & kick start a new domestic sustainable industry.

Here’s how to help support this proposal>

About the author:

Lyndsey O’Connell, Sick of Plastic

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