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Waste Reduction During the Holidays

For many, mounds of wrapping paper and endless food leftovers have become as much a staple of the holiday season as any other seasonal tradition. A Stanford University question and answer article stated that “Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year.” While the winter festivities are a beloved annual tradition, there is no denying the devastating environmental impact. So, how can we lessen this enormous waste while maintaining the many diverse and vibrant traditions that happen each year? 


The rise of consumerism has generated shockingly large quantities of material waste, and it seems that the issue will only worsen in the years to come. According to Washington Post reporter Abha Bhattarai, “Shoppers are buying about 20% more items than they did before the pandemic,” with much of this increase coming from the upper class. These combined statistics suggest that there could be more waste than ever this holiday season. 


Food waste poses an equally devastating threat to the environment. In a USA Today article, Indianapolis Star reporter London Gibson said, “The billions of pounds in food waste Americans throw away each year amounts to almost 40% of the entire food supply and emits millions of tons of greenhouse gases in landfills.” 


Many Winsor students have become increasingly aware of the harmful impact of holiday waste and are making conscious efforts to reduce their own. Anissa Patel ’23, co-head of Winsor’s Conserve Our World club, said, “One way that I especially try to reduce waste during the holidays is by being really mindful of how much and what kind of food I’m making.” Their family “tries to be creative” with the use of leftovers. Amelia Kwak ’25 described their family’s love of cooking and said, “We cook even more during the holidays when we have family and friends here, so we’ve been composting all our food waste.”


Likewise, there are many improvements that could be made in the Belmont Hill community and within the personal lives of students. When asking the students of Belmont Hill about their waste during Thaksgiving, the biggest problems was around food waste.  Daniel Xie ’24 said, “My family made too much food and had a lot of leftovers this year.” Similarly, Jack Sheehan ’24 commented, “My extended family and I just couldn’t finish all our food.” Toby Jonas ’24 said “There was just too much!” Jonas added, “all the wrapping papers and the gift boxes result in a lot of waste and a very high amount of trash.” Furthermore, when asked what they think they could do to reduce the food waste, all of them responded by stating that they should strive to be more aware of the sheer amount of food they make.


On the other hand, when talking about how Belmont Hill School itself can reduce waste, most of the feedback centered on the food waste that happens during the holidays. Jackson Pagan ’24 said that “the Thanksgiving lunch was really weird, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat it.” This raises questions about food waste at Belmont Hill as a whole.  Although many find that the new BH lunch schedule is providing students with more opportunities to eat, thus theoretically reducing the amount of food waste, most of the time students complain about the quality of food rather than the lack of time to eat. To combat this problem, several students I asked said that the BH food committee should strive to increase the quality of food to reduce food waste, especially in and around the holidays.


Although certain wasteful habits may be ingrained in holiday traditions, waste management doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t demand major sacrifices. Patel believes that although “a lot of the mindset around the holidays is just overall focused on consumption, if we change that mindset towards spending quality time with family and enjoying new experiences, we can definitely start to make a positive change towards a smaller environmental impact.” 

Although these problems cannot be fixed overnight, with constant effort to be mindful of the sheer quantity of food that we buy and make, we can create a less wasteful community. By doing things like recycling your waste paper after the winter holidays and handing out leftovers to relatives and others, we can reduce the amount of trash and waste produced by the holidays.

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