As the Christmas season creeps up on us it might be time to reflect on its environmental impact. From the green perspective the excesses of Christmas tend to be the most dramatic of the year. This is no doubt linked to the fact that at no other time is the consumer drive so powerful. Children, as any parent will know, are already being bombarded with advertisements about the latest must-have toy, and who wants to be the one to tell parents buying that present is detrimental to the environment? More to the point who wants to tell the children? Well it’s the children we are damaging with our consumption patterns. We are forfeiting a transient happiness now for a worrying future down the line.
Take, for example, the excessive amount of wrapping paper required in the United Kingdom alone over the Christmas period: 83 km2. Quite a high number, but is it really surprising when we cast our minds back to Christmas morning?
Plastic, a consistent offender, leads to over 125,000 tonnes of waste in January. That’s the kind of statistic that ought to come with a warning for greens with a weak heart. It means post-Christmas there’s quite a lot of stubborn plastic lying about.
So we know that Christmas is an excessive holiday in terms of waste, but why is it so difficult to counteract this problem? The problem seems to lie in both compliancy on the part of parents, and the sheer onslaught of consumer and peer pressure associated with the season.
The long-range perspective on Christmas is not something that can be tackled by parents alone, but needs to be addressed through education. How else can we expect children to understand that those bits of plastic do not simply disappear, but go on to have a profound effect on the environment? If anything we can usually sense that children are quite sensitive to the natural world, and it’s something we need to encourage. Children are not to blame however. Think about the energy consumption involved in the garish displays that adorn homes all across our towns and cities. It reveals that Christmas has become about excess, and another obvious example is the abundance of good food that will simply go by the wayside once dinner finishes.
And yet it is clear that people do want to return to something simpler, and many recognize that the true spirit of the holiday has been taken away from them, from their families and been turned into a competitive sport. Revealingly for contemporary society one of the most common feelings associated with Christmas now is stress. How do we counteract the stress, the over-consumption, and the environmental damage? One solution is to become a conscious consumer. A simple check of the packaging when buying children’s toys can often contribute the most to reducing waste, but perhaps we could consider creating gifts with the help of kids so that we get a chance to engage with them in the spirit of the holiday. An important consideration is to avoid plastic toys in favour of naturally produced toys such as wooden ones. This consideration extends to buying the tree! The ethical choice here is clear when we note that while a plastic tree might keep the floor clean its one large chunk of non-biodegradable plastic to be chucked in a landfill.