The time has come to consider ‘greening’ our Christmases. The mass amount of waste created by the holiday is extremely polluting. The methane and carbon dioxide gas created by landfill as this waste decomposes is contributing to the greenhouse gas effect and global warming. When food decomposes in landfills, methane is produced, a greenhouse gas that is approximately thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide. This exacerbates the already serious problem of climate change, and the more each individual cuts down on waste, the better for everyone.
In Ireland, our packaging waste increases up to 25% over the holiday season. That’s 74,000 tonnes of used glass, paper and cardboard as a result of the extra goods we buy and the packaging that contains them. The culture of luxury, plenty, and excess that is now associated with the festives of Christmas is at the root of this issue. Not only do we purchase more goods but we consume more produce also as we tend to buy more food than we need, throwing away much of the excess. Already in Ireland, one third of all food brought into the home is wasted.
At Christmas time, this gets worse: on average, people only eat around half of the food that is bought for Christmas. To avoid this, we must be mindful and only buy the amount of food that you know will be eaten. If there is food left over, don’t throw it out. Leftover food can be used when cooking other dishes. There are numerous other methods to cut down on waste over the holiday period. However, remember that the waste problem associated with Christmas is not caused by individuals or families alone.
A lot of environmental solutions focus on the individual. We tell each other to cut down on waste, to ride our bikes, to change our light bulbs, to give recycled gifts, to always do more, and to always do better. These solutions are all beneficial of course, and we must all accept the responsibility we have to the environment.
However, focusing on these solutions alone has negative effects. They mask the responsibility that large businesses and corporations have to the environment.
Ask yourself, who is pressuring people to buy too much food at Christmas? Why do parents feel the need to buy so many plastic toys for their kids from Santa? Why are struggling families compelled to take out emergency loans to pay for Christmas? The answer to all of these questions is businesses and their marketing campaigns. This culture of excess was intentionally created to generate profit. Furthermore, these solutions focus on the individual, instead of empowering people to take collective action to fight climate change and environmental degradation.
We must work together to save our planet – collective power is a key tool which corporations and the big polluters would rather we forget is an option.
The advertisements and social pressures of the holiday period push shoppers into buying more and more in the supermarket. This lifestyle leads to an immense buildup of waste, contributing significantly to environmental damage.
Reduce waste levels
Fortunately, there are many ways to make Christmas more environmentally friendly, and small steps can be taken to tackle waste on a large scale. Avoid giving plastic gifts or gifts that will break easily. Gifts are more valuable and environmentally friendly when they last a long time.
If you ever receive an unwanted gift, don’t throw it away, or leave it unused in the back of the cupboard or under the bed. You can give unwanted gifts to charity or to someone who may enjoy it more than you.
We get through six million rolls of wrapping paper each Christmas, enough to wrap the entire island of Jersey in old wrapping paper. Wrapping paper is not recyclable. There are better alternatives such as old newspapers, brown paper or paper bags. You can also keep scraps of wrapping paper for future creative projects. It can be used to make cards or decorations for the next year.
When giving presents, it’s also worth considering that environmentally-friendly gifts and companies have a positive effect on our environment. Looking at the ethos of a company, and the packaging and materials they use, can help to support companies who are trying to make a change for the better.
Support your local markets at Christmas time – you are saving on fuel by shopping locally and research has shown that spending money locally benefits everyone. Buying food at a farmers market usually involves less packaging and enables you to buy the exact quantity you actually need, rather than bulk buying food that you might not use.
Local markets usually also have a range of wonderful crafts at Christmas, and it is infinitely better to support small business than to spend all your money on presents from the larger corporations.
Think before buying decorations made from non-sustainable materials, but if you do, keep them for use year after year. There are many beautiful non-plastic decorations available such as glass baubles or wooden ornaments.
Local councils usually set up tree shredding services after Christmas. Shredded Christmas trees can be used as ground-cover for public parks. People argue that artificial trees are the greener option due to their longevity, but they are not biodegradable and the pollution caused in manufacturing and disposal has more of a negative impact than real Christmas trees do. Buying trees from local farms benefits the community and saves energy and fuel.
Make sure to recycle old glass jars or bottles. Recycling glass reduces carbon dioxide emissions, saves energy and lessens the strain on landfills. Recycled glass is much easier to melt down when making new glass products so energy is saved and factory equipment will last longer.
Lots of even smaller things can be done. Cut out shapes on Christmas cards to use as gift tags for the next year. You can make your own Christmas crackers. Crackers contain plastic toys that usually have little to no use, but you could put personal gifts in your own. If buying Christmas lights, go for the LED lights.
LED lights use 90% less energy than standard light bulbs. If trying to reduce waste when gift-giving, give the gift of an experience such as a ticket to a show. When storing either crafting or food leftovers, reuse old jars and biscuit or sweet tins as storage containers.
These may seem like small adaptations, but overall they are significant. It is vitally important for our environment that we all make some effort to reduce waste and cut down on carbon emissions, in whatever capacity that can be done by any one family or person.