When the holiday season means more waste

During the holidays, consumers generate about 25 percent more waste than the rest of the year -- that's a million tons a week of extra stuff. A lot of that comes from purchasing online and getting packages shipped in boxes and packing materials.

Jeremy Hobson: The research firm ComScore says online shopping is up 15 percent this holiday season compared with last year.

And LA Times Consumer columnist David Lazarus says that also likely means the amount of packaging we're getting in the mail is up. He joins us now to discuss. Good morning, David.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Hobson: So do we have any sense of how much extra packaging we're using now that everything is being bought online and shipped to addresses?

Lazarus: We do, and first let me preface this by saying: I'm not trying to be a Grinch here; I just want to remind people that there is an environmental cost to all this fun holiday consumption.

Hobson: OK.

Lazarus: So keep in mind that we generate about 25 percent more waste during the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year's -- that's a million tons a week of extra stuff. What do I mean by that? I mean about 125,000 tons of plastic packaging; what I mean is about 744 million holiday cards that are sent; what I mean are about 8,000 tons of wrapping paper used on presents. That's the equivalent of about 50,000 trees.

Hobson: Well what are you supposed to do as a recipient of these gifts, or a giver? If you go buy something on Amazon, it's going to be shipped with a box and a lot of packing materials and stuff like that.

Lazarus: And that's exactly what you can take advantage of. You're going to be getting a box. You're going to be getting packing materials. Keep them around because you can use these again. The whole trick to this thing is recycling. You want to recycle all the packing materials you get if you can; you want to use recycled papers for your Christmas cards and your holiday cards; and use recycled paper for the wrapping paper. And the wrapping paper's particularly tricky because once it becomes wrapping paper, it has kind of toxic paints and toxic inks in it, and you can't recycle it anymore. Keep that in mind.

Hobson: OK, so we do more recycling, David, and then I guess we can just sit back and relax over a nice holiday dinner and not worry about anything else.

Lazarus: Yeah, but here's something else to worry about: That is, we waste about 28 billion tons of edible food every single year. If you're having a big holiday party or something like that and there's some leftover food, remember this: The federal government has a good samaritan law -- you can donate that food to homeless shelters, to missions, with no harm, no foul.

Hobson: L.A. Times consumer columnist David Lazarus. David, have a great holiday.

Lazarus: And have yourself a green little Christmas, Jeremy.

About the author

David Lazarus is an American business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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