Christmas: A Revival

The holidays are here! Unfortunately, with it comes the chance to hurt the environment. This article shouldn’t be a slap on the wrist for all the mistakes done, but instead  an eye opener for all the things that can be done better for future holidays. With the majority of the population celebrating within the same 1-2 days, pollutants can quickly sneak up and rise to unhealthy amounts. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and have an environmentally-friendly mindset, it is important to see what can be done better to improve the quality of life. Christmas is a great holiday to reinvent to lessen the carbon footprint that is being given off during this time. 

Every holiday, and especially major holidays, food waste is a big concern. With a big holiday like Christmas, food waste can bring major CO2 into the atmosphere. A study that was done in England reported that roughly “270,000tonnes of food [is] wasted in the UK each year” (Westwater, 2018) during the holiday season. This statistic includes seventy-four million mince pies, two million turkeys, and five million Christmas puddings. There is a lot to unpack from just this singular statistic.  From Eco-Youth’s previous article about Thanksgiving, it can be estimated that a regular 16 pound turkey can weigh 32 pounds. With just England alone, the two million turkeys would produce 64 million pounds of CO2. The puddings in England would produce roughly 7 million pounds of CO2. In England alone, an estimated 71 million pounds of CO2 is emitted just from Christmas, a 1-2 day holiday. 

BBC News. (2020). Bristol Waste says vast amounts of food waste are generated at Christmas [Photograph]. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-bristol-55386848

In America, the winter season is brutal when it comes to food waste. During this time of year “30 and 40 percent of the food supply goes to waste each year” (Russaw, 2019). This can prove to be detrimental to the environment and the surrounding landscapes. Given the fact that the United States is 40 times bigger than Britain, the 71 millions pounds of CO2 can be expected to be up to 40 times greater. There could be many reasons for this large food waste problem. Supermarkets during this time offer discounts that cause people to buy unnecessary foods that they don’t need. Christmas dinner being the star of this time of year tends to sway people to also overbuy on items in fear that there would be no variety for the dinner plate. These two trends, which often repeear during major holidays, are a great contribution to food waste. 

There can be many solutions to avoid this problem, but the main solution would be to save the leftovers! Freezing and refrigerating food is a great way to combat this issue because it lengthens the longevity of the food making it still edible for future days. Another great solution would be to compost the leftover food! Composting is great; it nourishes the soil and adds nutrients for plants to grow. Making sure excessive food doesn’t hit the landfill ensures that unneeded methane gas doesn’t go up into the atmosphere. 

Another huge problem concerning the environment and climate change is deforestation. With less and less trees, the earth is able to absorb less and less carbon dioxide which causes a ride in greenhouse gases. So, the natural choice for some people would be to opt for a fake Christmas tree. The advantages seem bluntly clear: less wood is cut down, the tree stays up and less pollution is emitted during the process. Besides, fake Christmas trees can last much longer than just one holiday season.  The Independent did an interview with Anne Mari Cobb, a certification officer at Soil Association Forestry, and she had some opposing views. She stated “‘Real Christmas trees are a renewable resource that doesn’t result in pollution, if responsibly recycled or disposed of’” (Barr, 2020). There is in fact truth in her statement.  A tree that is six feet and is properly disposed of (“burning it on a bonfire, planting it or having it chipped” (Barr, 2020)) is 7 pounds of CO2. Compared to one that isn’t properly disposed of, the CO2 emissions can go up to 16 pounds. A fake Christmas tree can have a footprint of up to 88 pounds of CO2. In order to fulfill the life of a properly disposed Christmas tree, the fake tree would need to be used for 12 years, and 6 years for an improperly disposed tree. The problem with this is that most fake trees do not fulfill the 12 years mark because the “average usable lifespan is six years” (Mitchell. 2019), but most are kept up to 10 years. The best part of growing natural trees is that “the process of growing a Christmas tree to optimum heights takes around eight to ten years” (Barr, 2020), so need for a fake tree is no longer needed because a new tree ready to be used is grown within the lifespan of one fake tree. Natural trees also have benefits that most fake trees do not have like a natural CO2 cycle within the home. The tree takes in the CO2 produced and expels O2. 

Even though a fake tree might seem like the logical approach, weighing out the pros and cons proves otherwise. Investing in a real tree can actually be more beneficial towards the planet than investing in a fake tree. With all things, try to locally source the tree so that the travel of the tree does not rack up any unneeded CO2. Buying a tree with roots rather than one that is cut from the stump can help reuse the tree annually (reducing the carbon emission even more!). People can also rent Christmas trees where trees are sourced locally from nurseries and return back to the nursery to live out the rest of its life. One company based in California called rentxmastree gives the citizens of California the option to rent a tree and return it back to its nursery after use. 

Flaccus, Gillian. (2018). In this November 2018 photo, Casey Grogan, owner of Silver Bells Tree Farm and president of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Assosication, trims noble fir at his 400-acre Christmas tree farm in Silverton, Ore. [Photograph]. AZCentral. https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/fact-check/2018/12/19/real-fake-christmas-trees-better-environment/1892885002/

The Holidays also bring about another environmental issue: overuse and waste of wrapping paper. There is a lot of wrapping paper used in the wrapping of presents (226,800 miles). This much wrapping paper equates to roughly “2.3 million pounds of plastic wrapping paper that is reported to end up there every year” (Haraczek, 2020). This could be fine if ALL the wrapping paper was just paper and completely degradable. However,  there was all sort of wrapping paper you could find in the store. Some have glitter, extra decorations, grooves, and other decorations that taint the paper with unnecessary chemicals. When this paper is thrown out in the regular garbage, it ends up in landfills while discharging harmful chemicals into the soil. Wrapping paper doesn’t have to end up in landfills and slowly harm  our environment. To add onto the hazards of wrapping, an experiment was conducted using an air quality tracker, Awair which proved that when gifts were unwrapped, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) were released into the air making the air quality poor. The goal of this experiment proves that wrapping paper sold in stores can end up harming the environment by releasing toxins that end  and oneself while just existing and spreading joy. 

The harsh truth about the recycling process and wrapping paper is that not every center will accept them. So the best option would be to contact your local recycling center and make sure they accept what you need to be recycled. A test by Popular Science can help determine if a given wrapping paper is recyclable or not. All that needs to be done is “crinkle the paper up into a ball—if it stays that way when you let go, it’s fine to put in the recycle bin” (Haraczek, 2020). To every problem, there is a solution!

There can be great substitutes to use instead of using wrapping paper. These can include using gift bags instead of boxes and wrapping paper. The boxes that gifts come in are often thrown out, but by using a gift bag, it can be recycled for other gifts and future holidays. It is a cheaper and less pollutant option to wrapping paper. Another option is using newspapers and twine. This option is recyclable and biodegradable. Just remember to use hemp twine as it is biodegradable! A fabric bag is great to use and can even be used later as a regular bag to carry with you. Overall, the tip is to get creative with wrapping gifts and trying to stray away from commercially produced wrapping paper. A home wrapped option opens the door for creativity and the option to lessen your carbon footprint. 

The Pioneer Women (2020). [DIY wrapping paper with twine and winter scene painted on presents] [Photograph]. The Pioneer Women. https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/holidays-celebrations/gifts/g32703477/christmas-gift-wrapping-ideas/

Christmas can be seen as a time of joy and celebration, and it should be. In a time like this, however, it is important to also pay attention to common pollutants and try to minimize what we use. Big holidays like Christmas give consumers the chance to splurge and buy unnecessary things like food and excessive wrapping paper that might end up being not composted or not recycled. If given the chance, minimize how much of a product is being bought and also always check to see if it is environment friendly. Try to drift away from mass produced things and if given the chance, do some DIYs to help lessen the carbon footprint. 

From Eco-Youth to your family – Happy Holidays!

Works Cited

“74 Million Mince Pies Thrown Away Every Christmas.” Unilever UK & Ireland, http://www.unilever.co.uk/news/press-releases/2012/74-million-mince-pies-thrown-away-every-christmas.html.

“Are Artificial or Real Christmas Trees Better for the Environment?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 30 Nov. 2020, http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/christmas/christmas-tree-real-living-artificial-plastic-environment-carbon-footprint-a9235551.html.

Awair. “Could Some Wrapping Paper Be Unhealthy for You?” Awair Blog, 14 Dec. 1970, blog.getawair.com/is-unwrapping-gifts-unhealthy.

“Calculating the Carbon Cost of Christmas – in Puddings!” University of York, http://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2007/carbon-christmas/.

Horaczek, Stan. “2020 Is the Perfect Year to Quit Wrapping Paper.” Popular Science, http://www.popsci.com/story/diy/quit-wrapping-paper/.

“How Much Food Goes to Waste During Christmas, and How Can We Prevent It? – Respect Food.” Grundig – Respect Food, http://www.respectfood.com/article/how-much-food-goes-to-waste-during-christmas-and-how-can-we-prevent-it/.

“How to Solve Britain’s Overstuffed Christmas Food Waste Epidemic.” The Big Issue, 18 Dec. 2018, http://www.bigissue.com/latest/how-to-solve-britains-overstuffed-christmas-food-waste-epidemic/.

“Pricing out a Real vs Artificial Christmas Tree.” Old World Christmas, oldworldchristmas.com/blogs/the-yule-blog/pricing-out-a-real-vs-artificial-christmas-tree.

“Rent a Living Christmas Tree.” RentXmasTree.com | Rent a Living Christmas Tree, rentxmastree.com/.

Russaw, Jeanine Marie. “5 Ways to Reduce Food Waste This Holiday Season, According to the Experts.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 13 Dec. 2019, http://www.newsweek.com/stop-holiday-food-waste-tips-bea-johnson-1477037.

Thanksgiving: A Celebration of Pollution

Lichtenstein, R. (1961). Turkey [Photograph]. Observer. https://observer.com/2017/11/best-thanksgiving-themed-works-of-art/

Thanksgiving this year is a little different from the rest. COVID-19 has forced many families to celebrate alone or with restrictions. This year, however, Thanksgiving should also be looked at from a different perspective: an environmental perspective. It might not seem like Thanksgiving, a once a year holiday, would have any environmental impact at all or even have a personal impact. It all has to do with how people gather their food and how they come together to celebrate this holiday. 

It is known that eating plant-based food will greatly reduce the CO2 level in the environment. A vegan diet, for example, will reduce many things such as “greenhouse gases, but also global acidification, eutrophication, and land and water use” (Vegconomist, 2019). A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of the staple turkey dish. The CO2 emission of cooking a 16 lb turkey will vary from state to state because of their means of preparation. States that use more socially friendly means of preparation like in Main or Vermont (relying on renewable energy) will have a much lower CO2 emission during this time than states such as Wyoming or Kentucky (relying on coal). To take into account the worst-case scenario, which would be using coal to prepare the dinner, Carnegie Mellon University researchers conducted a study to find out how much CO2 is actually emitted when cooking such a big bird. In the case of using coal, Wyoming, for example, “emits 32 pounds of carbon dioxide” (Rea, 2016).  Wyoming currently has 578,759 people living in it and there are 230,630 households in the state. (United State Census, 2019) If every household prepared a turkey on Thanksgiving that would equate to 7,380,160 pounds of CO2 emitted in one day. Using a CO2 calculator from the Guardian, a round trip from the LAX airport in Las Angeles to New York’s New York John F. Kennedy airport would produce roughly 1537 pounds of CO2. The people of Wyoming would be able to fly roughly 4801 round trips from LA to NY. This is just an example of the state with the lowest population using coal. This number would be substantially bigger in states with a higher population like Kentucky. To understand this emission on a smaller scale, the total emission of a one 16 pounds turkey is “equivalent to one dish of turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, roasted Brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes, rolled biscuits and apple pie combined” (Emanuelli, 2020). For future holidays, in order to lessen the CO2 emission during Thanksgiving dinner, it is recommended to obtain food from a plan-based source. This doesn’t imply to transform the entire dinner vegan, but to become conscious of what is being bought and if something can be substituted for something plant based- do it! There are many vegan meat substitutes called meat-analogue or “mock meat” that can help lower the carbon footprint. There are other things that can be done to ensure an eco-friendly Thanksgiving like staying local.

This year, despite being advised “nearly 7 million travelers have gone through TSA checkpoints” (Root, 2020) as of Wednesday, November 25, 2020. Even though this is much less than the previous years, it can still have a great toll on the Earth. This also doesn’t account for the food being imported  from different countries during this time. It would be a wise decision to also be conscious of where the food is being bought. For example, cheese from Europe would be more harmful  to the environment than cheese made in Wisconsin. In order to limit wasteful or non-needed carbon emissions, buying food from local farms or markets is better. By supporting local farms and markets the economy in that region is also being boosted. The food grown locally also helps in well being because the nutrients are fresh due to the fact that the crop is in season and just cultivated.

Holidays seem to be a secret killer when it comes to global carbon emissions. It seems to slip the minds of people that even the smallest of things can impact the Earth greatly.  For future holidays to come, it is best to keep the Earth in the back of our minds. By doing so and keeping a conscious mind of what is being bought, we can help reduce carbon emission everywhere. Ultimately, that is the goal, to better the state of the planet for habitable use for years to come. With the current state of the world, it is important to keep the Earth in mind for this exact reason.

Works Cited

Emanuelli, Alexandra. “The Environmental Impact Of Your Thanksgiving Dinner.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 26 Oct. 2020, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/thanksgiving-dinner-ecological-impact_l_5db07ef7e4b0d5b78944bc6e.

Jasinski, Nicholas. “Hedge Funds Are Finally Beating the Market in 2020. Here Are Their Top Holdings.” Barron’s, Barrons, 25 Nov. 2020, http://www.barrons.com/articles/hedge-funds-finally-beating-market-in-2020-here-are-top-holdings-51606258710.

Kommenda, Niko. “How Your Flight Emits as Much CO2 as Many People Do in a Year.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, http://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2019/jul/19/carbon-calculator-how-taking-one-flight-emits-as-much-as-many-people-do-in-a-year.

“New Study: Vegan Diet Reduces Carbon Footprint by 73% – Vegconomist – the Vegan Business Magazine.” Vegconomist, 19 July 2019, vegconomist.com/society/new-study-vegan-diet-reduces-carbon-footprint-by-73/.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Wyoming.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, http://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WY.

University, Carnegie Mellon. Thanksgiving Dinner’s Carbon Footprint: A State-by-State Comparison – Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Carnegie Mellon University, http://www.cmu.edu/dietrich/news/news-stories/2016/november/thanksgiving-carbon-footprint.html.

Amazon Aiming for Carbon-Neutrality

Amazon News. (February 4, 2020 ). Inventing Amazon’s electric delivery vehicle [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKpOE8eulXM

The two main threats that peril the existence of humankind are nuclear annihilation and climate change. Both of these crises can have a bad turnout for the worldwide population as neither are being controlled to the extent in which they should be. With the addition of the ever-growing change in climate, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists have placed the Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds to midnight. This clock, that measures the countdown to ultimate catastrophe or apocalypse, gives little wiggle worm for legislators and activists to revert the effects of both nuclear threats and climate change. Although the legislatures themselves should act more sturdily against these topics, it leaves major corporations in charge of changing their own companies for the better of the planet. One of the biggest corporations on the planet, Amazon, is making strides to help prevent further destruction of the planet. 

In 2019, Amazon announced its new plan for going carbon neutral by the year 2030.  This plan, called “Shipment Zero,” aims to “ reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net-zero carbon by 2030.” (Amazon Dave Clark, 2019). However, even before the announcement of this project, Amazon had already made headway towards a sustainable future. In 2018, Amazon announced to make 50 “fulfillment facility rooftops worldwide” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2018). This includes the 11,700 solar panels put in place in the Fulfillment center located in Tracy, California. Even earlier, in 2017, Amazon placed a wind farm in western Texas to help the local communities in which they are located. It is reported that these farms will generate “1,000,000 MWh [megawatt-hour] of clean energy” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2017) to the surrounding areas; furthermore, this will provide energy to power homes and provide more jobs to the communities in the wind farm areas. 

Amazon News. (October 24, 2017). A Texas oil town learns to love wind [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=137&v=78RAkM-Q73Q&feature=emb_title

In addition to all these steps, Amazon has partnered with Global Optimism (another climate change organization that aims to cut carbon emission completely by 2050) to form “The Climate Pledge”, which is a “commitment to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early” (Climate Pledge, 2019).  The major car manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz, has joined “The Climate Pledge” with Amazon by “adding more than 1,800 electric vehicles from Mercedes-Benz Vans to its delivery fleet in Europe” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2020). 1,200 of these vehicles will include the eSprinter, the newest commercial van added to the collection of electric vehicles at Mercedes-Benz. The remainder of the vans will be the smaller, mid-sized version of the eSprinter, called the eVito. Both of these options give access to all needs. The eSprinter will be used in larger more populated areas while the eVito will supply the needs of smaller areas that “require a smaller-format vehicle” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2020).

Also in 2020, Amazon’s “The Climate Pledge” partnered with We Mean Business to “reduce carbon emissions worldwide” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2020). We Mean Business aims to support this project by trying to commit other companies, both large and small, to “The Climate Pledge”. They will work with the companies and their supply chain “to encourage suppliers to ramp up their climate goals” (Amazon Day One Staff, 2020). The CEO of the We Mean Business coalition, Maria Mendiluce said that in order for companies to reach the goal of carbon-neutral processing a pressure on the supply chain is needed and more “Nature-Based Solutions” are needed. Both of the companies are committed to providing resources to help raise awareness and provide companies to search for possible solutions to reach this goal of carbon-neutrality. One of the resources includes supporting and pushing the idea of a decarbonized economy, which is one of the goals that the United Nations Climate Change Conferences outlined in its campaign Race to Zero. Other resources include pushing all of the signatories involved in “The Climate Pledge” to set goals in the Science-Based Targets initiative. This initiative supports the idea of setting scientific targets for corporations to undergo carbon-neutrality.

Sources:

Unfccc.int, unfccc.int/climate-action/race-to-zero-campaign.

Clark, Dave. “Delivering Shipment Zero, a Vision for Net Zero Carbon Shipments.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 9 Jan. 2020, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/what-is-shipment-zero.

The Climate Pledge, http://www.theclimatepledge.com/.

“Current Time.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 23 Jan. 2020, thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/.

Daimler. “‘Ambition2039’: Our Path to Sustainable Mobility.” Daimler, 13 May 2019, http://www.daimler.com/investors/reports-news/financial-news/20190513-ambition-2039.html.

“Our Team of Optimists: Global Optimism.” Global Optimism, 9 Sept. 2020, globaloptimism.com/about-us/.

Staff, Day One. “Amazon Launches Largest Wind Farm Yet.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 9 May 2018, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/amazon-launches-largest-wind-farm-yet.

Staff, Day One. “The Climate Pledge and We Mean Business Partner to Reduce Carbon Emissions Worldwide.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 16 July 2020, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/the-climate-pledge-and-we-mean-business-partner-to-reduce-carbon-emissions-worldwide.

Staff, Day One. “Mercedes-Benz Joins The Climate Pledge.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 28 Aug. 2020, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/mercedes-benz-joins-the-climate-pledge.

Staff, Day One. “Sustainability by the Numbers.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 18 Apr. 2018, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/sustainability-by-the-numbers.“What Is a Science-Based Target?” Science Based Targets, sciencebasedtargets.org/what-is-a-science-based-target/.