Picture Christmas time. What do you see? Mistletoe, wine, children singing Christian rhyme? You have Cliff Richard to thank for that. But glitter is likely high up on that list too.
Used for years in crackers, greeting cards, gift wrap, decorations and the like, a touch of sparkle is all part of the package. But not anymore - at least where retailers including John Lewis, Waitrose and Morrisons are concerned.
Glitter is formed of minuscule pieces of plastic that can wash into the environment, get into the food chain and harm wildlife. A significant price to pay for a mere moment of pleasure.
According to the BBC, the move to ditch glitter is part of a wider push by retailers to reduce festive plastics pollution It’s a big step forward. Even more so when you consider that up to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste – that can take hundreds of years to degrade - makes its way into oceans every year.
But what more can be done?
Alongside banishing glitter, Asda announced its first sustainable Christmas range of decorations, cards, crackers and gift bags, which is expected to save 66 tonnes of plastic this year alone – the equivalent of nearly 3,000 real Christmas trees!
Not only are their new crackers made from 100% recyclable materials, the gifts inside are too. No more plastic combs, yo-yos and impossibly complicated puzzles that end up in the bin come Boxing Day. Win-win, if you ask me!
Primark have taken things a step further in the creative stakes with their dual-purpose carrier bags. Sporting a festive candy cane pattern, their brown paper bags now double up as gift wrap for eco-conscious shoppers. Hopefully the High Street will reopen in time for this thoughtful initiative to be realised. If nothing else, it should make us re-evaluate our choices. Is plastic-wrapped paper justifiable in this day and age? Will our children’s Christmas be ruined if we use newspaper instead? Not likely!
Needless to say, the tide of public opinion has changed drastically in recent years. It’s not enough to switch to cardboard packaging and be done with it. Manufacturers and retailers alike need to 1) innovate, 2) innovate, and 3) innovate some more.
In his article for Retail Technology Innovation Hub, Matt Bradley – Show Director for RetailEXPO – weighed in on the need for real change:
“Spurred on by movements such as Extinction Rebellion, School Strikes for Climate, veganism, the plastic backlash and biodiversity conservation, consumers have found a compelling new reason to buy.
“Retailers who fail to adapt to their rapidly changing priorities risk alienating customers, especially those from younger demographics, eroding brand equity and profit margins at a time when trading conditions are difficult enough.”
“Luckily for retailers there are lots of ways to respond to the growing tide of consumer environmentalism, harnessing technology to ensure the greening of retail boosts profitability as well as sustainability.
“Programmes such as Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II have contributed to rising consumer awareness surrounding the single-use plastics problem. This groundswell has transformed into a consumer outcry for companies to reduce, recycle and replace single-use plastic wherever they can within their operations.”
Considering the billions of boxes delivered every day, it’s unsurprising that Amazon’s sustainability efforts are perpetually in the spotlight. In July 2020, Amazon shared:
“Sustainable packaging is a top priority at Amazon. Whether the package you’re holding in your hands is a cardboard box or a flexible mailer, we’re rapidly working to improve it. We’re shrinking our packages to fit what you ordered more often, using less material to make them, and increasing the amount of recycled content.
“We’re also working to reinvent our sustainable packaging options and introduce new types of packaging, like the fully recyclable paper padded mailer. When our packaging weighs less and is the right size to protect customer orders, we can pack more orders into each delivery - resulting in fewer trips and less fuel burned."
Whilst the “paper padded mailer” may not sound overly exciting, the technology behind it could be game-changing, putting Amazon well on the way to meeting their Climate Pledge of becoming net zero carbon by 2040.
According to Amazon:
“The rigorous work of inventing Amazon's new recyclable paper padded mailer required the ingenuity of scientists, engineers, and technicians at Amazon's packaging and materials lab. These experts, who obsess over the tiniest of details, have been able to capitalize on a curious reaction that happens when you heat a form of glue, similar to what's used to make cardboard boxes.”
With their initial design deemed to be stiffer and harder to open than Jiffy counterparts, it was back to the drawing board for the packaging developers:
“Working together, Amazonians at the materials and packaging lab discovered the key to giving associates the more flexible mailers they needed. They devised a new pattern of cushioning material that creates voids, forming a natural flex point without sacrificing the mailer's overall effectiveness at protecting orders.
“The reworked design passed lab tests and got a thumbs up from associates. Now, more than 100 million of the new mailers have been shipped to customers, reducing waste, saving fuel, and offering the same recyclability as Amazon's iconic box, without taking up nearly as much space in a recycling bin.”
Like I said, game-changing. But it’s not only big brands that can make a difference.
Smaller companies, such as Boobalou, offer a huge range of eco-friendly options – and often in product categories you wouldn’t think of. From bamboo toothbrushes, hair brushes and toilet brushes, to reusable nappies and sanitary pads, the range is impressively extensive. They even sell 100% cotton ties for umbilical cords. Now that’s dedication to the cause!
Wearth London’s website even includes a “Shop by Values” dropdown in their menu, allowing customers to choose from plastic free, made in the UK, vegan friendly, refillable, handmade, natural ingredients, organic, recycled materials and social contribution.
What is social contribution I hear you ask? They are products made by brands who support good causes with every sale – from providing employment to visually impaired people to protecting marine life.
Coming from big brands or small, initiatives such as these really do inspire you to make a change to protect our planet - and for life, not just for Christmas.