The holiday season is always a great time of the year, with families getting together and celebrating for another year’s worth of progress; but amidst those festivities, it is easy to forget about environmental sustainability. And this consideration applies globally, not just for those celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the like.
We saw this with this year’s Diwali celebrations in New Delhi, India. Diwali, an important celebration enjoyed by Hindus, showed by example that all of our actions have consequences.
New Delhi is known to have high air pollution levels, but during Diwali this year, they were sky-high even for India’s standards. The countless firecrackers set off for Diwali elevated New Delhi to roughly 20 times the World Health Organization’s “safe” level, sparking even more global concern. Consequently, the Environment Pollution (Prevention and Control) Authority (EPCA) quickly declared it a public health hazard and imposed a ban on bursting crackers during winter.
With many more holidays coming soon, it begs the question: How do holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s impact environmental sustainability?
Holiday Festivities Unusually Pollute The Environment
Because fireworks are the main source of pollution during Diwali, it was easier to pinpoint them as the root cause. Though you wouldn’t necessarily think of Christmas and Thanksgiving as similar holidays, they aren’t innocent of harming the environment either.
Wood burning during the holidays serves many purposes (cooking, warmth, aesthetics, etc.), but sadly, these all come at a price. In London alone, this accounts for 7-9 percent of particle pollution during the season. But this doesn’t go to say that going completely electric will save our lungs.
Holiday Festivities Result Health-Threatening Emissions
Heating cooking utensils and electric stoves lead to ultrafine particle emissions. These particles pose serious cardiovascular and inflammatory risks, especially since their small size allows them to easily penetrate deep into the respiratory tract.
A more hidden threat is the spike in the use of personal care products and cosmetics. It can be incredibly easy to overlook these, especially since their purpose is self-care and enhancement.
Unfortunately, they emit volatile organic compounds that can have a variety of dangerous side effects ranging from dizziness to central nervous system damage when inhaled.
Only a few of the chemicals involved like benzene and toluene have been studied in this light, so the prospect of other compounds used being hazardous is unsettling.
We Leave Other Types Of Waste Too
Waste of all kinds also peaks during the holidays. The scariest part of Halloween, for instance, is the amount of plastic left behind from candy wrappers.
Costumes that are only ever worn once completely go against all the progress made in sustainable fashion. Food waste can also reach dangerous highs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The US wastes roughly 40% of food, but an extra 5 million pounds are added on during the holidays.
Holidays Overseas See Incredible Environmental Impacts Too
Records of deaths by air pollution were already at a fearsome high before Diwali. However, during Diwali this year, people increasingly already felt short of breath and on the verge of choking. Fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) levels shot up, reaching 600 micrograms per cubic meter. In context, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee’s data easily deems it an unsafe amount.
The number of people who have to cut back from work due to these conditions is only going up. Although using firecrackers is less common now, families are still buying them in the black market. And that’s a problem that can’t be easily solved.
As we continue to celebrate the holidays year after year, we can still do so in a way that is conscious of the implications our actions have on environmental sustainability.