The amount of waste and emissions generated during the holidays is staggering and shameful. Being conscious of the ways that we are wasteful can help us to seek more environmentally responsible solutions. Here is a brief summary of the waste and carbon emissions generated during the holdiay period.
According to the EPA, the period from Thanksgiving to New Years Day, household waste increases by more than 25 percent in the US. That amounts to an extra 5 million tons of household waste each year. Shopping bags, packaging, wrapping paper, bows and ribbons create an additional 1 million tons a week to our landfills.
The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. This adversely impacts forests used to make paper, and the bleach used to make the paper white causes water pollution.
There is also three times as much food waste during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years as compared to other times of the year. The WorldWatch Institute says that total US food waste adds up to 34 million tons each year. According to Tristram Stuart, a food waste expert and contributing author to State of the World 2011, the food wasted in the United States each year is enough to satisfy the hunger of the approximately 1 billion malnourished people worldwide.
“Family, community, love and gratitude are all unlimited resources,” says Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. “Unfortunately, food and the energy, water and other natural resources that go into producing food are not. The logical strategy is to let ourselves go in enjoying the unlimited conviviality and communion of the holidays, but to avoid wasting the limited resources. Even simple shifts toward sustainability—-and reducing food waste is an easy one—-can have major impacts when multiplied by millions of people.”
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly one-third of all food produced for human consumption—-approximately 1.3 billion tons—-is lost or wasted each year. Consumers in developed countries such as the United States are responsible for 222 million tons of this waste, or nearly the same quantity of food as is produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa.
The Sierra Club reports that there are over 7000 turkey farms in the US and 300 million birds are killed each year. Much of the billions of pounds of manure generated by these factory farms ends up in our water supply. Grain consumed by turkeys could go to the millions of people starving in the world. As stated by the UN, factory farming is responsible for more CO2 emissions than all forms of transport combined.
“With nearly a billion people going hungry in the world, including 17.2 million households within the United States, reducing the amount of food being wasted is incredibly important,” says Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. “We need to start focusing on diverting food from going into our trashcans and landfills and instead getting it into the hands of those who need it most.”
Thanksgiving is the busiest travel season of the year. During this periods millions of people will board flights or drive their cars to get to holiday festivities. A total of 43 million people are expected to travel this holiday and that translates to a significant spike in greenhouse gas emissions from air car and other forms of transporatation. According to the AAA more than 39 million people will be driving at least 50 miles each. The environmental impacts of those 39 million Americans are very significant. To illustrate the point a widespread dense fog developed across parts of nearly 10 states and southern Canada, disrupting and slowing travel plans on area roadways and airports.
The energy cost of Thanksgiving car travel are a major source of CO2. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, the passenger vehicles shuttling holiday travelers will travel 980 million miles, burn 40.8 million gallons of gasoline, require $132.6 million to $138.7 million for fuel, and emit more than 362,000 metric tons of CO2 (based on an EPA-estimated 8,887g of CO2 per gallon of gas), the emissions equivalent of more than 72,000 cars annually.