The Most Wasteful Time of the Year?

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4.6 million pounds of gift wrap is used every year around Christmas time, just to be ripped off and thrown into the trash bin without a thought. Including the packaging many gifts ship in and the food that is enjoyed by millions, we are left with about 25 million more tons of trash than any other time of the year. According to studies done by Stanford University and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans produce 25% more garbage during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season than normal. This increase in solid waste, which will likely go to already-crowded landfills, is mostly the result of unnecessary packaging, unwanted gifts, and food waste. 

Americans buy, on average, 14.9 gifts per person, but statistics show that 46% of them lied about liking their present. One in ten gifts ends up in the trash because the gift receivers did not want to offend the giver. This wastes money, resources, the efforts of the people who made them, and the time it took to find the present. 

Regardless of whether these people like their presents, the gifts will likely be wrapped up. Most of the wrapping paper used cannot be recycled because they are glitter-encrusted. Many holiday wrapping papers and ribbons contain non-degradable microplastics, which release harmful chemicals into both the air and water, non-paper additives, and even sticky tape, all of which make it unsuitable for recycling. 

Though food waste has always been a problem in the US, it gets much worse during the holidays with 250,000 metric tons of food being thrown out. When food in a supermarket is close to its expiration date or blemished in some way, staff usually throw it away instead of donating it to local shelters and food banks or composting it. However, after food is purchased, even more waste is produced. Leftovers from a typical American holiday feast adds up to enough food for a week of lunches and dinners for everyone at the meal. Since eating the same leftover food every day for a week is tiresome, most of it just gets thrown out. This carelessly thrown away trash builds up quickly and EPA says that “wasted food contributes to landfills being the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States.”

Despite all this, being more environmentally friendly during the holidays is possible. During the holiday seasons, there are many small things you can change to protect the planet. For wrapping, Stanford University suggests using “colorful pages torn from magazines to wrap small gifts, and old maps or the Sunday comics for larger boxes.” If wrapping paper is a must, then consider using glitter-free wrapping paper, or those that are made from recycled paper. The EPA advises people to also try making homemade gifts, like pastries and hand-made crafts, to replace store-bought gifts. To cut back on food waste, make just enough food for you and your guests (or tell your parents to, if they are the ones cooking) and try making small portions of different types of food.