Is it time to say farewell to the festive Christmas card?

During the Christmas season the UK alone is likely to create around 30% more waste than usual. Wrapping paper, food waste and Christmas trees will all contribute to this worrying statistic and in a world where environmental pollution is a topic of worldwide concern, shouldn’t we be doing more to address this seasonal sin? Of course, nobody is suggesting that we cancel Christmas and shun all of the above, but surely there are some changes that can be made without saying bah humbug to the whole festive season.

Take Christmas cards for example. In a time when we are all trying to stop the imminent destruction of the planet, sending countless pieces of card that will simply receive a quick glance and then be thrown away after a few weeks does seem a pointless activity. According to research, if we put all the Christmas cards we send in one festive season end to end, they could go around the world several times. That’s a lot of card to be produced and a lot of card to be discarded.

Maybe this wouldn’t be as much of an issue if all these cards were made from recycled materials and were all recycled once again when used. Although a fair proportion of the cards we send are recycled, there a huge number that are not. We can’t get away from the fact that 1 billion cards will end up adding yet more waste to our planet.

The question of why such a large quantity of cards won’t get recycled is a tricky one. There are those who simply don’t bother to recycle or don’t think about it but there are many individuals who, despite their best intentions, just aren’t clued up on what can or can’t be recycled. In a festive farce, cards and wrapping made with glitter or a metallic finish are not recyclable. Despite their snowy, sparkly scenes and pretty pictures, cards made with glitter and shiny materials will simply be rejected by paper mills.

This means that thousands of well-meaning individuals who segregate their cards for Christmas waste are, quite literally, wasting their time. What’s more, by placing glittery items into the recycling waste stream they could be contaminating the items that are recyclable – leading to yet more general waste. The reason for this cruel circle is because glitter clogs up recycling machinery and contaminates recycled paper. Glitter is too small and hard to contain, it gets into the waste plant system and the recycled paper, which in turn means the recyclate is rejected by the companies who buy it.

So how can we turn this lose lose situation into something more palatable for the environment? The first answer is to purchase only cards made from recycled materials and avoid any cards that appear to have a metallic, shiny or glittery appearance. This would ensure that any cards you send are fully recyclable and support the sustainability circle. But, in effect, by taking this step, maybe the cards that would be sent would be a little less exciting, a tad dull and let’s face it, a waste of a postage stamp! So, in retrospect perhaps it is better to simply make Christmas Card giving a thing of the past. The same positive vibes, well-meaning messages and season’s greetings can just as easily be sent in electronic format without the need to waste money on a stamp or contribute to the Co2 produced in the transport and deliver the cards. I for one will not be sending Christmas cards in the future and even if we can’t all follow that trend on an individual basis, maybe encouraging your business or place of work to ditch physical Christmas Cards in favour of something less environmentally damaging might be the first step on the ladder to making Christmas cards a tradition of the past.

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