As we prepare ourselves for the infamous Shanghai winter creeping up upon us, there is something else a little bit merrier that we should be preparing for⎯holiday season!
From Christmas all the way to New Year’s, we expect joy-filled days of celebration, food and presents. But before we dive into all this delightfulness, our environment might not be as excited as we are.
This time of the year sees a huge spike in all sorts of waste, from food to packaging, as well as large amounts of energy use. In this article, we’ll introduce to you some general information we learned about Christmas packaging and decoration waste, and also recommend a few useful alternatives you can keep in mind for a greener holiday season.
It is estimated that in the UK a few years ago wrapping paper thrown away by consumers during Christmas totaled to around 227,000 miles (~365,000 km). That’s a lot of wrapping paper! In addition, wrapping gifts also require a lot of tape. The sticky tape used along with all this wrapping is estimated to be around one and a half rolls of sticky tape for each household. The total comes to about 40 million rolls.
And don’t forget all the extra packaging that comes with gifts! For each year in the UK, it is estimated that the total amount of tin foil used in packaging accumulates to around 4,500 tons while other additional plastic packaging amounts to around 125,000 tons. Furthermore, Greenpeace highlights that just 1kg of wrapping paper uses 1.3kg of coal and releases 3.5kg of CO2 during the production process.
Another estimate shows that the number of Christmas trees bought in the UK for a particular holiday season placed end to end would be the same as a roundtrip from UK to New York City. Both artificial and real trees have their own environmental impact. Many artificial trees are produced in South Korea, Taiwan or Mainland China and then shipped across the world for sale. When thrown away, they usually get sent to landfill or incineration plants because they are usually not biodegradable. A staggering 5.3 million artificial trees are purchased every year!
Yiwu, China makes about 60% of the world’s Christmas decorations. For the merchants there, Christmas is all year round, as they work every day to fulfill Christmas decoration orders from around the world. From snow-tipped trees to trees with blinking lights, Yiwu sends their products to key markets like US and UK. While there is high global demand, the factories will keep churning out artificial trees.
On the other hand, real Christmas trees are, well, trees. They take a while to grow back (around 7 to 10 years). They support their ecosystem in their natural habitat like stabilizing and protecting soil. So, whether you choose an artificial one or a real one, there are certain environmental consequences.
Not to mention the Christmas cards. Despite how many we attempt to keep, a lot of them eventually get thrown away. An estimated 1 billion cards end up in the trash each year, which is equal to about 33 million trees. On top of that, the additional card packaging can reach 300,000 tons.
Meanwhile, many broken and unappreciated gifts also make their way to the trash can. And for the rest that are used, a significant number of these gifts also require disposable batteries. While we are quick to buy these batteries to operate our gifts, not a lot of the used batteries make it to the recycling center. It is estimated that in 2015, in the UK only around 35% of batteries are recycled.
We can go on with more alarming waste numbers. But when we take a step back and look at the big picture, it is clear that our festivities come at a huge cost. This is not to discourage celebrations. Instead, let’s take a look at some ways to celebrate in a more environmentally-friendly way.
Celebrating alternatives this holiday season
At Zer’0 Waste, we promote the use of the 5R’s (if you are not familiar, check out our WeChat account!). We choose two that we think might be useful for your holiday shenanigans.
Reuse: Save that tree! If you already own an artificial one, consider reusing it for next year. Old baubles and ornaments can be spruced up and awarded again a spot on the tree. Make it a fun DIY activity with your friends and family.
Recycle: Who needs wrapping paper when you have all those Sunday morning newspapers lying around the apartment? Consider turning scrap or used paper into some fashionable wrapping. After they have been torn apart during the gift opening session, you can easily place them in the recycling bin.
It’s also a time to let your creativity shine through! We’ve spied cranberry and popcorn garlands, floral trees, paper snowflakes and bottle cap pins suggested for a “zero waste” holiday. You can check the two links below for more snazzy alternatives.
We look forward to hearing about some of your zero waste ideas for this upcoming holiday season!
Christmas decoration alternatives: