Now comes the wonderful time of the year when families get together to celebrate Christmas. Turkeys are cooked, gifts are exchanged, trees are put up, and it seems like the entire house is decorated with glowing lights. However, even though we admire all the lights and the Christmas tree, these come at an expense to the environment. Since they are used in large amounts, many chemicals are invested in the process and emitted into the atmosphere, which can in turn affect the air, animals, and even drinking water. Fortunately, today’s technology exists to make alternative choices for common Christmas traditions.
The Excess of Food
During Christmas, it is estimated that the United States consumes eighty percent more food than during any other time of the year, including Thanksgiving. About 22 million turkeys and 1.76 billion candy canes are produced during this time. What happens to the leftovers? It is estimated that about 200,000 tons of food are wasted and thrown away in the end. A possible solution is to estimate the amount of food that is needed beforehand to try and reduce excess food. If there is an excess, some local shelters will accept leftovers (that are not expired or old of course).
Wrapping Paper and Christmas Cards
Around 300,000 trees are cut down to manufacture enough Christmas cards for the entire nation. During the production of Christmas cards, factories emit approximately 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide–triple the amount released during coal production. The amount of carbon dioxide released increases a person’s carbon footprint, which is the amount of CO2 released per the consumption of goods per person. Some alternatives to these cards include: recycled cards made from 100% recycled materials, or investing in cards that are made from vegetable ink instead of carbon. Wrapping paper is also overly used, especially during the holidays. The amount used is staggering: 227,000 miles of wrapping paper–which is about the size of New Jersey. Wrapping paper is produced from trees and entire forests are cut down to keep up with the demand for this product. This leads to the exploitation of forest habitats which can potentially harm forest animals and their productivity. Some wrapping paper to possibly consider includes using cardboard gift bags, or if you really want to get creative, make wrapping paper out of magazines and newspapers.
Batteries are commonly used to power toys and lights. However, these items can be lethal in many ways since some contain mercury. Once ready to be discarded, if they are tossed in the trash and landfills, the hazardous waste can result in polluted bodies of water. The metals in batteries will contaminate the environment of aqueous organisms and can also affect drinking water. Therefore, make sure to find a safe location to discard your batteries and give the environment a hand. Or consider giving battery-free gifts.
Christmas lights are glowing everywhere, however, they require large amounts of energy and at times can affect wildlife and their sleeping patterns. Some alternatives are to use solar powered lights or use LED lights which may be more expensive, but use less energy in the long run. Another good tip is to ensure that the lights are not on all night, something that can help wildlife as well as reduce the cost of using so much electricity.
There are pros and cons with both artificial and natural Christmas trees. Artificial trees are not biodegradable (cannot decompose after it is discarded) and will remain in the environment for a very long time. It cannot decompose due to the fact that it is composed of PVCs and other harmful plastics that can affect ecosystems and organisms. On the other hand, while a natural tree can degrade, harvesting these trees can lead to soil erosion in the area as well as increase the risk of a house fire.
While Christmas may be the most wonderful time of the year, annual traditions can take a toll on the environment. This does not mean special traditions should be terminated, but instead alternatives should be considered to use less energy and make Christmas a more sustainable holiday.