Let’s wrap it up!

‘Let’s wrap it up!’ is the article written by the Eco-school committee and which presents the data collected during their Litter less Campaign they worked on this year: Waste during events.  Well done to all the students involved and thank you to all the parents who helped.  Read carefully.  You will be surprised with the results.  This article will be submitted for the YRE and Litter Less competitions.

Everybody agrees that Maltese people, much like other Mediterranean populations, have a reputation for being very sociable. It is part of our cultural baggage. We just love to meet up and socialise. A new baby in the family, a birthday, Christmas, Easter or a new job or house? Every occasion is a good excuse to get together and celebrate. But have we ever stopped and thought about how much waste we create during such events?

Driven by this curiosity, we decided to study one such event and examine the waste generated. After some brainstorming, during one of our Eco-school committee meetings, we decided to focus on Christmas since this is an extremely popular religious celebration in Malta. Moreover, we decided to focus on just one type of waste created during this festive season, so we picked ‘Wrapping Paper Waste.’

With the help of social media, we decided to ask for help on our school Facebook page. The aim was to enrol the help of our local community in our research. 20 families answered and expressed their desire to participate in this research. We were very thankful and impressed with this response. By the end of the research, 16 families were still on board which still makes the research very valid. These families were asked to collect all the wrapping paper from all the gifts, which family members living in their household, received during Christmas and bring them to school when the holidays were over. We also created a FORM to collect data about the number of individuals living in the household as well as their ages. What we found out was fascinating and shocking at the same time!

The amount of wrapping paper waste collected by just 16 families was, to say the least, IMPRESSIVE!! We were careful to label the bags so that we could tell by which family it was collected and weighed each individual bag. We calculated that the average wrapping paper waste weight per family was 477g. From this data, we could also estimate the average wrapping paper waste generated by every individual. This amounted to about 112g. This is quite a lot considering how light wrapping paper is. The data collected is shown in the table below.

After examining the data, we also noted that families which had young children, tended to generate more wrapping paper waste. The younger the average age of the family, the more waste generated. This could be caused by two main things. Firstly, that younger kids, receive more presents during Christmas time. Secondly, presents for younger kids tend to be bulkier and require more wrapping paper. For us, this is alarming. It shows that we are unknowingly linking fun and happiness with the tearing up of wrapping paper at an early age.

We then decided to take our calculations a step further and estimate the amount, by weight, of wrapping paper that the entire population living on our island would generate during Christmas. According to the latest Census of Population and Housing gathered by the NSO (2021), the population in Malta amounted to 519,562 individuals. We determined that the weight of the wrapping paper waste that this
population would generate, would be a whopping 58,316kg. Scary, right!! That would be the wrapping paper waste generated in Malta, which is a small country, EVERY Christmas. Also note that this calculation is not taking into consideration other types of waste generated during Christmas, like party poppers, party hats, take out containers and food waste. The 58,000kg of waste are solely wrapping paper waste. That would be more than the weight of a 4-axle trailer truck. Unfortunately, unlike common belief, only a small amount of this waste can be recycled. A lot of wrapping paper has a plastic or foil layer or glitters which make it unsuitable for recycling.

We were alarmed by the results of our research and decided that it was time to try and make a difference. With the aim being that of helping our friends at school realise how serious this wrapping paper waste problem is, we decided to create an artistic and immersive experience for them. We used an empty classroom and moved all the desks and chairs to the side of the room. Then, we spread all the wrapping paper collected by the 16 families on the floor. We also managed to wrap a student’s desk and chair and left them in the middle of the room so that students could sit down when in the room. After pinning information about our research and about the wrapping paper problem all around the room, we were ready to invite
the students.

We collaborated with our English department and set a timetable, to have each class visit the room during one of their English lessons. Students from our Eco-school committee were also assigned a lesson so that they would guide their school mates through the experience while explaining the research carried out and thus raising awareness. The aim of this exercise was also to show other, more sustainable ways of how to wrap gifts like using old music scripts or cloth and helping students identify wrapping paper which can be recycled. The event was highly successful, and we received incredibly positive feedback from both teachers and students. Hopefully we managed to leave a mark on the future adult generation.

One might argue that Christmas is still many months away and that this research and intervention had a bad timing. Still, we must keep in mind that the wrapping paper waste generated last Christmas is still very present with us today as a problem to be solved. And what about the waste generated during other festivities like Easter eggs wrappings or paper confetti during village feasts? We, as Maltese citizens must strive to find a balance between cultural identity and environmental responsibility and think about how we can tweak the way we celebrate to be more sustainable.

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