What a COVID Christmas Might Look Like- and What It Could Do To the Environment

By: Lindsay Cook

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but in 2020, that almost seems impossible. Still, either out of habit or hope, many people have already begun buying gifts for the coming holiday season. But in the midst of this unprecedented historical moment, we should ask ourselves: what exactly will the season of giving look like?

The answer isn’t all that surprising, or even unfamiliar for some. Companies such as Amazon, UPS, and FedEx have made shipping across the state, country, and world increasingly simple and economical. A 2017 Forbes survey found that 82 percent of holiday shoppers planned on purchasing a gift online, and 75 percent said they would likely use Amazon to do so. In the era of social-distancing, it’s only natural that we would utilize a service that connects people who cannot do it themselves. It’s so easy to slap a label on a package with nothing but good intentions, and it pains me to be the bearer of bad news, but I believe there’s an issue that needs to be addressed. As we order and send packages with an innocent click, what on Earth are we doing to our Earth?

Hopefully it’s no surprise that shipping impacts the planet. Between the notoriously fuel-inefficient delivery vehicles (most run on diesel with poor gas-mileage which leads to increased air pollution) and the mind-boggling waste of plastic and Styrofoam to fill empty space in packages, we’re putting quite the strain on Mother Earth. The Mediterranean Shipping Company, a European company responsible for shipping consumer goods, was one of the European Union’s top ten carbon emitters in 2019, joining the likes of coal mines and airlines.  

What about good old fashioned American companies? In 2019, Amazon produced 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide- that’s more carbon emissions than countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Hong Kong. This was a 15 percent increase in the company’s emissions from 2018. Even if Jeff Bezos declares he will donate a small portion of his wealth to environmental funds in his name, he can’t change the situation we’ve found ourselves in. Given the state of the world, it’s likely that now more than ever people will turn to shipping to meet their holiday needs, increasing humanity’s never-ending assault on the planet.   

I’d like to make one thing clear: I’m not accusing anyone of being an ecosystem-killer just because they have an Amazon Prime membership. I’m no Grinch , and honestly, I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t already ordered some gifts online. There’s absolutely no playbook for our situation. If you’re trying to spread a little cheer (rather than the virus), and you have the luxuries to do so, here are some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint this holiday season:

  • Opt for the longer shipping method. If transportation companies have more time to ship your package, they can find the most efficient and least impactful way to do so. To take this a step further, try to order all your packages at once so they come as one order rather than a bunch of separate trips that increase carbon emissions.
  • Recycle the packaging! I mean, do I actually have to mention this one? Apparently I do, considering half of the waste produced in the United States comes from paper and paperboard, which is especially disheartening as over 90 percent of cardboard is recyclable!
  • Consider how you will get to the store if in-person shopping is an option for you. Could you carpool with a friend? Utilize public transport? Lest we forget the current circumstances, make sure you can do so safely.
  • Shop local. You can reduce your carbon footprint and support small business at the same time – everybody wins!
  • Try alternatives to wrapping paper, such as painting or otherwise decorating your gifts to add your own personal touch to them.  
  • DIY some gifts! Remember when you were a kid and you made your mom that coupon book for some free chores and foot massages? You certainly didn’t have to order online or go to the store for that.  Is there anything you could make for your gifts using materials around the house? Or perhaps you have something you could re-gift? Here are some DIY craft gift ideas to check out.
  • Buy from sustainable businesses. Maybe you don’t want to change what gifts you buy, but you could change where you get them. Here are some green gift ideas from companies making an effort to protect the planet.

The uncertainty in the air is suffocating to say the least, and it has been for months. I know I’m looking forward to seeing my family forget all their troubles as their eyes light up when they open their gifts.  Maybe we should try to give the planet a gift this Christmas: a break.  

Cover photo courtesy of Pixabay

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