America is a consumer nation, there is no doubt about that. There is no other time of the year that this fact is more obvious than during the holidays. We all pretty much know that Americans will spend an average of $900 extra dollars this season, but did you know we will generate 25 million pounds of extra garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? That’s in addition to normal monthly household garbage. No wonder we feel the need to leave a 12 pack of beer atop the pile of boxes and bags of wrapping paper heaped up on our curb on the first garbage day after Christmas. A few of the stats jumped out at me, and I’ve come up with some alternatives that can not only keep some cash in your pocket, but will go a long way to keeping our garbage men and the planet happy.
I was surprised to discover that half of the paper America consumes in any given year is used to wrap consumer goods. HALF! That’s a lot of trees to try and make that cheap gift box of scented lotion and candles look like a better gift than it really is. 25 million tons of wrapping paper ends up in our landfills every Christmas season. Christmas wrapping constitutes 9.36 billion in annual sales, that’s more than the GDP of the nine poorest countries in Africa combined. Try to wrap your head around that figure! So, what can we do to save not only our share of that cash, but to save a few trees so we can all breathe a little easier? For starters, you can re-use last years’ gift bags, bows and wrapping paper. You could also use recycled materials, such as newspapers or magazines. I do a mix of this every year, but I draw cute pictures on the newspaper clad packages, and the kids never even notice my extra effort, much less the fact it was newspaper. If any of your friends turn their noses at your efforts to save the planet, perhaps that might be a signal for you to reevaluate your friends. 25 million tons is a lot of trees and a lot of trash.
What of those Christmas Cards we collect and then tape to the wall or prop up on the mantle only to be tossed in the trash when the decorations come down? They add up to a whopping 2.65 billion annually. That’s enough to fill a football field 10 stories high. I’ve never been big on sending Christmas cards (read my earlier article on Procrastination and you’ll understand why) and I have always felt that taking 5 minutes to make a phone call is much more appreciated and meaningful than a card. If there are too many names on your list, sending an e-card is a much more ecological choice, there are many of these services available online and a lot are free.
This year it is estimated that there will be 70 billion returns made to stores after the holiday season is over according to the Oporto Group, a tech company that focuses on reverse logistics. Returns have a much larger impact environmentally because, contrary to popular belief, the items often don’t just go right back out onto store shelves. They are shipped to and fro among the supply chain and middlemen until they are either resold or it becomes more cost effective to just toss into the nearest landfill unused. Oporto estimates that the US accumulates 4 billion pounds of landfill waste per year from the return process alone. But what if you just can’t stand the sequin-encrusted sweater Aunt Mary so lovingly picked out just for you? Try re-gifting it as a joke to a close pal, or better yet…cut it in small squares to place under the legs of your sofa to help it slide with ease on the living room tile. Just make sure you put the sweater side down so the sequins don’t leave magenta and gold skid marks all over your tile.
In all seriousness, perhaps a different mindset on giving and the holidays altogether is called for. In addition to leaving the smallest footprint on the Earth as possible, we should focus on the most important aspect of the holidays which is spending time with friends and family. You could give an experience as a gift, such as concert or movie tickets, restaurant gift cards or memberships to local museums or aquariums. Then there is always making a donation to any number of charities in lieu of gifts. Instead of the buying latest gadgets that get used one time (my granddaughter’s request for a “Potato Express” a few years ago comes to mind) why not gather with friends to create and exchange more homemade gifts like beauty scrubs, “cookie in a jar” mixes or candles. With the sheer number of DIY projects swirling around on the internet everyone is bound to find something that they can make, and who knows, maybe a gift making party can be a new favorite holiday tradition. If everyone just picked one of the above suggestions, the overall impact would be immense. The planet would thank us, our wallets would be fatter, and we just might spend more time enjoying each other.
photos from Pixabay.com