he clock strikes early Christmas morning, and a surge of kids rush down the stairs to rip and tear apart the wrappings of their awaited presents . As luminous and vibrant wrapping paper floods the floors, ribbons tossed and thrown and bows stuck to walls, the trash of Christmas possibly outweighs the amount of joy and gifts in the holiday season.
Every year, the loads of trash and food waste during the holidays surpasses the amount of waste produced during the rest of the year. This issue has been festering as more and more trash, food and decorations turn into waste and feed landfills.
The general waste produced by worldwide families during the holiday season is approximately 3 million tons, which is estimated to be about 43 pounds per family according to The Commercial Waste Trade. However, during the rest of the year, the average American produces approximately five pounds of trash per day, leading to 35 pounds per week. This can include wrapping paper, glitter, ribbons, plastic and even toys.
In 2016, according to the same study, we threw away approximately 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, which is enough to wrap the Earth 11 times. Additionally, if we took the estimated amount of Christmas cards bought that year, they would be able to stretch around the world 500 times. And if we continue to add tin foil and plastic, that’s an extra 4,500 tons of tin foil and 125,000 tons of plastic wasted and thrown away.
“Every year to recycle and reuse, my mom collects all the trash we had,” sophomore Mae Zimmer said. “We reuse wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows for next year”.
The United States plays a huge role in feeding this issue. The average American increases their waste production to seven pounds a day, becoming 49 pounds a week during the holidays. With our population of approximately 300 million people, this is estimated to be 2.9 billion more pounds of garbage generated during the holidays relative to the rest of the year, according to Brightly Eco Blog. The majority of the trash consists of wrapping paper, turning out to be 2.3 billion pounds wasted a year. Another majority of the trash wasted, are Christmas cards. It is estimated that 1.3 billion cards are sent each year. Though this might not strike as an issue, this emits the same amount of CO2 as powering 22,000 homes’ energy use for one year.
“I do think that Christmas cards aren’t really being used anymore,” Zimmer said. “I think many have switched to e-cards since covid”.
Frivolity has always been prominent, but it is exemplified during this time of year. Greenpeace, an independent global campaigning network, recently found that as little as one kilogram of wrapping paper emits three and a half kilograms of carbon dioxide during the production process because of the use of one and a half kilograms of coal to power its production.
Investing in eco-friendly and biodegradable wrapping paper, ribbons and even some toys, could help decrease the amount of waste created during the holidays.
“My wife and I recycle everything we can during this time of year,” John Gallo, biology teacher and head of the biology club, said. “We reuse the same Christmas tree, gift bags, boxes and electronics and try to limit our waste”.
Fake Christmas trees have a greater environmental impact than using real ones. Artificial trees have a carbon footprint equivalent to around 88 pounds. They contribute to the epidemic of plastic pollution globally. Though these numbers may already seem high, they only keep increasing annually according to The Commercial Waste Trade. The impact of trash and waste is extremely harmful to the environment as it depletes the ozone layer, kills ecosystems and harms our world as a whole.
Gallo suggests that if you plan on using a fake tree, plan to keep it in the years to come, as doing that helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and waste produced.
“When we used to have a real tree we would participate in the city’s composting program at the end of the season,” Gallo said. “Now we used a passed-down fake one, but we will continue to use it for as long as we can”.
Beyond that, it’s important to keep in mind to reuse decorations and make more eco-conscious choices. For example, buying a real tree, biodegradable decorations and overall, being mindful of how you use your materials.
As the third most populated country in the world with close to 332 million people, it is important to be aware of how we go about using, saving and consuming during the holiday season. It’s important to understand how we can better our Christmas and how we can do that while also protecting the environment.
In addition to all the waste and trash that is thrown out during this time of year, we throw out 230,000 tons during the year and during the holiday’s it escalates. This amount of waste contributes to the landfills which are slowly taking over parts of our land.
Over the past five years, the increase in food waste has gone up by 80 percent annually. Though this might not seem as much of an issue as it may be, a study done by the University of Manchester reported that our combined Christmas dinners produce the same carbon footprint as a single car traveling around the world 6,000 times. This is because of the use of coal, gas ovens, fireplaces and microwaves being used an excessive amount. According to the Waste and Resources Action Program, this waste would be associated with more than 25 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Food waste is such a big issue in this country,” Gallo said. “It’s hard to eliminate it completely, but trying not to cook more than can be eaten is crucial.”
On a smaller scale, the United States produces 70 billion pounds of food waste annually, again the majority of that percentage comes from family dinners and get-togethers during Christmas, according to Brightly Eco Blog.
These numbers aren’t going down. With the assistance of immense food advertisements and the encouragement to buy more food than needed, the waste of food in the U.S. continues to skyrocket.
“Every year we do these meal plans,” Zimmer said. “We try to plan out the amount of food for everyone so we don’t waste, and we just eat the leftovers”.
However, there is hope as every problem has a solution. Minor changes to decorations, food and habits during the Christmas season can drastically make a difference one family at a time.
One thing done commonly in households is reusing wrapping paper, ribbons, charms and tissue paper, instead of throwing them out. In addition, using eco-friendly wrapping and tissue paper that are biodegradable help.
Another way to help is by making and sending e-Christmas cards. New rising websites like the Paperless Post and Blue Mountain allow for a customizable and environmentally friendly Christmas card.
One of the major contributors to excessive energy usage are holiday lights. Every year, Christmas lights consume enough energy to power 400,000 houses for a year. However, to combat this issue, switching to LED lights, which are more eco-friendly, saves 80 percent of the energy than usual Christmas lights.
“You can also recycle electronics,” Gallo said. “Many bring old or even newish electronics, including Christmas lights, to an electronic drop off location.”
Lastly, to help with food waste, plan out meals with the number of people joining, volunteer leftovers, and use the actual food waste as soil fertilizer.
“Personally I recommend that people try to be more aware of the waste, food and non-food,” Gallo said.
It is possible to reuse, reduce and recycle during the festive season and it starts with the little things. It’s important to make tiny changes to better your Christmas season by helping the environment too.
“Thinking about minimizing the waste situation and doing what you can makes a big difference,” Gallo said. “Do what you can to limit the waste stream, reducing, reusing, recycling.”