It’s the 6th of December and the festive season is officially upon us. As much as it is filled with merriment and cheer, Christmas is widely known as a time for excess and indulgence. But just how bad is our favourite time of year for the environment?
Absolutely terrible. Christmas is the most waste-filled time of year – not only do we use a huge amount of resources in making the products in the first place but we also generate around three million tonnes of waste by the end.
Here are the top four biggest offenders:
#1: Christmas trees
What would Christmas be without the Christmas tree! Trees come in all shapes, sizes and levels of tackiness and everyone has a preference as to whether real trees or plastic trees are the best addition to their cosy living room set up. A lot of people avoid real trees because of the expense and effort of buying a new tree every year. Also, the mess often left behind by the pine needles dropping out is a big factor in staying away from real trees, especially as most of of them are put up as soon as it hits the 1st of December. However, did you realise that it takes 10 years of using the same plastic tree to make up for the environmental damage caused by the production process? Using a real tree is definitely a greener option than a plastic one – however, real trees aren’t that eco-friendly either. In Great Britain alone, around six million Christmas trees will be incinerated, fly tipped, or dumped in landfill instead of being recycled after the festivities have ended.
That’s not all. Think about how much energy is wasted in every household by the fairy lights on the tree alone. According to the energy saving trust, non-essential lighting including that on Christmas trees contributes 400kg of extra CO2 being generated.
#2: Christmas cards and wrapping paper
Wrapping paper and Christmas cards are designed for single usage and even the hard-core wrapping paper savers in the family can only use it maybe once or twice at a push before it falls apart. Although some wrapping paper can and is put in the recycling, others such as paper with a shiny coating are completely non-recyclable because of the materials that are used to make it. Also, when caught up in the festive moment, people don’t always bother to recycle and as a result most of it ends up in landfill. According to Wragwrap, on average, it takes six mature trees to make a tonne of paper. This means approximately 50,000 trees are used to make the 8,250 tonnes consumed at Christmas and 75% of that total is said to happen over the Christmas period.
Christmas cards are also not designed for re-use. They usually contain a written message that is personalised towards the recipient and although potentially we could cover up the writing or re-use the front of the card, most people would consider that either a taboo or just too much effort especially when buying new cards is so cheap and accessible. It is also especially hard to think about upcycling cards when each household receives so many, and, as a result, after the Christmas celebrations have ended we are all guilty of chucking the cards straight into the recycling or worse, landfill. According to WRAP, 300,000 tonnes of card is used in UK households during the festive season and around 1.5Bn Christmas cards end up in waste bins in the UK.
#3: Food waste
There’s nothing more stressful than cooking for a large group of people, especially on Christmas day when the main meal is what people are most looking forward to. For anyone who has ever hosted, you’ll know that the biggest crime you can make on Christmas day is cooking too little food, well… too little for everyone to eat for two that is! Unfortunately, not everyone has a family with a brother who will eat everyone else’s seconds… and thirds. As a result an absolutely ridiculous amount of food is wasted each Christmas. According to Unilever, this is the equivalent to 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 slices of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.9 million carrots, and 11.3 million roast potatoes. Not to mention all the tin foil and baking paper that’s used in the cooking process!
#4: Cracker presents and other unwanted Christmas gifts
Christmas crackers are a Christmas dinner staple, but think about what happens to them after the bang has gone off and the jokes told (all in the space of about 5 minutes). Most Christmas crackers can’t be recycled, and the same goes for the little plastic presents you get inside. Realistically, they are inspected for about a minute before being cast aside. Not only do the fortune-telling fish and plastic sewing kits join the cracker casing in landfill, they are also very guilty of omitting harmful gases in the production process. According to Wrap, nearly every piece of plastic ever thrown away still exists today – think about how many Christmas cracker presents are part of that.
This is the same for many ‘stocking fillers’ and unwanted presents. According to the salvation army nearly 60 per cent of Brits will spend an average of £32 on stocking fillers for family members. These include items like ‘useless’ novelty items, ‘tacky’ ornaments and bath sets that will just be thrown away or gather dust at the back of a cupboard. This doesn’t even take into account the vast amount of plastic children’s toys that will break or be forgotten about in a few months time and all the unwanted clothes, books and CDs gifted to us all.
Every year, over-indulgence during the Christmas period really does leave a huge, unsustainable footprint on the environment. But don’t worry, it’s not about being a Christmas scrooge and not enjoying the festivities, it’s just up to us to be more aware of what we are consuming and the waste we are generating.
For tips and inspiration, look out for our guides on how to enjoy a greener Christmas which will be released throughout December!
Let us know your thoughts on the 4 biggest Christmas crimes by commenting below or tweeting us @revival_collect