why christmas is bad for the trees

Why Christmas Is Bad for the Environment (Stats & Facts)

As long as we’re governed by the rules of capitalism, any holiday will be bad for the environment. Even so, Christmas stands head and shoulders above the rest. 

Let’s find out why Christmas is bad for the environment by learning more about our spending habits during our beloved winter holiday. After all, admitting we have a problem is the first step toward fixing it.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Shocking Christmas Facts

  • Our winter holiday spending has been increasing every year since 2009.
  • We spent nearly $890 billion on holiday shopping in 2021. 
  • 41% of Christmas-celebrating Americans are fine with going into debt over holiday shopping.
  • American estimate they’ll spend around $930 on Christmas gifts in 2022.
  • Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate 25 million additional tons of garbage.
  • 7 million trees are dumped into landfills each year after the holidays.
  • Roughly 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper are thrown away each year in the US.
  • The UK is dumping 125,000 pounds of plastic packaging each Christmas. 
  • Winter holiday food waste in the UK amounts to 270,000 tonnes.

The Commercialisation of Christmas: Facts

We can all agree that Christmas has evolved into something different from a religious holiday. 

But how and when did this happen?

Here are the facts:

German immigrants introduced Christmas gift-giving in America.

Before the 1840s, the beloved winter holiday wasn’t popular. The Puritans had even banned its celebration.

But the Germans changed all that and had a huge role to play in the rise of Christmas. As soon as they shifted the holiday image to center around children, marketers saw an opportunity. 

The immigrants also introduced Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, as he was called back then. Last but not least, they brought the first glass Christmas ornaments to America.

Christmas advertising first boomed in the 1920s and 1930s.

That’s when marketers started projecting images of happy families and spreading brand jingles. Between the 1930s and 1950s, Christmas songs popularized the holiday even further.

After World War II, people finally had money, and they were looking for ways to spend them. Department stores saw this opportunity and launched enticing displays and shopping catalogs. 

surprised santa with glasses

Coca-Cola shaped the modern-day Santa Claus in 1931.

You can blame the brand for Santa’s famous red suit. And Coca-Cola continues to rely on its Christmas power that has been built over generations.

Before Coca-Cola took over Santa’s image, Saint Nicholas wasn’t quite as jolly. But he was and remains a protector of the children and sailors.

Rudolph was yet another marketing trick.

In 1939, the Montgomery Ward department store chain hired the clever copywriter who brought Rudolph to life. He wrote a book about the famous red-nosed reindeer, and the chain gave it to children for free as a way to increase traffic to the stores. 

So, these are just a few reasons why Christmas is bad. While the holiday isn’t inherently bad, and it’s brought us many wonderful traditions, we should all know and be mindful of the facts above. 

Our perceptions of Christmas have largely been shaped by marketers looking for more profit. 

It’s time to take back our holiday and find its true spirit. Here’s why:

Holiday Waste Statistics

Our mass consumption comes with mass consequences. We’re contributing to tons of garbage and waste every winter:

Americans throw away 1 million extra tons of garbage each week during the winter holidays.

Just think of all the ribbons, wrapping paper, and Christmas cards that go into the trash. It’s not hard to imagine how all of that piles up.

And even if we don’t count that, the convenience of online shopping and takeout generates even more trash around the holidays.

Christmas makes up 5.5% of the UK’s annual carbon footprint. 

It’s one of those shocking Christmas facts that truly makes you stop and think about our impact on the planet. This is the combined cost of all our merry decorating, eating, traveling, and shopping.

The British travel 5 times more during Christmas compared to a standard day. 

They also throw away one-third to one-quarter of the holiday food.

And while we don’t have data on the US statistics, it’s not hard to imagine how much worse they are.

7 million trees are dumped into US landfills each year after the holidays.

And while they all look magical during the holidays, that magic produces more than 100,000 tonnes of bad emissions annually. 

You shouldn’t underestimate the environmental impact of Christmas trees. It’s a global problem that leads to deforestation and contributes to climate change. That’s why we encourage you to rent a tree or at least buy a potted one that you can reuse. 

Roughly 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper are thrown away each year in the US.

It’s among the biggest contributors to Christmas waste statistics. That’s about half of the produced wrapping paper, and most of it isn’t recyclable. 

This year, buy recyclable wrapping paper or wrap your gift Japanese-style using fabric. 

Holiday lights consume energy equal to the annual use of 400,000 homes.

I’ll be the first to admit that holiday lights truly bring the Christmas spirit around. But at what cost? 

Powering incandescent lights costs 90 times more than powering LED lights. So, if you can’t help but put on those shiny Christmas lights, at least invest in ones that won’t consume too much energy.

christmas shopping mall

Why We Spend So Much Around Christmas

Did you know that we spend at least 30 times more money on Christmas shopping than we do on any other holiday?

Here are just a few factors that influence this behavior: 

Nostalgia & Tradition

Time spent with friends and family, gifts, shiny decorations, coziness, and all the food and drinks you can get — what’s there not to love?

No matter what offputting statistics you read in this article, the fact remains — Christmas is the most special time of year. We’ve been raised to expect, celebrate, and cherish the winter holiday, passing this tradition down to the next generation.

Some of your fondest memories are likely intertwined with this time of year. Naturally, we want to recreate those feelings and relive the magic of the past. And once your brain establishes a connection between Christmas and happiness, your wallet is as good as empty.

Peer Pressure & Social Status

Christmas is all about giving. And when someone gives you a big gift, you can’t help but feel the need to reciprocate. In comes a vicious cycle of spending to return the favor. 

The holiday season is also a great way to boost your social status. If you give nice gifts, you’re projecting a wealthy and generous image of yourself. If you care about the opinion of others (and many do in our social media-driven age), this illusion of success can make you feel incredibly good about your place in the social hierarchy.

Compensating the Past

If you didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but you do now, you’re way more susceptible to increased holiday spending. After all, you can now afford to splurge on whatever you like. And I get that, but it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole from there. 

Some parents pass down this behavior to their children. They overspend on Christmas gifts so their children will never feel the sadness of not finding their most desired toy under the tree. The thing is, this breeds even worse habits as we grow up.

Others buy gifts to compensate for the lack of time and love during the year. But buying our way into love has never turned out ok. 

It’s the End of the Year

And the year is always long and filled with challenges and hardships, especially if you’re an adult. In December, we’re likely to feel stressed, suffer burnout, and be more than ready for a much-deserved break from everything.

What do we do after we accomplish something so big as surviving through another year? 

We treat ourselves. 

We’ve worked long hours for the past 11 months. We deserve a little break and a big treat. That’s also why we gain so much weight around the holidays, but that’s a topic for another time.

Clever Marketing

I believe the four reasons above are the main culprits behind our alarming holiday spending rates, but I can’t deny the power of clever marketing. 

Creating the right holiday atmosphere at the shopping mall or the Christmas market immediately makes us want to throw money on useless decorations and cakes.

During this time of year, we just need a tiny little push — a great Christmas ad, a good sale from our favorite brand, the smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies, and yes, even Mariah Carey.

10 Ways to Lower Your Christmas Waste & Spending

If you want to have an eco-friendly Christmas, here’s where you can start:

  • Research and be aware of Christmas marketing tricks.
  • Set a Christmas shopping budget.
  • Buy from local farms and suppliers.
  • Choose eco-friendly gifts.
  • Don’t buy more food than you could possibly eat.
  • Use environmentally-friendly transport to visit your family or at least share a car ride.
  • Reuse old wrapping paper and gift bags.
  • Try DIY eco Christmas decorations from things you already have at home.
  • Send an online Christmas card instead of buying and mailing one.
  • Regift that old but pretty thing you’ll never use.

If you apply at least a few of the above, you’ll have a much more eco-friendly Christmas and appreciate the true gift of the holiday — extra time with the ones you love the most.

But we should all try to be more eco-friendly throughout the year. That’s how we’ll learn to cherish and preserve nature.

Final Thoughts

Do you see now why Christmas is bad for the environment?

It’s a wonderful and precious holiday, but it also comes with lots of unconscious spending that generates tonnes of waste and problems for our planet.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. 

If each of us applies just a few of the tips above, we can have a real positive impact on the environment. Let’s take back our Christmas spirit. Together. 


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