As Christmas is finally behind us, and our unprecedented ecstasy begins to sink lower—along with the mounts of food we have ingested—perhaps it’s time to ponder over the environmental impact of this holiday. Between the decorations and lights (not just in your homes but in the streets of pretty much every village, town or metropolis), food stocks that are sufficient for war-time rations, wrapping paper, and presents of all sorts, this festive period is a culprit of waste and environmental damage beyond what meets the eye (or imagination).
According to a recent report published by Commercial Waste, a waste and recycling publication in the U.K. that specialises in exposing industry stories and regulatory news, the impact of Christmas on food and drink consumption amounts to 370 million mince pies, 250 million pints of lager and beer, 35 million bottles of wine, and 10 million turkeys. It is difficult to imagine these figures in any sort of relatable terms or scenarios; it always is when measurements such as tons and millions are used to capture our attention. To give you a better understanding of the sheer volumes, the U.K. alone consumes 80 percent more than the rest of the year during the week leading up to and during Christmas. And with higher consumption inevitably comes higher waste levels. According to Commercial Waste, this amounts to “230,000 tonnes of food during the Christmas period” that heads straight to waste landfills. “That’s the equivalent of: 74 million mince pies and 2 million turkeys. At the price of £275 million.”
Food of course is only one facet of the Christmas lunacy that takes over us during the festivities. Beyond the shopping spike there is the often overlooked yet fundamental aspect of wrapping paper and packaging. For this year’s Christmas, the U.K. was expected to go through 227,000 miles of wrapping paper, 500 tonnes of tin foil, and 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging. The piles of wrapping paper that end up in landfills and take decades to deteriorate are, gravely, expected. But what comes as an unexpected surprise is that according to recent Greenpeace’s recent findings, “1kg of wrapping paper emits 3.5Kg of CO2 during its production process, taking 1.3kg of coal to power its production.”
Each year, the U.K. population purchases between six to eight million real Christmas trees, with another five million households opting for artificial trees. The debate between the environmental costs of artificial and real trees is an ongoing one, yet according to the Commercial Waste report, while—in theory—artificial trees can be reused, they are produced in Korea and shipped to Europe and the U.K. and are, of course, non-biodegradable and largely end up in landfills. On the other hand, real trees, while too ending up dumped by the millions in landfills, are biodegradable and nurture and stabilize the soil in the seven to ten years it takes to grow them and are transported much shorter distances to reach U.K. homes, thus their carbon footprint is lower.
The holiday season thrives on consumption; on over indulgence and on a sense of plenty, and there is also something unique and enjoyable in that. As the dark months approach, our streets and homes are lit with fairy lights and candles and light is refracted on shimmering decorations. The Commercial Waste report isn’t here to take that away. But instead, these figures should urge us to think differently about Christmas.
What these figures show is that we desperately need to shift our consumer attitude throughout Christmas and other festive periods. Can your tree be sourced locally or if you are opting for a fake tree, can you keep it for several years or even a decade? Can you keep last years’ wrapping paper and reuse it? Can the lights be turned on for shorter time spans? (It was reported that on average, Christmas lights in homes were on for 10 hours per day).
Screaming about the consumerist toll of Christmas sure sounds like tilting at windmills, yet, if these figures managed to spark in you even the slightest thought on how you can make your Christmas traditions more environmentally friendly, then the counts were worthwhile.
Two lunar eclipses took place in the last six months and we have all been raising our gazes to the sky to witness the space-spectacle that these were. Now imagine if, instead of a lunar eclipse, a giant advertisement would appear among the stars; Coca-Cola, Adidas, or Nike for instance. Well, regardless of whether the idea of using space as a platform for advertisement sparks excitement or scepticism in you, it could potentially become the sky’s next big thing as a Russian startup is currently working to project ads onto the deep blue sky, it seems as though the saying the sky is the limit might need a 2021 revamp.
StartRocket’s ambitious project, which goes under the title of Orbital Display, aims to launch billboard advertisements to low-earth orbit using a grid of box-sized satellites, also known as CubeSats, designed in collaboration with SkolTech, a private university based in Moscow that is developing the prototype. The idea is that the small satellites would orbit around 280 miles from the ground and function by reflecting the sunlight to create a network of nanosats that work as a framework for panels to be ‘written’ on. To make sure Orbital Display would not exclusively serve commercial purposes, the startup intends to use this technology to also enable governments to project urgent information and other statements onto the grids.
Forget about Don Draper, StartRocket’s CEO and founder Vladilen Sitnikov seems more reckless than our favourite mad man. Sitnikov defines himself as an “advertising guy with a crazy idea”, as explained in the science magazine Discover. His idea does sound crazy, not because of its potential technological limits, but mainly because of the short term commercial ethos that it relies on. Technically, if properly funded, the project could easily take off by 2021, and it wouldn’t be the first nor the last commercial project floating in space. Around two thousand minisatellites are currently circulating in the sky, powered by tech companies such as Rocket Lab, Boeing, SpaceX as well as by universities and armies. The “microlaunch space race” is happening and is set to grow, but regardless of the popularity of microsatellites, being sceptical towards Sitnikov’s project is more than reasonable.
Astronomer John Barentine, member of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference and Space Debris is convinced that the space billboards could increase light pollution while producing space debris. As we are still struggling to find sustainable solutions to both pollution and waste on the ground, shouldn’t we think twice before starting to pollute space in the name of advertisements?
Moreover—even though the vision of a floating luminous logo does sound tempting—in a moment when advertising is increasingly becoming hyper-personalised and everywhere in our lives, I have my doubts that a universal logo projected in the sky represents the future of advertisement. “It’s human nature to advertise everything … Brands [are] a beautiful part of humankind,” Sitnikov said in a video call with Discover. Let’s assume that his statement is accurate, just because it is human nature to advertise everything, are we sure it is human nature to advertise everywhere?