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The Evergreen Dilemma of Christmas

The Evergreen Dilemma of Christmas

Robin Steedman-Braun

Science and Environmental Editor

While Christmas time is, deservedly so, one of the most anticipated and celebrated moments of the year, the holiday season is nonetheless a display of consumerism at its finest. From plastic toys to glutinous amounts of food, overconsumption has driven this holiday for many decades. According to Politico, environmentalists tend to call Christmas the “world’s greatest annual environmental disaster”. Indeed, Christmas corresponds to as high as 4% of an individual’s annual carbon and ecological footprint. When you take into consideration the nearly eight billion people on Earth, the holidays are an important environmental risk.

The main factor environmentalists focus on when it comes to the holidays is the abundant number of trees cut down every year. While plastic trees seem like a more ecological option, they are not actually. According to The Carbon Trust, an artificial Christmas tree is only greener than a natural tree after twelve years. Indeed, “fake” Christmas trees are generally built from plastic and metal and have a carbon footprint of 40 kg of carbon dioxide (CO2), whereas an average-sized two-meter Christmas tree, if sent to the landfill after the holidays, has a carbon footprint of 16 kg of CO2. If a tree is repurposed after Christmas, for example for wood chips or a bonfire, its carbon footprint is only 3.5 kg of CO2. The most ecological option would be to buy a second-hand plastic tree, but buying a real Christmas tree is a close second. A typical 6-foot-tall Christmas tree requires approximately five to ten years to grow to its full height. As trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, helping offset atmospheric greenhouse gases and global warming. Ultimately, the carbon released by disposing of a Christmas tree is offset by the photosynthesis done by the tree during its growth.

Food waste is another consequence of Christmastime. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2019 that wasted food products account for as much as a tenth of our greenhouse gas emissions. As a nation, we eat 80% more food during the winter holidays, but this excess often ends up in the trash. Indeed, we end up throwing out more than 230 000 tons of food in this two-week period alone. The biggest environmental impact of Christmas comes from the meat consumed at holiday dinners, as well as our tendency to overestimate the amount of food we will consume.

The holiday season means reuniting with family members and travelling, sometimes even overseas multiple times in the short period between mid-December and mid-January. Over 53% of Canadians travel during the holidays, whether it be by car, train, or plane. This travelling contributes to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

We can’t forget about the paper use at Christmas. It is estimated that Canadians use more than 540 000 tonnes of wrapping paper a year, a large majority of it during the holiday season. If we placed the amount of holiday cards we send each year alongside each other, they would cover the world’s circumference 500 times. While these paper wastes can be recycled, countless pounds of paper end up in landfills. Re-using wrapping or using newspaper laying around the house to wrap presents.

With all this mind, it is important to enjoy Christmas nonetheless, making a conscious effort to reduce your carbon footprint!



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