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.

EcoHouse Teens Interview & Collaboration

Recently, Eco-Youth had the amazing opportunity to have a social media interview with Mardet Mulugeta, an EcoHouse Teens executive. We are so excited to work with such a hard-working, current, and an on the rise team that is similar to Eco-Youth. EcoHouse Teens are educating and preparing teens all over the world to make ethical and environmentally consumer and lifestyle choices through their campaigns.

Briefly introduce yourself to the audience and tell us about your journey – where do you live, study, work, and what are you doing at the moment? 

Hi! My name is Mardet and I am currently a senior at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. Some of my hobbies are photography, fashion, and dancing. Right now, I am in the middle of applying to college and managing my organization’s Food Campaign 🙂

What is EcoHouse Teens? How was it founded? What issues does it address and what is its main goal(s)?

EcoHouse Teens is an organization with a mission to make teens more informed about how they can be sustainable. We are basically a group of teens who want to spread awareness of what anyone, specifically other teens, can do to help limit their harm on the environment. My friend Zeinab and I came up with the idea to create this organization over the summer when we were both quarantined. We had different interests, I was concerned with the fashion industry while she was more interested in the food industry, but we decided that we could really do something together if we merge our ideas into one!

In your own words, define sustainability. What got you interested in sustainability and what is your relation to the topic? How do you believe sustainability and the topics of food, fashion, and lifestyle go hand in hand?

Sustainability is trying to maintain a lifestyle that benefits everything more than it harms anything. I personally got interested in sustainability in my Human Geography class, where we learned how awful the fashion industry is and how much waste it produces year to year. I decided then that I would stop buying clothes I don’t need, and I tried to limit shopping from brands known to be part of the problem. While I was more concerned with the clothes I buy/wear, I realized soon enough that everything around me can harm the environment one way or another. The toxins in my cleaning products, the foods I waste, the plastic bags I get from stores, everything around me could potentially cause more pollution. That was why when Zeinab and I decided to create an organization, we tried to look at the bigger picture and attack as many problems as we could instead of focusing just on the food/fashion industry.

What action do you believe everyone could/should be involved in to create a positive change and impact on climate change and the environment? What are you most excited about for the future?

I think a big part of causing change is being informed. If everyone knew what fast fashion is and how much waste comes from the food industry, more people would be willing to change their lifestyles. Sustainable living is unfortunately a privilege; it can get very expensive to buy organic products that produce less waste and sustainable clothes that last a while. However, even if you cannot be fully sustainable right now, you can still try your best in being as sustainable as you can. I do have hope in our future and I think that a lot of us are moving in the right direction. I am excited to see our future, as time goes on and our fight against climate change grows stronger. 

Do you have any advice for people who want to help the environment, particularly fight climate change, but don’t know where to start? What advice can you give for similar organizations like yours, such as Eco-Youth, that will help them to keep posting and growing their platform?

My advice would be to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to cut out everything that is deemed unsustainable, because that is simply not realistic. Try to buy less clothes than you do right now. Join some sort of club or organization where you can talk with other people who want to help the environment. Do some research on your own, if that interests you. Just try to incorporate this idea of sustainability into your life little by little. As for other organizations, I would say try to reach out to people. If you know a local activist who is fighting the same fight as you, reach out and see if they would like to talk with your organization. Attend some webinars and connect with other organizations. We are still small at EcoHouse, and I still have lots to learn, but those are just a few things I picked up over the past few months.

How was your first campaign that attacked fast fashion? Tell us more about it.

Our first campaign was pretty successful. It was the first time we launched EcoHouse Teens, so we had to wait some time before people got to see our content. It was really fun to interview local sustainable shop owners, and we even got to create a fun video on how to use Depop! Overall, I think our campaign was great, especially considering it was our first time operating as an organization. Zeianb and I dedicated a lot of time into making sure it went by smoothly and we are more than happy with how it turned out.

What is the second campaign that is currently occurring? How is Eco-Youth collaborating with EcoHouse Teens to contribute to this campaign?

Our second campaign is concerned with the food industry. We are trying to inform people on how the food industry contributes to pollution, workers’ abuse, and other serious issues. We try to post information that would allow people to take action and limit their contribution to an unsustainable industry. We are so excited to collaborate with Eco-Youth on this campaign because we are all for working with other youth organizations. Eco-Youth and EcoHouse both have a similar mission, and Eco-Youth is helping us by getting our campaign out there to their audience through these articles. We are so excited to see what can come from our collaboration!

What great things do EcoHouse Teens plan to do next? What is its future beyond the campaigns?

Our hope is to continue spreading awareness and engaging with other teens. In the future, we hope to have branches in different places that spread our mission. In order to cause real change, we need both the people who can demand for change and the people that can implement those changes. We hope that our voices will be heard by our elected officials, who can create laws that will cause the change we need. Our main goal will always be to spread awareness because being informed is step one of causing permanent change.

Where can people learn more about you and EcoHouse Teens?

You can find us on Instagram @ecohouseteens . We also have a Medium where we post some articles @ecohouseteens . We are currently working on a website, so make sure to follow our Instagram for more updates on us!

Check out EcoHouse Teens’s other socials at linktr.ee/ecohouseteenz.
Keep posted on our collaboration by checking out our website for the articles in the following weeks.