Christmas and the Environment

By Baljot Rai ’24

Deputy & Religion Editor

It’s Christmas, the official season of overindulging, feasting, unwrapping presents and bedecking every corner of our homes with festive decorations. Yet have you ever considered the impact that your Christmas celebrations have on our planet? All the gifts we buy and give certainly aren’t gifts to our planet. Christmas has been proven to be considerably more environmentally unsustainable as opposed to any other time of the year.

While the holiday season can certainly take a bite out of your wallet, the long-term impacts of the season on the environment are considerably more detrimental. Zero Waste Canada, a non-profit grassroots organization which works towards ending wastefulness through literacy, reports that in Canada, over 400 000 tonnes of waste are generated from gift-wrapping each year. Additionally, six million rolls of tape are used to wrap up Christmas presents each year, and because of all the feasts and decorations associated with this “merry” season, household waste increases by nearly 25% during December.

The worst part of this is that after 6 months, only 1% of what the average Canadian buys is in use, as the other 99% has been discarded. In the long term, these exorbitant amounts of wastes generated by the Christmas season contribute to plastic pollution, be it in our waterbodies or microplastics in our bloodstream. Lead from battery disposal has poisoned millions of children in developing countries, and to keep up with consumer demands, unethical sweatshops have been plaguing developing nations. While it’s unreasonable to opt out of consumerism, we should severely reconsider our approach to Christmas shopping and how we celebrate the holiday season.

First, consider quality over quantity. Consider gifting something that someone is likely to cherish for an extended period of time, as opposed to a multitude of items which will end up in the landfill shortly after. Also opt for presents which are free of single-use plastics, and are biodegradable or recyclable.

Second, consider buying local. Most of our products come from halfway around the world, which contributes to greenhouse emissions due to transportation. Supporting local businesses is beneficial to both our economic health, and the health of our planet. Furthermore, Christmas presents don’t always have to be physical items; experiences can be just as—if not more—fulfilling. A membership to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights or an Audible subscription are wonderful ideas.

Third, avoid using shiny or glossy wrapping paper, and instead consider using recyclable wrapping paper or brown paper instead. After all, it’s what’s inside that matters.

When it comes to Christmas trees, which are also reputed for being large sources of wastes, consider purchasing a locally grown tree, or just renting one out for the season. If you’re alright with having a Christmas tree around all year, consider buying a Norfolk Island pine, which looks quite like an evergreen conifer, but is smaller and flourishes indoors. All these options are much more sustainable than the traditionally used Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) trees, made from the ‘grinchiest’ plastic, which have to be used at least 17-20 times to keep their emissions to a minimum. This Christmas season, consider giving back to the planet as well.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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