How Sustainable is the Christmas Market?

The Edinburgh Christmas Market has opened up to the public this past weekend. The market is in the east end of Princes Street Gardens and will remain open until the 4thof January 2020. The festival draws a footfall of around 4 million people a year, including half a million who travel to Edinburgh for the market.

Food from all corners of Europe and further afield, souvenirs, and all kinds of mulled alcohol dominate the stalls this year. But with hundreds of stalls opening up at the same time, the question of how sustainable the market is has been raised by Edinburgh residents.

The festival organisers, Underbelly, have been heavily criticised, as licenses for market operators and public entertainment were approved late. Safety concerns have also been raised regarding the structure in the weeks leading up to the opening of the market. And last year, no planning permission was granted to the company at all.

Edinburgh City Council claimed to have collected 32,000 tonnes of waste around Christmas time in 2017. Extra waste per household in Edinburgh over the festive period is estimated at 8.83kg in food and 4.8kg in plastic packaging. The sustainability of the market could be a problem, as extra waste production is already much higher during Christmas time.

So the question raised is – how sustainable is it?

Underbelly have a section where they include a statement on sustainability, so it has been taken into account with regards the market.

On the market’s website, in the sustainability section, Underbelly advises users to ‘dispose of waste responsibly by using the recycling systems in place’. But upon inspection of the site, there is no obvious system in place and no recycling facilities easily available to the public.

Underbelly also make recommendations that patrons reuse their glasses at bars and food stalls at the market. While food safety legislation would allow stalls to refill plastic cups, it is not recommended. Any illness spread through food involving the refilling of glasses would be the direct liability of the seller. Unfortunately, in this case liability will trump sustainability.

So while thousands of people will use the facilities and purchase food and drink from the market over the next 2 months, the market, organisers and visitors need to make a conscious effort to help reduce waste. This may involve going outside the festival grounds to recycle.