What Does Christmas Do To The Environment?

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This is definitely not a piece about cancelling Christmas but amongst all the joy, the holidays do leave a pretty sizeable impact on the environment.

It’s good to be aware of, because there are actually lots of really easy things you can do to make Christmas celebrations a bit more environmentally-friendly, which doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a good time.

What Does Christmas Waste Do To The Environment?

Australia’s relationship with waste is a really big conversation. But Christmas specifically leaves its own pretty significant mark.

The statistics are really quite staggering.

The amount of waste we produce increases by 30% at Christmas. Every year in Australia, nearly 5 million tonnes of food goes straight into landfill, and we get through about 150,000 kilometers of wrapping paper.

That’s enough to go around the whole of Australia six times.

Presents are a whole other can of worms. The amount of money Australians spend on Christmas presents is around 11 billion dollars, and about 20 million of the gifts we actually give, people don’t even want.

Those are the three biggest ways Christmas impacts the environment: packaging, things like presents and food, consumption, and then food waste.

What Are The Impacts Of Christmas Waste?

The impacts of our waste generally are pretty well understood by now to be significant on the environment.

Landfills in particular are a huge contributor to global warming, because as the materials put into landfill decompose they release methane.

Claire Bell: “We really need to try and get away from landfill. There’s so much that goes into landfill that shouldn’t do.”

But the waste that doesn’t end up in landfill also has an impact, especially when it’s not disposed of properly.

CB: “Single use plastics – that kind of thing – find their way in to our water ways, environment and oceans. That’s a really big one.”

What Can We Do?

Christmas waste is no different. But there are super easy ways to make the Christmas period a more environmentally friendly one.

When it comes to decorations, just being mindful of the materials they’re made from and whether they might be able to be reused, can make a big difference.

CB: “I’ve got a plastic Christmas tree up my stairs that I’m not necessarily proud of, but I’ve had it for years and I will continue to have it for years. So it’s not like it’s just going into landfill. I will keep it for as long as it’s around. If you’re going to buy a plastic Christmas tree, you’re not going to get a real one, then invest in a good quality one that’s going to last you 20 years or so.”

A campaign trying to change the amount of stuff we actually buy for people over Christmas also launched this year. It’s called #onesecond and the team behind it are hoping to encourage people to source at least one second hand item this year instead of a new one, in an effort to reduce waste.

But being environmentally conscious at Christmas is also kind of just about keeping up the good habits we’re getting into as a country more generally.

We’re already pretty aware of our environmental impacts. About 90% of Australians make some effort to recycle in some way.

It’s just about remembering what those impacts actually have on the environment, and not letting things slide just because it’s Christmas.

CB: “People tend to sort of treat themselves when they’re on holiday – a little differently with their habits to when they’re at home. They’re more mindless about just chucking stuff in a bin, it’s not in their area, they don’t really think about it so much. So wherever we go, we need to be responsible about our stuff, how much we’re consuming and how much we’re throwing away, really.

I think it’s just changing habits over time … Any of the small actions you can take are good actions. You don’t have to get it all perfect all the time.”

The Takeaway

Ultimately, Christmas is a time to just let the hair down a bit and have a good time, which after the year 2020 has been feels incredibly well deserved.

But the environmental impacts of Christmas are pretty huge and just being that little bit more mindful of how to limit those impacts, can make a really big difference.