Not-So-Merry Paper Waste During the Holiday Season

Wrapping paper wasteInstead of ho-ho-ho, it should be ho-ho-waste. The December holidays are a wonderful time of year, except for one unfortunate fact. It is a time during which we use an exceptional amount of natural resources for paper products. Holiday merrymakers buy wrapping paper, printed paper napkins and plates, holiday cards, paper ribbons, shopping bags, printed paper towels and paper gifts.

How big is this problem? It is BIG. The EPA and Use Less Stuff estimate that 1 million tons of increased holiday waste makes its way to the landfills every week during the holiday season. Over 4 million tons of shopping bags and gift wrapping paper are thrown away each year. There are over 2.65 million Christmas cards sent, and then thrown away, annually.Buying paper cards and wrapping paper is so ingrained in our cultural practices that most of us don’t give a thought to their purchases. It is just something we do as a matter of course because we feel obligated, for the most part. Thinking about Christmas morning. Hmmm…55-gallon large black plastic bags filled with crumpled Christmas paper, ribbons, packing materials and gift boxes can make any eco-friendly person cringe.

Americans use more paper per capita than any other nation. It is estimated that the average American uses 700 pounds of paper annually. As much as 42 percent of the wood harvested for commercial purposes is used to make paper. In addition, paper accounts for as much of one-third of municipal landfill waste. Since we don’t generally throw away blank or unused paper, the landfills are bulging with paper and the chemicals used to manufacture ink.

Tons of Wrapping PaperThe holidays create a surge in paper use, but it does not have to be that way. A small effort on the part of every consumer can have a significant positive impact on the environment. If each person sent one less card, for example, there would be more than 50,000 cubic yards of less paper sent to the landfills. If that sounds a bit like Scrooge is giving the advice, it will be comforting to know that there are wonderful alternatives. Instead of a paper card, you can send an electronic card. This may not be appropriate for everyone on your card list because not everyone faithfully uses the internet. However, most people today are internet connected. As a culture, we must also get beyond thinking that sending an electronic card or reusing ribbon is being “lazy” or “cheap.” It is neither as you are being “eco-friendly.”

 There are two ways to reduce the flow of paper to the landfills: reduce and reuse. For instance, sending electronic cards instead of paper cards (reduce) and using alternative or recycled gift packaging (reuse) would quickly reduce the impact of the holidays on the environment. There are so many ways to eliminate a significant amount of paper. Consumers may buy recycled Christmas paper or recycle the current paper by carefully removing tape when gifting to one another and folding it up for next year. Also, use interesting items for packaging, like tins purchased at a second-hand store. After the holidays, the tins can be used for storage over the next several decades.

Before reaching for the holiday paper products, think about ways you can reduce and reuse paper. Then share your ideas with our readers. After all, we are all in this together.

  • Rebecca  December 4, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    My mom would reuse the Sunday comics pages from the newspaper (the only day they were printed in color) to wrap gifts. The black-and-white news pages with a pretty ribbon also looks classic, and is easy to recycle after it is reused.


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