This holiday season, let’s rethink consumption
The holidays are notorious for excess and overconsumption. It’s not just bad news for the planet, though: this excess also creates stress, both emotionally and financially. From food and gifts to wrapping and décor, it’s time to rethink our approach to consumption.
Tough on the planet, tough on us: that’s how the holidays have been for far too long. Along with the US, Canada ranks among the highest generators of waste per capita in the world, and that waste increases significantly during the holidays. We don’t appear to be happier for it, either: research shows that Canadians feel pressed for time, money, and energy this time of year.
According to the group Zero Waste Canada, each Canadian will throw “away” about 110 lbs (50 kg) of garbage over the holiday season—about 25 percent higher than the rest of the year.
Time to let it gooooo! Together, let’s discover new ways to enjoy the holidays while reducing the stress that many of us feel during this time. Let’s focus on what’s important and, consequently, be kinder on the environment and ourselves.
Rethink gift giving
Gifts make up most of the waste of the holiday season—and the stress too! Save your busy trips to the mall.
Meera Jain, an Instagram eco-blogger (@thegreenmum), elementary school teacher, and mum of two girls has a passion for teaching others that green living can be accessible to all on some level. She explains, “I only buy [gifts] as a last resort. My first instinct would be to make something, thrift an item, or offer a skill I already have.”
Buying from a local store or supporting a local brand, artisan, or craftsperson does more than bolster our local economies by putting money back into our communities: it supports the dreams of talented and hardworking small business owners. And that’s a beautiful thing!
Offer an experience
Experience gifts create memories while eschewing waste. Consider ideas such as gift certificates for experiences such as the following:
“Never underestimate the value of offering someone an experience using a skill you have,” says Jain. “One of the best gifts I have ever received is a night of babysitting and a gift certificate to a vegan restaurant from my sister! A kid-free night out with my husband? Sign me up!”
Many experiences are offered online these days, from yoga classes to general interest courses. Take a look and see what you can discover!
If you’re looking for a material gift, choose something as ethical and eco-friendly as possible. For example, if someone would like a handbag, can you shop at a secondhand or vintage store? If you’re looking for a yoga mat, can you select one that’s made from natural or upcycled materials? If you’re buying chocolate, can you choose organic and fair trade?
What can you make? You may be more skilled than you think! Jain suggests Pinterest and YouTube for inspiration if you’re feeling intimidated. Consider the following ideas:
Sometimes the best gifts are the simplest! Who on your list would prefer cold hard cash? Or perhaps someone really and truly wants nothing, and you can instead donate to a nonprofit organization in their name.
During a recent holiday season, an estimated 3,000 tonnes of foil, 2.6 billion greeting cards, and 6 million rolls of tape were purchased by Canadians. No thank you! Here are some other ideas:
“Always think about how you will dispose of gifts, wrapping, and decorations at the end of their life, and if you can’t find a sustainable way, it’s likely not worth the purchase,” says Jain.
What people cherish most about the holidays is getting together with loved ones, not ornate decorations or lavish centrepieces. When entertaining this year, consider the following strategies:
Be a role model
As Jain explains, “It’s important that, as parents, we model how a life with less is actually more fulfilling. It’s not the material items that make us happy, but rather the memories and who we experience them with that we will remember.
“The psychology behind overconsumption comes from a desire to be happy. We believe that we will feel satisfaction with ourselves if our clothes are fashionable and we have the latest electronics. Let’s work hard to remember and teach our kids that this is not what matters in life.”
Jain encourages open discussion. “My recommendation to parents is to have a discussion as a whole about what the family values are. Kids are so perceptive and caring at heart that they will likely choose the big ideas like love and safety over toys and candy.
“Aside from having candid conversations, modelling the desired behaviour is also extremely effective. Ask your kids for a walk in the park as your gift. Show them how baking cookies for your neighbour is more thoughtful than bringing a purchased gift. Kids see a lot more than they hear, so it’s our duty to give them something to watch that is worthwhile.”
What about electronics?
Electronics are typically a top gift, but at a big cost. It’s estimated that in 2020, 52.2 million metric tonnes of electronic waste (often called e-waste) will be created worldwide. Often, this toxic e-waste is sent to impoverished countries.
Instead, look up organizations near you that refurbish used electronics, and always dispose of your electronics responsibly by sending them to reputable recycling organizations.
“I’d also like to mention that if you have the privilege of buying scads of gifts for your friends and family over the holidays, it always feels good to divert some of those funds to help those who are less fortunate,” Jain reminds us. “I’m sure your loved ones would appreciate that even more this season!”
For more, check out our web-exclusive 10 Tips for Low-Waste Holidays