Column: Consumerism isn’t just ruining the holidays, it’s ruining the planet


Photo credit: Eliza Tiles

A fallen Christmas tree perfectly represents our departure from the true meaning of the holidays, and instead the overconsumption of material goods society has undertaken. This holiday season I hope you reflect on your own consumption and reduce waste where you can. 

By Eliza Tiles, Columnist

Everyone knows that when November rolls around, the holidays have begun!

It’s hard to miss the surplus of extended Black Friday sales and BOGO deals that infiltrate almost every storefront, email chain and Instagram ad. Who doesn’t love holiday shopping? Even better, who doesn’t love receiving gifts during the holidays?

This past holiday season, an expected “166.3 million people are planning to shop from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday” according to the National Retail Federation. That’s 8 million more people than the brief 4-day period saw in 2021. Despite inflation, shoppers continue to splurge on holiday gifts and decorations. But at what cost?

According to an article written by Columbia’s Climate School, consumers produce “25% more waste than usual between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, sending an additional one million tons a week to landfills.”

In recent years, it seems like the holiday season is more about consumption than anything else. Whether it’s a new Hallmark movie or a Chestnut latte at Starbucks, what more can we consume in order to achieve the holiday ambiance?

Whether or not you observe a religious holiday from November through January, chances are you participate in some holiday-themed activity that most likely comes with gift-giving.

And yes, gift-giving can be extremely meaningful and is an important part of the season, but in the wake of this holiday season, I challenge you to define what gift-giving means to you and if your gift-giving/receiving this year reflects those values. Is it spending a lot of money on some overpriced trend? On something, you’ll likely never use or wear again? Or is it purchasing or crafting a thoughtful, practical gift? 

But are gifts what the holidays are really about? Shouldn’t it be about rejuvenation, spending time with loved ones and expressing gratitude among other things? I believe that, for some people, this is the true meaning of the season, and overconsumption can exist within it. But with the plethora of media, advertising and capitalism that fogs the holidays, it’s hard to understand the true motives of the festive time.

Consumption is easier than ever with the popularity of online shopping, Amazon and fast shipping. Little stops us from impulse buying, especially around the holidays. And, according to an article written by Brightly,  “returns account for five billion pounds of waste sent to landfills and 15 million tons of carbon emissions every year in the U.S.”

If you find yourself making countless trips to the post office or scrummaging through the trash for a gift receipt in the New Year then next holiday season, it is incredibly important to think about the environmental impact of an item before you purchase it — even if it’s a good deal.

It’s easy to get caught up with the consumer aspect of the holiday believe me. I love the joy of opening gifts.

Consumption during the holidays isn’t just about unnecessary purchases, it’s also about a surplus of waste production. According to Columbia’s Climate School “over the holidays, Americans discard half their total yearly paper waste, mostly holiday wrapping and decorations — about nine billion tons.” This makes sense as perfectly wrapped gifts are a highlight of the holidays. They definitely are one of my favorite parts! 

But three years ago after being stunned by the abundance of  “dads picking up trash on Christmas morning” memes, I made an attempt to reduce excess waste where I could. My family and I went to our local fabric store and spent an hour digging through the scrap bin for fabrics of all different sizes, patterns and textures that fit my sister’s desired holiday aesthetic. It felt good buying wrapping paper that didn’t cost the environment so much!

However, this isn’t the only way to reduce wrapping paper use in the future. You can also use old newspaper or brown paper bags from grocery stores!

Additionally, there are so many other amazing ways to reject mainstream holiday consumption and limit your environmental impact.

1.) Shop locally or visit your local zero-waste store for sustainable gift ideas.

2.) gift a handmade gift! Even if you don’t consider yourself creative or “crafty” I promise you can find something for everyone from cookies to sugar scrubs, to crocheted hats!

3.) Gift experiences! Tickets to a concert, museum or movie are unforgettable gifts. Also for someone with a bigger budget, this can look like travel or day executions.

4.) And sometimes quality time is more than enough of a gift to give.

In our current capitalist society, we are conditioned to buy more and more stuff with little to no other options. It’s not the consumer’s choice that someone’s computer stops working after five years or their shoes get worn down. Things aren’t made to last so that, in turn, the economy does. That’s why during the holiday season it’s imperative to limit the consumption of unnecessary goods where you can.

I encourage you to reflect on your consumption habits this past holiday season and opt for more sustainable gift-giving practices next year. Because after all, mother nature counts on you — so what gift will you give her next year?