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.

Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawaiʻi Interview

Recently, Eco-Youth had the amazing opportunity to have a social media interview on Instagram  with Dyason Chee, founder of Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawai’i. We are so honored to work with such a special, hard-working, and determined individual. At only such a young age, Chee has done so many outstanding things in tackling plastic pollution and helping improve the environment.

Briefly introduce yourself to the audience and tell us about your journey – where do you live and study, what got you interested in the environment and plastic pollution, and what are you doing at the moment?

Aloha mai kākou! My name is Dyson Chee, and I am a college freshman living in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi. My story starts with the ocean. Living in Hawaiʻi youʻre completely surrounded by the ocean, so I grew up with it and it became my second home. I loved going to the beach and exploring the deep blue waters. Eventually, my exploration of the ocean led me to something called plastic pollution. As I went to the beach, I gradually began to notice the rubbish that was strewn about it, and it only got worse as time went by. I eventually decided that I had to do something to protect my second home, and that is when I started taking on plastic pollution through Project O.C.E.A.N.

What is Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawai’i? How was it founded? What issues does it address and what is its main goal(s)?

Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawaii takes on single-use plastic pollution through two means: education and activism. Education involves letting people know that plastic pollution is a problem, and more importantly what we can do about it. And one of the ways we can take on plastic pollution is through activism. Activism involves passing legislation and getting the community civically engaged with this legislation.

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

I believe that everyone should be civically involved. I know a lot of the solutions are focused on individual consumption, which does matter. Unfortunately, individual consumption alone will never solve the climate crisis. We are already seeing this in the COVID-19 pandemic–air travel has gone down drastically, yet the amount of emissions going into the air are still extraordinarily high. Why? Well part of it is the fact that we are still largely dependent on fossil fuels, and as we are all at home we are having to use more energy than usual. But for those of use who are dependent on the electricity grid, itʻs not like we can just say, “well Iʻm not going to use electricity since itʻs all fossil fuels.” And you can only reduce your consumption by so much. As an individual you still do have power, and that power is strongest when we get together and advocate. Advocate for energy companies to transition to clean energy. Advocate for the government to take meaningful climate action. This is what makes me excited: when the community gets together and successfully advocates for something.

Do you have any advice to people who want to help the environment, particularly fight climate change, but don’t know where to start? What advice can you give for newer organizations, like Eco-Youth, that will help grow their platform and gain a bigger audience?

This advice is very specifically geared towards those who are interested in using activism and advocacy as a means of fighting climate change (or any issue, really). Donʻt be afraid to start small. When we think of government, we usually think of national or international bodies. Like the President, or the United Nations. While it is true that both are a part of governments, they are not necessarily the most impactful ones in your community. The state, county, and city governments have a lot of power, and their decisions are usually the ones that impact everyday life for you and your community. So start there. They are easier to access, are more likely to listen to you, and can be more open to change.

What great things does Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawai’i plan to do next? What is its future and do you plan to expand this initiative beyond just Hawai’i?

For growing your platform and building a larger audience, Iʻll be honest, you just have to put in the work and energy. But what does help is to partner with other organizations. You can both help each other grow your platforms, collaborate on projects, and create coalitions to support each other. That coalition building has been very helpful in Hawaiʻi, especially when there is a specific goal (for example, passing a bill). I have actually since moved on to Hawaiʻi Youth Climate Coalition, another organization focused on achieving climate justice. However, I still do presentations under the umbrella of Project O.C.E.A.N.

Besides being a guest on the Lonely Whale podcast, 52 Hertz, where can people learn more about you and Project O.C.E.A.N. Hawai’i?

So if anyone would like to contact me, please feel free to reach out to either projectoceanhawaii@gmail.com or my Instagram @project_ocean_hawaii.

Listen to Dyson Chee on Episode 4 of 52 Hertz: The Lonely Whale Podcast. Check out Eco-Youth’s article, Lonely Whale Interiew, to learn more about Lonely Whale.