Image Source: Frank Farm
Dear Pablo: As I begin the annual ritual of wrapping Christmas presents I can't help but contemplate the massive amount of paper that is wasted each year. What is the impact of all the wasted holiday wrapping paper?
The exact amount of wrapping paper used in the US over the holidays is up for debate and a wide range of estimates can be found online. According to the Clean Air Council, "In the U.S., an additional 5 million tons of waste is generated during the holidays. Four million tons of this is wrapping paper and shopping bags." If we assume that half of the four million is wrapping paper then we have an estimated two million tons of wrapping paper used over the holidays each year in the US alone. Assuming 15 trees per ton of wrapping paper, this amounts to 30 million trees cut down just to wrap our gifts!Where Does The Wrapping Paper Go?
Wrapping paper is difficult to reuse. Children and adults alike tear into the wrapping like a lion into a gazelle and there is little left to salvage. You can carefully collect the paper, flatten it and recycle it, but even then there is a chance that it will not get recycled because of the special metallic coatings found on many kinds of wrapping paper. Some people throw their wrapping paper in the fire, which is highly discouraged. The chemicals and additives used in some kinds of wrapping paper to make it colorful, sparkle, or shine are ofter carcinogenic or damaging to our lungs when burned.
How Can I Minimize My Wrapping Waste?
Gift bags are less likely to get destroyed in the gifting process and are very likely to be reused. You can also make or purchase cloth gift bags and encourage the recipient to regift them next year. In this way you are introducing a steady stream of reusable wrapping alternatives and helping to phase out the single-use wrapping paper one gift at a time. In the very least you can consider recycled wrapping paper.
Other Holiday Waste
While it is one of the most visible components of holiday waste, wrapping paper is not the worst. For every pound of wrapping paper that we throw away there are several pounds of cardboard packaging, blister packs, twist ties that shackled Elmo to his box, ribbons and bows. Behind the scenes there is even more waste. The gift that you purchased at the store was probably delivered in a master carton on a pallet surrounded by plastic wrap. Pre-consumer waste is really the hidden part of the iceberg of holiday waste and can only be reduced by reducing consumption or shopping at stores that are actively working to reduce waste. Believe it or not Walmart has, and continues to, reduce packaging waste through its highly ambitious and effective sustainability initiative. This year, as you search for last-minute gifts, consider gifts that keep on giving, such as an investment in Kiva or gifts that support a local services-based economy such as a 1-hour massage.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com and Principal Environmental Consultant at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More TreeHugger Articles On Wrapping Paper:
10 Gorgeous Green Alternatives to Holiday Wrapping Paper (Slideshow)
Lush Wrapping is Reusable, Japanese-Style
10 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Wrapping Paper