The Most Wasteful Time of the Year

The Most Wasteful Time of the Year

I read an article recently that said that 30% of all Christmas gifts end up in a landfill within 90 days. Another said that 50% of the gifts will be in a landfill within a year. These statistics are both horrifying and hard to substantiate. I tried to think of what I got my kids last year, stuff that I know took me forever to pick out and wrap and is surely being used and enjoyed. And I couldn’t. Now that I’m shopping again this year, I’m afraid these landfill statistics might be true.

My basic formula for Christmas is this: I get my kids a real gift and then the rest of the stuff under the tree is filler. These gifts are there to liven up Christmas morning. You buy a backscratcher not because anyone on Earth needs one, but for the moment your kid says, “Wow how cool!” and then proceeds to scratch his own back for five seconds. That thing will survive in my house for another 24 hours while doubling as a shoehorn and a sword. Then it will be landfill.

Same goes for the mini Magic 8 Balls and the pocket sized notepads that fill their Christmas stockings. It turns out not only do my kids not need their backs scratched, they don’t need that much help making decisions and don’t have a lot of tiny thoughts they need to jot down during the day. Landfill. Nearly everything that calls out to me from the television falls into this category: the ballon-a-palooza, the bubble-palooza; really any kind of palooza is going to be a hit on Christmas morning and then is going straight to the trash.

An internet search of “best gifts for teen boys” offers a unanimous answer: beanbag chair. This is troubling because a beanbag chair is just a piece of fabric sewn around a bunch of landfill. My family has owned several beanbag chairs over the years, and their average life span is about two weeks. When they pop, they excrete tiny and impossible to catch landfill-ettes that make you wish you’d thrown the chair out when it was brand new.

The second most popular gift for teens is a game that tests reaction speed, giving the loser a pretty serious electric shock. I actually bought this thing last year. As I watched them play, I thought “I can’t believe I’ve managed to make adolescence even more stressful and dangerous than it already was.” Then I threw it out.

If you scroll down far enough, these websites also offer zero-waste alternatives. For $20 I can have a star named for them. Or for $30 I can get them an acre of land on the moon. I’m not sure my kids are this whimsical (read: gullible), and I have one who would actually ask for documentation via a title search and a fully executed deed of ownership. According to my math, this is $50 worth of waste.

As I wander around my kids’ rooms, I actually don’t see any of the stuff that I remember getting them last year. This makes me concerned that much more than 30% of the gifts I buy turn out to be landfill. So as I’m shopping this year, I’m holding each item in my hand, Marie Kondo-style, and trying to imagine it resting on the top of my kitchen garbage. If I can, I’m not buying it. At this writing I’ve gotten my kids each a pair of socks with our dog’s face on them. Necessities? I’m not sure. But at least they’re impossible to throw out.

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