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114,000 tonnes worth of plastic packaging to end up in bin this Christmas

Plastic packaging weighing more than the equivalent of 3.3 million emperor penguins will be thrown away this Christmas, campaigners have warned.

Some 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging will end up in the bin - and not recycled - over the festive period, according to Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of animal welfare and environmental charities.

To put that in perspective, the Royal Navy's new £3.1 billion aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth weighs 65,000 tonnes.

In addition, the charities estimate about 88 square kilometres (34 square miles) of wrapping paper will be used this year, and the UK will also go through 300,000 tonnes of card packaging this Christmas.

The charities, which include Friends of the Earth, the RSPCA, the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, are raising the issue of plastic waste in particular, as it degrades slowly and is causing damage to oceans and marine wildlife.

The damage being done to the world's oceans by plastic was highlighted in the BBC's flagship nature series Blue Planet II.

Businesses should slash wasteful packaging, while governments across the UK must commit to a raft of strong measures to tackle plastic waste in the New Year, the groups have urged.

And the public can do their bit for the environment by recycling as much plastic, glass, paper, card, metal, foil and wood this Christmas as they can, they said.

Chrismas is one of the worst times of year for rubbish buildup. Credit: PA

Louise Edge, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "Christmas is the time of year when you can really see just how much plastic packaging there is, and how little of it is genuinely useful.

"Manufacturers and retailers say that's what we want - lots of brightly-coloured mixed-material packaging made with virgin plastic.

"But as Blue Planet has shown us, plastic packaging isn't just for Christmas, it's for life."

She added that people should write to their MP and supermarkets if they did not want oceans full of plastic waste.

Sally Hamilton, director of whale and dolphin charity Orca, said: "These figures are truly staggering and the sheer scale of the environmental impact Christmas 2017 will have is alarming.

"Without a collective effort by the public, industry and Government much of this waste will find its way into our beautiful natural spaces, causing untold devastation in the process."

Dr Elaine King, director at Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: "These figures shine a light on the harsh reality of the impact we have on our environment and wildlife. Our waste can be invisible to us once it's in the bin.

"So it is easy to forget that it ends up in landfill or finds its way into our rivers and seas - polluting our land, oceans, animals, fish, birds and insects. We need to give a gift to the environment and get our packaging waste under control."

A spokesman for the Environment Department (Defra) said: "The UK is a world leader in tackling plastic waste - taking nine billion plastic bags out of circulation with our 5p carrier bag charge and drawing up one of the world's toughest bans on microbeads.

"Furthermore, recycling rates are rising, less waste is now sent to landfill and separate food waste collections are increasing.

"But this Christmas we all need to think about how we can recycle more and cut our food waste - taking small steps to make better use of our resources."