The waste of Christmas

Environmentalists argue Christmas to be the world’s greatest annual environmental disaster, and there is no denying that it is the most indulgent time of the year. We celebrate with our family and friends, and rarely give a second thought to the overconsumption necessary to fuel our festivities. From the deforestation caused by our obsession with the perfect Christmas tree, to single-use wrapping paper, and crackers filled with useless plastic toys, to the horrifying amount of food waste – the UK's excessive eating habits over the Christmas period have the same carbon footprint as driving 6,000 times around the globe. We no doubt leave our planet with a hell of a Christmas hangover.

It is difficult to avoid the persistent and captivating Christmas offers that bombard us from every big brand and supermarket. We are psychologically, socially and culturally invested in a season of resting and giving - yet we are manipulated into overeating, over drinking and exchanging superfluous gifts. We measure and compare ourselves by the quantity and quality of these gifts that we give and receive (often subconsciously), exacerbated by the picture perfect trees and gift wrapping on social media, companies market themselves in a way that promises overconsumption of their product will give you your merry Christmas. This sort of emotive marketing is what drives consumption through the roof and ultimately has a terrible impact on the environment.

The UK consumes 80% more food over the Christmas season than during the rest of the year, spending on average over £174 per household on food for just one day. Our Christmas traditions include collectively consuming 10 million turkeys, 370 million mince pies and 205 million glasses of champagne. And our food waste from the big day equates to over 230,000 tonnes – the equivalent to 74 million mince pies or 2 million turkeys. This figure is even more unsettling when we consider the people and families who rely on food banks, 1.6 million food parcels were given out by the Trussell Trust alone in 2019.

Since the coronavirus pandemic these numbers have only worsened, as figures reveal that 2,600 emergency food parcels were provided for children every day on average by food banks during the first six months of the pandemic. More than 1.2 million emergency food parcels were given to people struggling to afford essentials between the beginning of April and the end of September 2020, making it the busiest ever half-year period for food banks. While these figures highlight the level of need across the UK, they do not include the number of people helped by the countless new community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities, which have stepped up during the pandemic to support their communities.

At a time when we are boycotting the use of palm oil and rallying against the deforestation in the Amazon, UK households contribute to the cutting down of 8 million trees per year in the name of Christmas. We use 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging for gifts. We travel 6 billion miles around the UK to see friends and family (usually). We send enough Christmas cards that if we placed them alongside each other, they’d cover the world’s circumference 500 times. Per 1kg of wrapping paper, 3.5kg of CO2 is emitted for its production - we use 227,000 tonnes. By the following March, 41% of gifted toys will have broken or our children will be bored of them, most of which will end up straight in the bin. (stats taken from Business Leader)

We are influenced to meet the commercial expectations of food spilling over the tables and presents stocked so high that you can’t see the tree behind them, but we each need to take accountability in leading the movement towards a sustainable and

ethical Christmas. There are many easy and cheap ways to reduce your Christmas carbon footprint, they are mostly small changes such as meal planning and sticking to a shopping list. But mostly its about not buying into the idea that you need to overconsume to enjoy this most wonderful time of the year. Wishing you a merry, minimal Christmas filled with love and laughter and hopefully emptier bins.

*If you'd like to find a way to help the food banks, please check out the Resources page for more info

originally published 15/12/2020 by Bohème Tea ©

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