Waste Derived from the Holidays

By Anna Simet | December 20, 2012

Last weekend, as my daughter and her cousin finished opening gifts during an early family Christmas, wrapping paper was strewn everywhere. Lots of it.

And of course, that got me wondering just how much extra waste is generated in the U.S. each holiday season (food waste, wrapping paper, Christmas trees, holiday cards), and the facts that I found were pretty astounding.

According to the U.S. EPA, during the holidays, household waste increases by 25 percent. An estimated 2.6 billion holiday cards are sold each year in the U.S. (enough to fill a football field 10 stories high), and between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, more than 1 million tons of additional waste—additional to what is normal, just under 4.5 pounds per person each day—is generated each week nationwide.

In fact, 38,000 miles of ribbon alone is thrown out each year—enough to tie a bow around the Earth. And Christmas trees? Each year, about 50 million are purchased in the U.S.

While there are ways to cut corners and reduce our waste—such as reusing gift bags and ribbon, sending e-cards, re-gifting something you don’t need to someone else you forgot about, etc.—a lot of it is going to end up being sent to landfills. What a waste of a former Christmas tree.

I’ve heard of biomass power plants, such as Biomass One in southern Oregon a couple of years ago, taking in Christmas trees that would otherwise be junked in landfills. While it’s just a small portion of their fuel in the grand scheme of things, at least those trees aren’t just slowly rotting in landfills. If you are a biomass power company or pellet plant doing something similar to this, please share.

And for the paper, plastic and food waste, luckily, we have some companies like Covanta Energy and Wheelabrator that will use a lot of the waste to generate power, and I have no doubt that they’re well-prepared to take on the extra holiday load.

This holiday season, I challenge you to be a little more mindful of your waste. If we all did so, it could make a big difference.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!