Along with the festivities, the holidays are a time for trash — yes, trash. It’s just one of the things that make the holiday season so unfriendly to the environment.
Canada produces some of the highest amounts of trash among all developed nations, with 720 kilograms of waste produced per capita in 2012 alone. Even more waste is generated during the holiday season, in part because of the increase in gift purchasing.
It is also becoming more common to purchase these gifts online. A report released in 2014 by the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, projected an eight to 11 per cent increase in online shopping compared to the previous year.
A large environmental impact of online shopping is the amount of fossil fuel consumed by delivery. This is especially true for items shipped overseas, which must be transported by a boat or a plane.
The production of goods themselves have an environmental impact as well. Electronics, now a major part of the consumer landscape, are among the worst culprits.
U of T professor Miriam Diamond, who studies environmental contaminants like e-waste, says that the production of electronic devices is typically more wasteful than traditional items made from wood or fabric. “It takes a lot of greenhouse gases [and waste] to achieve the purity of the materials used in electronics,” explained Diamond.
The size of the electronic device doesn’t matter. “You could have a very small handheld device that [has] the same amount of waste and greenhouse gases and toxins in it as a much larger product.”
Diamond said that humans produce around 40 million tons of e-waste every year.
The average shelf life of an electronic toy, such as a doll with a chip in it, could be 10 years. While energy is consumed to produce electronic goods, there is also the same amount, if not more, produced when those same products are thrown out. If the doll is not disposed at an e-waste recycling facility, it may end up in a landfill in a third-world country; it is common for e-waste to land there.
There are also social impacts to consider, noted Diamond. Textile workers and electronic toy manufacturers often work in very poor conditions. “There are social costs that are really well hidden from Western consumers… it’s not all about us — it’s also about the impact that our purchasing creates on other people’s lives.”
Along with the increase in waste, additional energy is consumed during the holiday season because of Christmas lights. A 2008 study by the US Department of Energy found that Christmas lights consume 6.63 billion kilowatt hours of electricity every year.
Haven’t thought of a New Year’s resolution yet? No worries. Aim to shrink your ecological footprint.
Diamond suggested that this year, instead of giving material goods, consider giving your time — share experiences with your friends and family instead of goods.