It’s the Most Destructive Time of The Year

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.

Black Friday BrawlFigure 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).

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 12.37.29 PM

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:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/560494888/sauceboss-dip-holder-for-car-dipclip?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_us_e-home_and_living-kitchen_and_dining-kitchen_storage-pot_racks&utm_custom1=512f825a-b03a-4bfb-9b3d-a7900dad8015&gclid=Cj0KCQiA0vnQBRDmARIsAEL0M1lM0XvuDFLzAIBSWmGDNYKrxPNggp2h-Nz11OnvAqHN9E3wNYB_ijAaAg23EALw_wcB

Portable Watermelon Cooler:

http://www.coolthings.com/marugoto-tamachan/

Smartphone for your Dog:

https://petchatz.com/shop/

PancakeBot 2.0:

http://www.pancakebot.com

Sources:

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

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18 thoughts on “It’s the Most Destructive Time of The Year

  1. imagine sanford filled with holiday cards. Pretty crazy to think that something so useless causes such a problem. Easy fix is to just not wrap gifts. I personally am bad at wrapping so use alot of bags to present my gifts. These bags all come from bags people have given me gifts in. Maybe just using the packaging the gift comes in can become to new meta for gift giving.

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  2. Over-packaging is already a problem faced worldwide, where everything is enclosed beyond believe in plastics and cardboard. Never have I thought about the careless customs Christmas brings with wrapping these items more and more and producing more waste every step of the way. Unfortunately, these are broad cultural traditions that would seem to be difficult to curb. In my opinion, the best way to address the problem would be to confront companies on the ways in which they package products, and maybe limit the plastic and materials use in this process.

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  3. This is an interesting read. I have never thought about how the presents under the tree are to the environment. Unfortunately, I doubt anything will change in the future with the way we celebrate the holidays. Maybe we can encourage people to reuse gift bags and boxes to give gifts rather than using wrapping paper, but it is a really interesting thing to think about this holiday season.

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  4. 10/10 for the useless gift examples you selected. Made me laugh. I think it will be interesting to see how these broader trends shift, perhaps to even having more environmental impact, as online shopping becomes ever more popular and Cyber Monday starts to overtake Black Friday. It would be interesting to see how much all those additional transportation costs add up in terms of environmental impact.

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  5. 1. Thank you for the gift list. Didn’t know I needed a car vent dipping sauce holder until now. My nugg game is going to be lit!
    2. I’m now afraid to use my Christmas tree. My mom bought it for my first Christmas, and we’ve used it every year since. That tree is the only thing that prevents us from buying a real one each year. But, if it’s harmful, we may have to look into alternative sources.

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  6. This was super interesting! I had never really thought about the environmental impacts of this season, but now that I have I will definitely be more conscious of the gifts that I buy and how I wrap them! It would be neat to see some big stores like Target or Macy’s supporting a more environmentally friendly holiday season by encouraging reusable shopping bags or offering recycled gift wrapping supplies.

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  7. This was a very interesting post. I never thought about all these customs and the environmental impact of it. I think it because people tend to shift their views and the emotions to be more positive and giving, and they forget to about the harm they are actually doing. I noticed that a lot of things are over packaged already, and the gift wrapping just adds another layer to it. Asking people to stop their customs would be difficult plus they can be offended, because they might think we are attacking their religion. What are some alternatives to these things such as gift wrapping and the card-giving?

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  8. The fact you put the links to purchase the items mentioned is either hilariously ironic or a bit on the nose. This blog made me rethink how I see the holidays and consider the fact that entire industries have brainwashed me (among a plethora of the population) to see more things in wrapping paper as elegant and full of holiday cheer. Changing our minds to see the mountain of presents for what it really is hard enough to do even when we know the backstory to how the wrapping paper and packaging is produced let alone overcome the colorful patterns on the stuff, so how do we get the general public to comply? I for one am not sure how to answer that, but the easy answer is reliant on wrapping paper being made from sustainable/biodegradable materials at a competitive price. At a surface level that solution seems problematic for now while petroleum based products will remain cheap until its environmental effects are applied to the petrol (in form of a tax or regulation).

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  9. This was a very interesting read. Not many people realize just how harmful waste is produced during the holiday season. The holiday season is one of the worst times of the year for waste generation.

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  10. I feel so guilty thinking about how much extra harm the holiday season brings. At the same time I think about beloved holiday traditions and it would be hard to change. I think that I could make necessary changes but at the same time I think most people would be unable to.

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  11. Great post!! This is definitely making me re-think some of my holiday purchases and traditions. It’s unfortunate how much consumerism and capitalism has driven us to care more about “getting” material goods. I did a challenge last Christmas that I would not buy any new items for my gifts to friends and family. It was really challenging, but a lot of fun going to thrift stores, craft fairs, etc. I think fundamentally changing our approach to holiday consumerism could make a big difference!

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  12. I always thought about wrapping paper and other holiday packaging as being wasteful, but I never knew the magnitude of the issue. My parents have always tried to save some packaging from year to year and re use them, but that’s just not possible for wrapping paper. Hopefully someone is working on a re useable form of wrapping paper, unfortunately it’ll probably be made of plastic.

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  13. Mayah, this blog post had great insight. Our consumer lifestyle spikes pollution and I’m not sure if people are aware. I’m not really sure how we could address this situation as companies want to maximize revenue. I think the only way is to attack our manufacturing industry and implement policies that use renewable plastics and paper products.

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  14. First off, I did not know that the PancakeBot existed and now I desperately want one. Secondly, this post did give me a new insight for the holiday season. I think it’s such a hectic time of the year and it will be hard to get a lot of people to make a change, but I will definitely be watching my actions.

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  15. Thanks for writing about this topic! It’s something I think about every year around this time; all of the gifts purchased just for the sake of getting someone something that they don’t need and maybe don’t even want. Not to mention all of the waste produced from the wrapping paper, an extremely useless source of waste. Additionally, there is a lot of waste generated from people ordering everything through Amazon instead of going to the store. Maybe a way to make the situation a little better would be to use reusable gift bags instead of wrapping everything individually. At the heart of this issue is consumerism; a lot of the problems with waste in America have this at the heart of the problem it seems.

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  16. As much as I would like to help the environment I’m not sure if grandma would listen if told not to come for christmas. I think a better solution would be as we are going out and getting jobs to try and get a job and live closer to grandma. As for the other impacts, it seems they are getting even worse. As mentioned, Cyber Monday has more impact than Black Friday and hasn’t been around nearly as long.

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