For the bin: unwrapped presents and now? This is how consumers can reduce their Christmas waste

During Advent, mountains of shipping boxes pile up in apartments again.

For the bin: unwrapped presents and now? This is how consumers can reduce their Christmas waste

During Advent, mountains of shipping boxes pile up in apartments again. After all, Christmas presents are often ordered online - and that means a flood of packaging made from waste paper and plastic. Not only can this be annoying, but it is also bad for the environment.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) warns on its website of higher packaging consumption around Christmas due to increasing mail order sales and small-packaged products. Many gifts would be ordered online and delivered individually in disposable shipping packaging. According to the UBA, 18.8 million tons of packaging waste was collected in German households in 2020 alone. It's particularly busy around the holidays - experts estimate 20 to 30 percent more than on other days.

An alternative can be reusable shipping bags. This is being tested by the retail group and coffee roaster Tchibo, among others. Consumers can order gifts for the family online and receive them in a reusable bag made from 70 percent recycled plastic. This will then be sent back to the company - even if you want to keep the entire order.

According to Tchibo, you can either throw the empty bag in the mailbox or hand it in at a branch. There would be no additional costs for consumers. But do customers really return the bags? Although there are no deposit or other incentive systems yet, there were response rates of 81 and 75 percent for two initial projects, said a Tchibo spokeswoman.

The mail order company Otto has also tested reusable shipping bags - with positive results. There was a high willingness to bring the empty packaging back and to pay a deposit for it, which you get back when you bring it back, said a spokesman. “We had a response rate of 74 percent in the test.”

However, it was only possible for customers there to hand in the reusable packaging to a logistics company. “If reusable packaging is used regularly, the goal must definitely be to increase this return rate so that the use also makes ecological sense,” said the spokesman. In addition, IT challenges still need to be solved – such as integrating the selection of reusable packaging into the ordering process. Unfortunately, this is not easy to implement.

There are still some processes in progress at Tchibo. The adhesive load of the labels, for example, varies greatly. “Removing the return label takes longer than expected. Adhesive residue also remains,” said a spokeswoman. "The bags will of course still be used. We now use other adhesives." And it is not yet possible to say how many ways a reusable bag will ultimately have to be recycled. We are still in the testing phase.

It is still uncertain whether reusable shipping bags can be introduced across the board. The UBA also has tips for reducing the flood of waste around the holidays: “Online shopping in itself is not necessarily associated with more environmental pollution,” said a spokeswoman. It is more important what and how much is bought than where and how. In this way, customers could pay attention to the longevity of products.

And waste can also be avoided when it comes to wrapping paper. “During the Christmas season, most gifts are specially wrapped in wrapping paper or other disposable gift packaging,” said the spokeswoman. Reusable packaging could be used instead.