Reducing the plastic in our Christmas celebrations
The Christmas Season is upon us again and our thoughts turn to the coming together of loved ones and the gifts we are planning to buy for family and friends.
Unfortunately, plastic is often the main ingredient of these gifts, present in many toys and other products. And though we are beginning to wake up to the reality of the horrendous amount of plastic present in our oceans, and of microplastics being found in all sizes of marine life, from oysters to whales. And though we are hearing about plastic present also in many of the foods we eat and drink, such as seafood, bottled water, sea salt, and soft drinks, we still haven’t gotten very far in turning around the tide of plastics entering our oceans.
The practice of giving and receiving gifts is in our DNA and throughout the centuries, bonds have been forged and relations healed and strengthened by giving and receiving. First Nations Potlatches were a way of redistributing the wealth of the Tribe and building a sense of inclusion and belonging.
It makes us feel good to gift, our spirits rise and we feel closer to the one being gifted.
Unfortunately, in many countries in today’s world we have gone overboard and simply encourage, especially at Christmas, the accumulation of too much stuff that is used for a short while and ends up in landfills. Annie Leonard, who created the film ‘The Story of Stuff’, discovered that of the materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale.
And, plastic or not, the energy needed for the manufacture and transport and often for the extraction and refinement of materials for unnecessary, frivolous products that, as gifts, elicit thanks and perhaps a laugh or two, consume the world’s resources. According to George Monbiot, they are responsible for more than half of our carbon dioxide production.
Does a gift have to be a material object? No, it can also be giving your time, even though, in an increasingly harried world, that can sometimes seem difficult. Memories formed and shared can be precious. Children given real focus, attention and love throughout the year receive the gift of emotional stability and self worth, invaluable in an age of perceived threats and vulnerabilities.
The choice of a long-lasting gift can be difficult. For a young person with changing tastes and interest, what seems relevant today can be outgrown and left behind a year later. How many of us know children whose bedrooms are choc a block with toys, often made of plastic, and many with discarded bits missing or broken, that are no longer in favour and destined for the landfill. At the moment there are very few recycling options for hard plastics and here on Salt Spring they currently cannot be recycled.
But there are some positive signs that we as a human Society are beginning to change our ways.
Researchers in Britain have found that major changes are beginning to emerge with surveys finding that people are turning away from mindless consumerism with millions going plastic-free, saying ‘no’ to unethical toys. The same survey showed that over half of those polled were concerned about the impact their choices of today would have on future generations, with over a third believing their children had enough plastic toys and thus they would be looking for sustainable alternatives such as wood.
Here are some choices from SUPER on how to reduce the plastic in our Christmas celebrations in the packaging, wrapping, and gifts that Santa delivers to our homes:
For decorations, go natural, with sprigs of holly and fir, twigs and branches, pine cones, and don’t forget the mistletoe.
For gatherings, use real cutlery, plates and glasses. And avoid plastic straws and stirrers. Make your own festive nibbles and dips rather than buying ones that are packaged in plastic.
For wrapping, use recycled brown parcel paper tied in twine or cloth ribbon, or pages from old magazines, and decorate with seasonal greenery. Use last year’s Christmas cards for tags.
And, on Boxing Day, go for a walk and beach clean.
Give an experience – like tickets to a performance, a fancy meal out, a spa day, or a membership to a course or activity.
Make your own gifts, like goodies, jams, chutneys, candles, and fancy oils.
Buy local. Give island made foods, soaps, artisan products, gift certificates, etc.
Give plastic free gifts such as clothing made from natural fabrics, like wool and hemp, and toys made of wood. And remember to donate old toys to charities or Christmas toy drives.
Give plastic alternative gifts such as reusable produce bags, beeswax wraps, and bar shampoos.
Buy pre-loved gifts from your favourite second hand store.
Give a donation in the gift recipient’s name to a worthwhile cause or even to an organization that is engaged in turning the tide of the planetary challenge of ocean plastic, such as Plastic Ocean Foundation, Surfrider, Greenpeace, or Ocean Champions.
Have a Very Merry Plastic-free Holiday Season!
Tom Mitchell and the SUPER (Single-Use Plastic Elimination and Recycling) group