Talking rubbish: 23 million unwanted gifts destined for landfill this Christmas

Almost one in five (19 per cent) unwanted gifts will end up in landfill this Christmas, according to new research by the UK Gift Card and Voucher Association (UKGCVA).

The survey found that Brits receive an average of two unwanted gifts each Christmas, equating to a total of 119,584,080* presents to miss the mark across the UK this year.

Around 22,720,975 of these will be sent to landfill, contributing significantly to the additional waste created by the festive period.

While the research showed that around a third (33.1 per cent) of unwanted gifts are donated to charity, a further 20.8 per cent are put away and forgotten about in people’s homes.

More than a fifth (21.5 per cent) of people would be happy for a donation to charity to be made on their behalf instead of receiving a physical gift, suggesting attitudes towards gifting are changing in line with our shifting sustainability values.

Gail Cohen, director general of the UKGCVA, comments: “It is disappointing to discover not only how many unwanted gifts are given each Christmas, but just how many of these end up going straight to landfill.

“As a nation, we are more environmentally aware than ever before, so must work together to find ways to drastically decrease this number.

“While it’s reassuring to see that many unwanted gifts are given to charity, a huge number still go to waste. As such, people might want to consider gift cards as a more sustainable alternative to traditional gifts this year. With recipients able to choose their own gift, the total number of unwanted items being thrown away would be reduced.”

The research also found that, on average, each person buys 2.68 rolls of wrapping paper each Christmas, which will result in 160,242,667 rolls being thrown away this year. While some wrapping paper is recyclable, any paper decorated with foil or glitter must go in the general waste.

Cohen adds: “Choosing to purchase gift cards for family and friends has the added benefit of minimising the amount of wrapping paper and other unrecyclable packaging needed. And with more and more businesses now choosing to produce gift cards made of sustainable materials, they are also becoming a more eco-friendly solution as time goes on.” 

For more information, visit