We nestle all snug in our beds, while visions of sugar-plums dance in our heads. In the meanwhile, we are straining our waste management systems, killing our forests, and destroying our air. The holidays may be a time for family, presents, and traditions for us, but they wreak havoc on our planet. The “most wonderful time of the year” isn’t so wonderful for our environment.
According to the US CDC, household waste increases by more than 25% during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. In fact, over 1 million additional tons of trash are dumped into our landfills for each week of the holiday season. Which begs the question: where does this waste originate?
I bring to you, culprit #1: Black Friday.
Figure 1: A woman desperately clung to a TV after a brawl broke out.
Each year, we gather around a table overfilled with food and think about the things we are thankful for. Then, after we wake up from our food-induced coma, we punch someone in the face for a Barbie doll that we have to have, even though we have no children. We seek the car vent dipping sauce holders, portable watermelon coolers, smartphones for dogs, and PancakeBot (a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, the Taj Mahal, or your face every morning).
Figure 2: Links to purchase these products in Source Description.
Plastic toys, games and electronics are among the most sought-after items during Black Friday shopping. Over the holidays, we consume over 125,000 tons of plastic packaging. In a recent interview with “The Guardian”, Roland Geyer, from the University of California said, “even if we stay on the current trends of increasing recycling and incineration rates, we will have doubled the amount of plastic waste discarded since 1950 in the next 20 years”.
Culprit #2 is gift presentation.
Yes, those gifts that we sucker punched someone for are now wrapped in a mixture of dead tree clippings and petroleum. Half of the paper consumed in the US originates from the holiday season. Over 8,000 tons of wrapping paper is consumed each year, equating to approximately 50,000 trees dedicated to wrapping paper. Around 3 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the US, which is enough to fill Sanford Stadium 10 stories high. According to One Green Planet, a single tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year, and (if we continue our current consumption rates) rainforests are expected to disappear completely in less than 40 years. What makes this worse? The fact that no one keeps these cards, only the cash inside. No one keeps the wrapping paper, only the piece of plastic that it encased. And no one even thinks about their actions.
Culprit #3 is holiday decorations.
Some Americans celebrate the holidays by bringing a dead tree into their homes and decorating it. Others simply reuse a plastic imitation of a tree year after year. In fact, over 33 million live trees are sold in North America every year for the holidays—most of which are discarded by the start of the following year. This brings the debate of real or plastic tree. Most fake trees contain PVC, which is extremely dangerous for children. According to the Healthy Child Healthy World Organization, PVC releases dioxins, which cause health effects including cancer, birth defects, diabetes, learning and developmental delays, endometriosis, and immune system abnormalities. Despite these risks, many producers sell on the fact that the tree is reusable for multiple years.
As we snuggle by the fireplace and take part in our family traditions, let’s stay thankful for the simple things: the clean air that allows us to breathe, the water that brings us life, and the plants that give us nutrients and strength. The “most wonderful time of the year” doesn’t have to be a time of indifference.
Items Mentioned for Purchase:
Car Vent Dipping Sauce Holder:
Portable Watermelon Cooler:
Smartphone for your Dog:
CDC Features. (2017, November 20). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/features/greenholidays/index.html
I Didn’t Know That: How Christmas Trees Are Made. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/i-didnt-know-that/idkt-christmas-trees
Laville, S. (2017, November 24). Black Friday to cause spikes in air pollution and plastic waste, warn environmentalists. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/24/black-friday-to-cause-spikes-in-air-pollution-and-plastic-waste-warn-environmentalists
Monbiot, G. (2017, November 22). Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet | George Monbiot. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/22/black-friday-consumption-killing-planet-growth
Puppy Mills. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/?credit=web_id93480558
Real vs. Plastic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from http://www.christmastreesny.org/RealvsPlastic.php
The Ultimate Guide to Cutting Your Paper Waste. (2014, December 16). Retrieved November 29, 2017, from http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/the-ultimate-guide-to-cutting-your-paper-waste/
Treptow, S. (n.d.). The environmental impact of the holiday season. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from http://cleanair-stlouis.com/the-environmental-impact-of-the-holiday-season/
Wallander, M. (2013, November 27). ‘Tis the Season to Be… Wasteful? Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/mattias-wallander/tis-the-season-to-be-wast_1_b_4350697.html