As Christmas approaches Change Manager, Martyn Lowder, explores the impact of Christmas deliveries on air quality and writes about what we can do to keep our air clean this Christmas.

It’s that time of year when shoppers fill the streets on their search for Christmas presents – and our roads get busier with delivery vans and vehicles. Online shopping is expected to be the main driver of retail growth this Christmas with our spending expected to be up by 11.8% on last year. In 2016, out of a total 2.7 billion packages, our online shopping habits accounted for around 1.8 billion deliveries and collections, which are delivered direct to homes (RAC Foundation, 2017). In fact, according to Courier Insurers Staveley Head, almost 90% of the UK does at least part of their Christmas shopping online and a massive 320 million extra parcels are expected to be delivered over Christmas. Our growing need for stuff isn’t just increasing the number of unwanted Christmas presents under the tree but it is also contributing to local air pollution and having a potentially detrimental effect on our health.

Vans, vans, vans.

In the UK, air pollution has been linked to an estimated 40,000 early deaths each year. In fact, the vast majority of areas in the UK are still exceeding legal EU limits of the key pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, much of which comes from diesel engines. To make things worse, a staggering 95% of the vans that will be delivering our Christmas presents this year are diesel powered, making up 12% of diesel emissions in urban settings (RAC Foundation, 2017). It is expected that this year Christmas couriers will drive 16 million miles delivering our presents (Staveley Head, 2017).

National Clean Air Day

On June 15th 2017, the UK’s first ever National Clean Air Day helped millions of people respond to air pollution through over 200 events and 550 press, radio and TV features. A real buzz on social media saw 28,000 tweets and #NationalCleanAirDay trended at number 1 on Twitter for 5 hours – beating BBC Music Day, British Beer Day and Love Island! To add to the excitement the programme won Air Quality Communications Initiative of the Year at the National Air Quality Awards 2017 last month.

So what we can do about it?

And so, what can we do this Christmas, to reduce our contribution to air pollution on our roads? The answer is more fun and less stuff!

First off, have you ever taken a minute and thought about simply buying less stuff? Christmas is meant to be a time for giving but giving does not need to be the buying frenzy that Black Friday creates. In fact research shows us that the things that make us happiest are often the things that don’t cost any money at all. Take a look at our Elfless Acts campaign to find out how you can give more of what matters and less of doesn’t this Christmas.

Secondly, we know that it can be difficult to go completely cold turkey on the gift giving. If you are buying a couple of gifts this Christmas, here is what you can do to keep those pesky diesel vans off the road:

  • Presence not presents – Why should tourists have all the fun? Why not take your loved ones to a sporting event, a music concert or even for a winter walk with a warming hot chocolate. People are increasingly valuing experiences and time with loved ones over ‘stuff’. Did you know that the average Amazon warehouse picker walks 14 miles per day during the Christmas period!
  • A homemade Christmas – A great gift doesn’t have to cost the Earth, or indeed cost very much at all. Why not make some tasty chutneys, bake a cake or put those artistic skills to the test.
  • Buy stuff that lasts - Did you know that only 1% of the materials used to produce consumer goods are still in use six months after they were bought! If you are buying presents make sure they're high quality, ethical presents that won't end up in landfill.
  • Get out of town - Air quality is worse in our city centres and urban hubs. If you are set on getting something delivered, get it delivered to your home and not the office to avoid the city smog.


  • RAC Foundation (2017) The Implications of Internet Shopping Growth on the Van Fleet and Traffic Activity.
  • Freight Transport Association (2017) Van Excellence Report.
  • Staveley Head (2017) Christmas Logistics report