The Hidden Cost of Christmas

Published: Nov. 18, 2008 at 3:52 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2008 at 9:30 PM CST
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Report Shows the High Environmental Price We Pay for Christmas Gifts
 All you have to do is look at your January credit card statement to know that Christmas doesn't come cheap these days. But that's just the financial cost of Christmas. What about the environmental cost?

In a report titled, "The Hidden Cost of Christmas," the Australian Conservation Foundation calculated the environmental impacts of producing many popular Christmas gifts and goodies.

The impacts were measured in terms of water use, land disturbance, greenhouse pollution, and material flow (defined as the "mass of all solids extracted from the earth" including timber and livestock). Here are a few of the highlights:

During Christmas 2004, Australians spent more than $1.5 billion on clothing and related items. This resulted not only in many presents under the Christmas tree, but also in approximately 720,000 tons of greenhouse pollution, 38 gigaliters of water, and more than half a million hectares of disturbed land.

According to the text of the report: "It would take more than two weeks for the Hazelwood coal power station in Victoria's La Trobe Valley (Australia's most polluting power station) to produce that much greenhouse pollution. And you'd need to leave your garden hose running for 324 years to use that much water."

Books and Magazines
In December 2004 Australians spent $612 million on books and magazines. Producing that reading material consumed 416,100 tons of materials such as waste paper, ink cartridges and packaging; left more than 40,000 hectares of land disturbed; and created 430,000 tons of greenhouse pollution, the equivalent of a year of pollution from 85,000 cars.

If you spend $30 on confectionary this Christmas-items such as chocolate and lollipops-you will be consuming on average 20 kilograms (kg) of materials, 940 liters of water, 26 square meters of land, and creating 16kg of greenhouse gases.

Alcoholic Beverages
In December 2004, Australians spent about $900 million on alcohol. Producing all of that beer and wine required 42 gigaliters of water, enough to fill 42,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Household Appliances
For Christmas 2004, Australians spent $1.5 billion on household electrical appliances such as DVD players and air conditioners. Before the appliances were even plugged in and operating, they had generated 780,000 tons of greenhouse pollution.

As you shop for Christmas gifts this year, keep in mind the environmental cost of the items that catch your eye and look for eco-friendly alternatives. If we allow the environment to become overdrawn, we'll all be bankrupt.