11/05/2016

(sources: 1, 2)
So, november has arrived and that means that also december is around the corner and that means that it is christmas time. Well, judging by the shop's products it is christmas time already in september, but that's another story. I don't really know how I feel about christmas right now. To break it down a little, today, I want to talk about christmas from a zero waste perspective. I plan to publish another post tackling the subject from a minimalist point of view soon.

So, christmas is the feast of love, the feast of gifts expressing your love and by that, the feast of waste. Let's do some calculations on that. The average first world- citizens spends 745€ for gifts  and receives 355 € worth gifts (children) every christmas (sources: 1, 2) If we assume, that one gifts costs on average 20 €, this are 37 gifts given away and 16 gifts received. If we further assume, that the average size is about 15cm x 15cm x 10cm, it can be calculated that we need 36 square centimeters of wrapping paper (source). From my experience of wrapping gifts, however, I know that it even takes more paper, because a) you usually don't know how much paper you will need and cut off too much and b) you usually don't manage to use up gift paper completely because of different- shaped gifts etc. So, I would assume that for the 37 gifts given away and 16 received, you don't need 1908cm² (37+16=53; 53*36 cm²=1908cm²), but, let's say around 2500 cm² (around 20 grams (source)). This is for one person. If we assume that there are around 4.5 billion people on earth who are rich enough to receive and give away this amount of gifts every christmas, this makes 250 billion m² of gift paper every year. (some comparisons to illustrate this: 1, 2)
No comes the next problem. Although it it gift paper, the substance, we wrap christmas presents in is not as easily recyclable as normal paper. Its dyed, shiny and thick surface often contains toxins like chromium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, lead and zinc. (sources: 1, 2) This is no wonder if we look at the shininess, glaring colors and sometimes chemical smell of gift wrap.

It is worth noticing that a lot of gifts are also decorated with ties, tapes, small figures etc. that go to waste as well. Due to the fact that I did not found statistics about this, I am going to exclude it from my calculations. But we can assume, that this decoration make a good amount of trash every year as well and do not contain less toxic substances either.

But we haven't even come to the root of the problem yet. Wrapping paper and decorations are just by- products of the gifts itself. If we, again, assume a number of 53 gifts per person and total and also assume that one gift has an average weight of 56 grams (sources: 1, 2), this are 2968 grams, about 3 kilograms of gifts. What they all share is that they have to be produced. At some time, using some materials, in some working circumstances. Regardless of the exact details, this is, as every other purchase, a signal to the seller; a positive response and a demand for more. 13% of this gifts are unwanted and thrown away (source). This would be 385 grams of trash immediately. About the other 87, we can speculate that at least about 50% of them, even though being liked at the beginning are thrown away in the course of the next few years. (in total: 1631 grams of trash)

Talking about trash, there is more to christmas than gifts; christmas cards(41 per year, weight: 6 grams, trash: 246 grams (sources:1, 2)), christmas trees (1 per year, weight: 24 kg, trash: 24 kg (source)) and decoration(26 €, maybe around 3kg, from which maybe 1kg is thrown away per year(sources: 1, 2)). (+ usual food waste). Other trash sources, I did not include are advent wreath, candles and advent calendars.

In total this makes 25,429 grams, about 25.5 kg of trash thrown away per person on christmas every year. 
That is insane.

And it may be a reason to think about whether to continue celebrating christmas the way we do. I do not think, I will. So, I thought about measures to reduce this insanely big amount of trash. Here are my conclusions;
1. Gifts
The first step (as always in the zero waste pyramid) is to reduce. I want to reduce the amount of gifts, I give away and receive. A great alternative to material gifts are either usable presents (foods, drinks, cosmetics that are put in reusable containers) or vouchers for spending time together, tidying, doing work etc. Gifts like this are often a lot more personal and enjoyable as well. Material presents should be kept to a minimal.
2. Wrapping
As for wrapping gifts, I would recommend not wrapping gifts or, if you want to wrap them for surprise effects, use old newspapers or other unused papers. To hold the paper together, one can use simple cotton string. Another alternative is to wrap them in napkins or fabric bags, that you can use again afterwards. (a nice guide)
3. Christmas cards
Avoid as far as possible. Your friends and family should know, that you love them even when you so not send them a plastic card with a christmas motive on. If you feel like you have to send a person a card, use cards made of paper and cardboard rather that plastic or foil. To avoid receiving cards, you have to tell people.
4. Christmas tree
If you feel like you need a christmas tree to get a nice feeling, consider purchasing a artificial one, that you can reuse or take a small coniferous tree with its roots out of your garden and put it back in the earth after christmas season is over.
5. Decoration
You can achieve a christmasy feeling without letting your house look like a decoration store. Start by reducing the amount of decorations, you pu on. This often looks better and saves time as well. Try to reuse your bought decoration as often as possible. Instead of buying new objects, use natural materials (fir branches, fir cones, dried leafs, nuts) or make decoration yourself from paper (ideas), cardboard (ideas) or wood (ideas). If you feel like you need candles, consider less- toxic alternatives (more information)
6. Advent wreath
First of all: Do you really need one? If the answer is yes, you can buy a reusable ones or make them yourself (ideas)
7. Advent calendar
First question to ask is if it is really necessary. If it is, there are some amazing reusable calendars out there (like this) or you make it from scratch with paper (like this) When filling the calendar, you can use the same tips as for gifts.
8. Foods and shopping
Here, zero waste goes as usual: avoid packaging, shop in reusable containers, more is less.

I do not think that you will produce no waste using this methods, but I am convinced, that it helps to maybe produce a little less than 25.5 kilograms of it every year.
I don't know about you, but I am in christmas mood right now.

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