Opinion: Holidays improve with smaller ecological footprints
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Although Christmas departments of some box stores were well-stocked in July, I’m still considering the day after Halloween the beginning of the Christmas season. Now is the time that Black Friday advertising gets serious, and families start buckling down with Thanksgiving and Christmas plans. In my family, it’s the season of almost everyone’s birthdays, too.
For us, there will be road trips to visit relatives on the Front Range and to a Bureau of Land Management Christmas tree-cutting area. There will be lots of butter-cream frosting, savory food sensations, presents, and time together. It will be the first year that my college freshman joins us as a guest.
All of this sounds pretty innocuous until one begins looking at the ecological costs of the things we do. As survival needs and personal habits have become more intertwined with fossil fuel consumption, we’ve lost our sense of balance with Mother Nature with devastating consequences.
This holiday season, Americans will dump an extra 5 million tons of waste into landfills, bringing our country’s annual total to 34 million tons of garbage. According to Worldwatch Institute, holiday waste will include three times more food waste than usual and 4 million tons of wrapping paper, shopping bags, and packaging materials.
For Thanksgiving, we’ll eat 46 million turkeys with 1.5 pounds of meat for each of us. The average Americans’ total food consumption that day will be 4,500 calories, or two to three times as much food as we need. We’ll gain an average of one or two pounds during the holiday season with 10 percent of us increasing our body weight by 5 pounds (CNN).
Add to this the consequences of our eating habits for the rest of the year. Our food travels 1,500-3,000 miles from farm to table with one-third of it, or more than a billion tons, being wasted before it reaches our tables.
None of this could be done without fossil fuels, which result in Americans using 20 million barrels of oil a day, contributing one-fourth of the world’s greenhouse emissions and resulting in climate change.
Just a few days ago, trick-or-treating was canceled in Arviat, Canada, thanks to climate change. With polar ice melting earlier every summer, polar bears are losing icebergs, which are a crucial part of their hunting grounds. This year, residents were encouraged to stay inside while the bears traveled by land through communities where trick-or-treaters could provide abundant feasts.
It’s easy to get caught up in the gloom and doom of it all and to believe there is nothing any of us can do to improve things. Really, though, there are simple solutions which can make a tremendous difference in reducing our ecological footprints.
A good place to start, especially with the holiday season, is with our reliance on plastic. In the United States, we dump 2.5 million tons of plastic into landfills and use 12 million barrels of oil to produce 100 billion plastic bags every year.
A commitment to reduce plastic consumption is one of the best gifts we can give our children and ourselves. It’s good for the planet and good for us. Generally, foods with less packaging are more wholesome and produced closer to home. By purchasing local products, we can improve our health and build more sustainable communities.
Not only are reusable bags more efficient, but they can be great money-savers, too. It’s a lot easier to avoid impulse buys when we don’t have unlimited bags to stuff full of things we don’t need. I find that it’s much easier to really buy the one thing I came to the store for if I only bring one bag to fill.
Grand Valley Peace and Justice proves every year that holiday gift-giving can even be more fun when we commit to accumulating less. At its Alternative Christmas Fair, local students and nonprofit volunteers host fundraising booths, which encourage shoppers to make donations to assorted charities as gifts.
Hosted by Grand Valley Peace and Justice, this year’s Alternative Christmas Fair will be at the Lincoln Park Barn from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at email@example.com.
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