Wasting the holidays: How do the holidays affect the environment?


Anthony Pratt and Savanna Hill

Picture this: It’s a typical evening in the wintertime, with the smell of cookies filling the air and the sound of kids throwing snowballs outside. Pine trees are growing everywhere, except for when they get chopped down while people scatter lights and fill the branches with plastic ornaments. Wrapping paper is torn from its presents vigorously, only to be tossed into the garbage. An excessive amount of food is made to feed only your family. Leftovers are stored in the refrigerator for weeks, only to be thrown out completely untouched. If you worry about the amount of damage we cause, this year you can use these tips to take better care of the environment around us.

Wrapping paper
DON’T: throw away the paper, tear it up, or crush it
INSTEAD:  make origami – leftover paper can be turned into Christmas ornaments or gifts for others; reuse for other gifts if it is still in one piece; use it as decorative shipping stuffing.

Wrapping paper is a resource that is commonly used during the holiday season. It gives a unique and fun flare to gifts. However, these decorative papers are usually thrown aside after being used, with an estimated 2.3 million pounds ending up in landfills in the U.S., according to Brightly, a company that focuses on news related to environmental changes. Instead of throwing it away, you can turn wrapping paper into origami for decorations or gifts, reuse it next year, or use it for decorative stuffing.

Christmas trees/Pine trees
DON’T: chop down real living trees and set them up indoors
INSTEAD: go and see Christmas light shows – look for shows with Christmas trees still in the ground, just decorated; buy a plastic tree and reuse every year; recycle old wooden trees so that it can be turned into mulch.

Decorating Christmas trees is a fun way to feel festive during the winter. Unfortunately, using real trees hurts the environment. According to the Pachamama Alliance, an organization that works to preserve land in the amazon rainforests, chopping down trees causes increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, flooding, desertification, and more. However, there are alternatives to using real trees. You can go out and watch Christmas light shows or purchase reusable plastic trees. If you have a real tree, you could consider recycling it and turning it into mulch ^Mulch can be environmentally safe, and used in several ways to benefit the outdoors.

DON’T: throw food away/waste any of it
INSTEAD: save for leftovers; donate to food banks or animal shelters; compost.
All year round, one of the most prevalent issues in the environment is wasted food. This is especially true during the holidays, when the amount of food people both make and waste is at its peak. According to Noblesville High School’s conservation club sponsor, AP environmental science teacher Eric Gurule, “One of the biggest things that we do negatively to impact the environment is waste food. Food waste has a big impact on the environment when it gets sent to landfills. As it decomposes, it produces methane, which is a big greenhouse gas.” Instead of throwing your food away, you could save it for leftovers, donate it to food banks or animal shelters, or look into composting it.

DON’T: throw away toys/gifts because they are not used anymore/broken
INSTEAD: Donate them – give them to shelters, local thrift shops, or other families; return unwanted gifts; pass down toys to someone younger, whether it’s in the family or to another family.
The holidays are a great time to exchange gifts with friends and family, but sometimes these gifts do not last. Whether they break, get lost, or simply aren’t wanted, these gifts commonly end up in the trash. However, If you no longer like a gift anymore, don’t throw it away. You could instead try to donate them to a shelter or to a local gift shop, return them to the store if you still have the receipt, or re-gift them.