Ah, the holidays: a season of gifts and songs about snowflakes and elves that you secretly love. It’s the season of consumerism but hey, it makes us happy. But aside from the money and time we spend, how much environmental damage does all this shopping cause? And more importantly, how can we make this a joyful season for the planet?
One way is to use fewer plastic bags — the kind that get used once and thrown away — when shopping. More than one trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide. That’s about one million every minute.
To discourage frivolous plastic bag use, many cities have instituted a tax — a small charge for each single-use disposable bag a shopper requires.
Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent-per-bag charge in 2010. The first year the tax was instituted, city officials predicted it would bring in $3.6 million based on plastic bag usage rates at the time. However, bag use fell so much that they only collected $1.3 million in nine months, drastically lower than predicted. Grocery stores like Giant, Safeway and Harris Teeter reported that bag use in D.C. fell by 60 percent.
UNC’s Epsilon Eta environmental honors fraternity recently introduced the idea of a single-use bag tax to the Chapel Hill Town Council. They proposed a 5-cent tax on every disposable bag, including both plastic and paper.
This would encourage local shoppers to think twice about throwing all their holiday purchases into a dozen plastic bags and instead look into purchasing a few reusable canvas or cotton bags that can hold all of their food, gifts, ornaments and then some, over and over again.
OK, so you’re checking out and placing your Santa-embossed purchases in reusable bags.
Congratulations! The checkout clerk smiles, wishes you a “happy holidays!” and hands you a foot-long, black-and-white (and definitely NOT green) paper receipt, and … hold your reindeers!
Yes, paper receipts are next on my naughty list. The average receipt is about 10 inches long and is printed on a roll that is 2,760 inches long. That means one roll of paper provides roughly 276 receipts and one case of it weighs 32.6 pounds. It takes approximately 15 trees to produce one ton of paper.
However you do the math, it doesn’t add up to sugar, spice or anything nice. Printing receipts also uses energy, and ink requires a host of chemicals.
The solution is one that many retailers, both big and small, have already embraced: the web receipt. For no extra cost, your receipt can be conveniently emailed, texted or accessed online instead of given to you in the wasteful, easily misplaced paper form. So now when the holidays are over and you need to return that fuzzy sweater with a felt reindeer and light-up nose (holiday impulses strike again), you can pull up your receipt right on your smartphone.
The holidays are a wonderful season, and we should enjoy them to the fullest. However, these small ways of making the holidays greener will ensure that you don’t Scrooge over the planet this time of year.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.