With the holiday season quickly approaching, everyone, myself included, is scrambling to find the perfect gifts for their loved ones. Once I finally find the gift, I always tell myself to perfect the quintessential holiday wrap for a jaw-dropping presentation, which ultimately never looks quite as good as in Christmas movies. I then attempt to cover the sloppy creases with a bow or two and cross my fingers that nobody notices. Because I definitely lack in the field of present wrapping, I decided to refrain from wrapping any presents ever again. Even if I vow to never again touch a bow or festive wrapping paper, this aspect of gift-giving will always remain, which is why it is vital to discuss the sustainability of such a practice. Companies ought to be adopting more environmentally friendly packaging to mitigate excess waste.
During the month and half that takes place in between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, the US produces 25% more waste, equivalent to an extra 25 million tons of trash. On average, more than two billion holiday cards are purchased, left on the fridge, and then thrown away once the new year rings in. Roughly $11 billion worth of holiday packaging is used once then tossed in the landfill, which is just shy of Snapchat’s net worth of $11.1 billion or enough to buy the Buckingham Palace twice. Regardless of how we frame the issue, this much waste, especially one and done waste, is problematic. Keep in mind that these statistics are only applicable to six or seven weeks of the year. While the holiday season exacerbates the waste issue, analyzing waste production for the remainder of the year is equally as important to helping solve the problem.
So, where exactly is this waste going, how does it impact life on earth, and why should companies care? A 2018 EPA report highlights that around 20% of landfill waste is from packaging. Most of the packaging consists of plastic, of which most goes to the landfills, ocean, or washes up on the shores of foreign countries. Furthermore, 40% of all plastic produced in single-use plastic for packaging purposes. All of this packaging waste harms the livelihoods of land and marine animals along with damaging the quality of life for humans. Both air and water become polluted from packaging waste, which has a trickle-down effect on all living beings. Many toxins are released into the environment as a result of packaging production and incineration after single-use consumption. With these statistics, it becomes a moral obligation for companies to mitigate waste production. One of the ways they can do this is by developing and adopting environmentally friendly packaging. Companies must go beyond statements and false promises; they must make genuine efforts to curb the harmful effects of single-use packaging, especially during the holiday season.
Customs such as present wrapping are unlikely to go away anytime soon, so it becomes the responsibility of both the producer and consumer to manage waste prevention. The question of whether companies should adopt more environmentally friendly packaging shifts to how they can do that; but that can be a question for next year’s topics.
Essay by: Hanna Griffin
Arizona State University