John Lewis and Waitrose are to stop selling Christmas crackers containing plastic toys and puzzles as part of a drive to reduce single-use plastics – but not until 2020.
The retailers will announce on Monday that they would switch next year to crackers filled with toys and other items made from recyclable materials such as metal and paper, with the cardboard wrappers embossed rather than decorated with plastic glitter.
With 65 days to go until Christmas, John Lewis has also joined the wider crackdown on glitter by reducing the the amount used to decorate its own-brand range of Christmas wrapping paper, gift bags and tags, advent calendars and crackers by two-thirds.
Standard glitter is made from etched aluminium bonded to polyethylene terephthalate – a form of damaging microplastic that can enter the oceans and pose a danger to people and animals.
Environmental campaigners have described the product – popular at Christmas to add sparkle to stationery and decorations – as an environmental scourge and called for it to be banned.
Leading retailers have argued it is difficult to change product lines quickly as they are typically ordered more than a year in advance.
Dan Cooper, the head Christmas buyer at John Lewis, said: “Reducing the amount of single-use plastic in products and packaging is really important to us and our customers. One of the challenges I face as a buyer is that we plan 18 months ahead, so it takes time for changes to become a reality. I’m always searching for new, more sustainable products which will make Christmas sparkle but won’t end up spoiling our environment.”
This year, the retailer is selling three designs of “fill your own” crackers, which are becoming its most popular crackers, accounting for one in every three packets sold.
Separately, it has removed the plastic wrapping from most individual cards it sells, which it estimates will save 8 tonnes of plastic a year.
In December last year, Waitrose was the first leading UK retailer to pledge to ban glitter from all own-brand products. The supermarket chain said its own-label cards, wraps, crackers, tags, flowers and plants would either be glitter-free or use an environmentally friendly alternative by 2020.
Tesco has switched to a plastic-free version for its Christmas trees, plants and flowers this year, also removing it from this year’s own-brand wrapping paper, tags and single Christmas cards. The discount chain Aldi has scrapped plastic glitter from this year’s Halloween range as well as from festive cards and wrapping paper.
In August, Marks & Spencer announced it was banning glitter from this year’s Christmas cards, wrapping paper, calendars and crackers.
Supermarkets are reflecting wider moves in society, with the BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing banning the use of traditional glitter last year and growing numbers of nursery schools and music festivals also ending their use of the product.