What is the environmental footprint of Christmas? – Environment Focus

By Anthony Cox, Deputy Director, OECD Environment Directorate

Image credit score: kryzhov / Shutterstock.com

Type “Christmas and environment” into Google and you’re going to get web page after web page of recommendations on have a sustainable festive and vacation season. Running the entire gamut of subjects from the Christmas tree to sustainable gift-giving to eco-friendly Christmas meals to vacation playing cards to reward wrapping, there isn’t any scarcity of stories articles, web sites and blogs offering helpful recommendation on scale back the environmental footprint of the vacation interval. These are sometimes packaged up with recommendation on have an moral Christmas in order that it’s doable to make sure there’s a properly holistic heat internal glow to 1’s year-end celebrations.

That Google search will even throw up a handful of articles on the environmental draw back of Christmas. It doesn’t take a lot creativeness to see why that is the case. The elevated spending over the Christmas season is sort of huge and leads one to suspect, rightly, that the environmental footprint is probably vital.

Consistent and dependable knowledge on vacation season expenditures are laborious to return by, however a fast survey signifies the magnitudes concerned. In the US, for instance, one survey estimates that the every US citizen will spend USD 920 on presents alone in 2019 and that the nation as a complete will spend round USD 1 trillion over the Christmas interval. The Bank of England calculates that the common UK family spends an additional GBP 800 in December, with purchases of meals rising by 20%, alcohol by 30% and books by 85% over the common month. The annual Deloitte’s survey of Christmas spending estimates that the common UK shopper will spend GBP 567 in 2019, whereas the common European shopper will spend a mean of GBP 409.[1] In Australia, one survey initiatives that the common family will spend AUD 969 on Christmas in 2019[2], whereas Canadians are estimated to be spending CAD 1706 in 2019.

So, with this annual orgy of spending and consumerism, what’s the environmental affect of the vacation season? Concerns have been raised over the financial deadweight lack of Christmas, and reward giving usually, with a well-known financial paper printed in 1993 arguing that almost all typical reward giving truly destroys financial worth.[3] However, there was restricted consideration paid to the very daunting activity of calculating the general environmental footprint of Christmas utilizing life cycle evaluation. One, solely barely tongue-in-cheek, infographic estimates the carbon footprint of Santa’s operations (together with toy manufacturing and distribution by a sleigh pulled by reindeer) at round 70 million tonnes of CO2e. A extra severe report in 2007 by researchers on the Stockholm Environment Institute, based mostly on the University of York, calculated that the three days of Christmas festivities within the UK may end in as a lot as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per particular person.

However, more moderen, complete research haven’t been undertaken, due primarily to the truth that such a activity would require heroic assumptions, detract from extra urgent knowledge and analysis wants elsewhere, and would run the chance of the writer being labelled a “sustainability Scrooge”. Nevertheless, there are fascinating knowledge obtainable on the extra severe environmental dimensions of the festive season, that additionally relate to the broader problem of the sustainability of our present manufacturing and consumption patterns.

So, Christmas timber – actual or synthetic? While most individuals desire the aesthetic of a pure tree in the lounge (besides, maybe for these with allergy symptoms), the carbon footprint of the choices differs considerably. The Carbon Trust studies {that a} 2m tree that’s felled from a forest that finally ends up as wooden chips or on a bonfire after Christmas has a carbon footprint of three.5kg of CO2e. If that tree is distributed to landfill, then the carbon footprint will increase to 16kg of CO2e. In distinction, the identical dimension synthetic tree (normally PVC and metallic) has an estimated carbon footprint of 40kg of CO2e. So a man-made tree have to be used for 12 years to make it greener than a pure tree that’s chipped or burnt.

What about Christmas wrapping paper and playing cards? The UK is estimated to make use of about 227,000 miles of wrapping paper every Christmas, sufficient to stretch 9 occasions all over the world, and a few 1 billion Christmas playing cards (equal of 33 million timber). In the US, round 2 billion vacation playing cards are despatched every year, sufficient to fill a soccer area with paper stacked ten tales excessive. Canada is estimated to make use of 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper every festive season and to ship 2.6 billion playing cards. With 1kg of paper producing 3.5kg of CO2 throughout manufacturing, the worldwide carbon footprint of wrapping and playing cards is important. The total environmental affect will rely, after all, on how a lot of this materials is recycled. The recycling price for paper and cardboard for the UK and the US is 79% and 65%, respectively, so there may be scope for additional decreasing the environmental footprint.

Food waste is one other main environmental problem over the festive season. What occurs to all of the meals that we don’t eat? According to one estimate, round 54 million platefuls of meals are thrown out within the UK every Christmas. Food waste alongside the availability chain is a serious supply of CO2 emissions, with the IPCC’s current report on Climate Change and Land estimating that wasted and misplaced meals accounts for as a lot as a tenth of all our greenhouse gasoline emissions. In the EU alone, it’s estimated that round 80 million tonnes of meals is wasted yearly. The financial prices of which might be additionally appreciable with some €143 billion misplaced within the course of.

And what occurs to all of the packaging waste that’s generated over the vacation season? According to the GWP Group (a UK packaging firm), the UK generates every vacation season some 7,000 tonnes of turkey packaging, 125,000 tonnes of plastic wrapping for meals, 500 million canned drinks along with baseline gross sales), and 13,350 tonnes of glass bottles. Then there may be the surplus packaging from on-line gross sales in an ever-increasing digital world, journey related to mass journey to go to household and mates over the vacations, and the electrical waste (LED lights, batteries, and so forth) that’s generated.

The must take a holistic have a look at our manufacturing and consumption patterns and behaviours lies on the coronary heart of the round economic system idea that has gained rising traction all over the world in recent times. A round economic system is meant to switch the normal linear economic system and create a system of assets utilisation the place discount, reuse and recycling of supplies, assets and merchandise prevails. It is nice for each the atmosphere and for enterprise.

The OECD has been growing knowledge, evaluation and coverage steering for OECD and non-OECD nations on implement insurance policies and programmes that promote the sustainable use of supplies with a view to scale back their destructive environmental impacts, encouraging useful resource effectivity, and hasten the transition in direction of a round economic system. Examples of current outputs embody the Global Materials Resources Outlook to 2060, enterprise fashions for a round economic system, strengthening recycled plastics markets, and enhancing prolonged producer accountability schemes. Reducing the carbon footprint of consumption and manufacturing has been an integral a part of this work, with the newest OECD report on local weather mitigation specializing in deal with emission discount by taking a well-being lens to coverage improvement.

Such steering may also help governments implement insurance policies that can guarantee extra sustainable consumption patterns, contributing to a more healthy planet and our total well-being, the most effective reward we may give one another through the vacation season.

Further studying:

OECD work on the atmosphere


Waldfogel, Joel (1993), “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas,” American Economic Review, American Economic Association, 83(5), 1328-1336, December.

Waldfogel, Joel (2009), Scroogenomics. Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ.

[1] According to the survey, the UK spending is split between presents (52%), meals (25%), socialising (11%) and journey (11%). Europeans spend a smaller proportion on presents (41%) in comparison with the UK and extra on journey (20%).

[2] With the biggest proportion being spent on journey (48%) adopted by presents (39%).

[3] Waldfogel (1993) argued that almost all typical reward shopping for at Christmas destroys financial worth as a result of, until you already know somebody extremely properly, and know precisely what they need, your reward will likely be price much less to the recipient than what you paid for it. At greatest the alternate would possibly break even. In financial jargon, there could be a deadweight loss. Based on a survey of Yale undergraduates, the reward mismatch was estimated to result in a deadweight lack of between 10% and 33% of the worth of the reward. This thought was expanded by Waldfogel in a 2009 ebook on “Scroogenomics”. Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays” (which ranks #4 in gross sales of books on macroeconomics on amazon.com!). Of course, there are different rational however not essentially financial causes for gift-giving. For instance, presents are very helpful for strengthening social capital by signalling regard and demonstrating and constructing social ties. Also, if folks give and obtain presents, it may be taken as revealed choice that it makes them completely happy.

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