How to choose sustainable Christmas crackers

Pulling apart a cracker is one of the simple joys of Christmas, but the waste they produce casts a not-so-festive shadow on the age-old tradition. 

A set of Christmas crackersEvery year, 40 million Christmas crackers are thrown away each year – lined up end to end this equates to 1,220 Mount Everests stacked on top of each other. These are a major source of unnecessary waste, with many containing single-use plastic toys, glitter-coated cardboard and excessive plastic packaging.

Following the recent news that John Lewis & Partners and Waitrose & Partners will stop selling crackers containing plastic toys from 2020, new research from Friends of the Earth and VoucherCodes has analysed the sustainability of Christmas crackers from a range of high-street retailers, assessing aspects such as the life-length of toys and the recyclability of packaging.

Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth Lead Plastic Campaigner, commented: “Christmas crackers come with excess packaging that can’t always be recycled, as well as a lot of single-use tat, so this is one festive product that you should think twice about. There are a number of things you might want to look into when buying your crackers, including whether toys come in plastic wrappers, whether they contain microplastic glitter and if they have novelty toys that will end up in landfill.”

The research highlighted outer packaging as a particular problem, with all retailers apart from Sainsbury’s selling crackers with a non-recyclable plastic window. Whilst John Lewis, M&S and Waitrose sell crackers in widely recyclable packaging, Sainsbury’s and Tesco are unclear about the recyclability of their packaging.

A table showing the sustainability of high street Christmas crackers
A table comparing the sustainability of high street Christmas crackers
Kirkby explained: “John Lewis & Partners, Debenhams, Liberty, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose & Partners crackers contain longer-lasting toys, but they’re let down by the plastic packets they come in.

“We know Waitrose is working towards plastic-free crackers by 2020 so we look forward to seeing that next year. And, while Sainsbury’s limits waste by removing the plastic window on its Home Luxury Cracker box, the crackers themselves are covered in glitter, which is a microplastic that can be harmful to the environment.”

Anita Naik, Lifestyle Editor at VoucherCodes, commented: “With most of these crackers you get what you pay for. Tesco has the lowest cost per cracker at 33 pence – but Julian’s verdict is that they’re not sustainable due to unclear recycling instructions and single-use toys. On the other hand, Waitrose includes built-to-last toys and the packaging is widely recyclable, but at £5 per cracker they’re one of the priciest options.”

Seeking to reduce the environmental impact of Christmas crackers, Friends of the Earth and VoucherCodes have provided seven recommendations to help the public think carefully about their festive waste:

  1. Check if the packaging contains an unnecessary plastic window
  2. Check your local council’s recycling guidelines
  3. Opt for paper crackers rather than those decorated with glitter, as glitter is a microplastic that will pollute the environment and cause damage to wildlife
  4. Is the packaging made of recycled material?
  5. Does the packaging have a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on it? This indicates that the material is sourced from a forest that meets required management practices and forest stewardship standard for sustainability
  6. Are the toys multi-use or are they going to be thrown away after the meal?
  7. Do I need to order the crackers online? Collecting items direct from the store prevents the use of additional packaging such as cardboard boxes and bubble wrap

Naik added: “My recommendation, if you want to avoid the plastic waste crackers produce, is to make your own. There are lots of great kits available to buy, you just need to pick what you put into the cracker – which means you can decide how much you spend. It also means you can put something inside you know people will use (or eat, I’m a fan of chocolate in crackers!)”

More sustainable Christmas tips are available on the VoucherCodes website.