By Erin Hitchcock –
As the Christmas season approaches, many increasingly catch the consumerism bug. We hustle from store to store or browse online looking for something to give to our friends and family members, so we make them feel special and appreciated, or even because we feel obligated to do so.
Every year on Black Friday scores of people flood the stores to buy, buy, buy. The flurry can become so infectious and out-of-control that, in some places, shoppers have reportedly become violent during the chaos.
Isn’t spending time with loved ones more valuable than fighting for a living room full of stuff? Isn’t caring for others and protecting our planet more important than lending to their annihilation?
Buy Nothing Day, an international day of protest against consumerism, takes place November 29 this year and serves as an alternative to Black Friday’s materialistic madness. Please don’t just shift your shopping to a different day; use that day to reflect on what’s really important (it will save you money, too).
In the 20-minute documentary, The Story of Stuff Project, Annie Leonard, who spent 10 years tracking where our stuff comes from and where it goes, describes how all this stuff wreaks havoc on the environment and people around the world.
“From extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, to disposal, all together it’s called the ‘materials economy,’” explains Leonard in the video. “The truth is it’s a system in crisis. You cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely. Every step along the way this system is interacting with the real world.”
While I appreciate the giving nature of many who have bought our kids toys in the past, these items take up too much space, get ignored after a while, or break. While we are diligent about donating unwanted toys, the broken ones, which can’t be recycled, end up in the landfill. And then there is all the packaging that accompanies them: the plastic bubble-wrap-lined brown envelope they were mailed in, the wrapping paper on the presents, and the plastic packaging around the items themselves. The waste is extreme and is only one part of the devastating chain.
Even a simple cotton T-shirt has immense destructive impacts on the planet. It takes about 2,700 litres of water to make just one, according to a National Geographic and World Wildlife Fund video, which explains that’s enough for one person to drink for 900 days. Then there is all of the energy involved to grow the cotton, and manufacture and transport the shirts and all of the other products we are encouraged to buy—not to mention the dyes and chemicals involved that contaminate water, land, and communities along the way.
That new flatscreen TV you may be considering hides nitrogen trifluoride, a greenhouse gas that is a whopping 17,000 times more potent than carbon monoxide, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal, Geophysical Research Letters. The other materials in that TV were mined and processed, contributing to further environmental and human destruction. When it stops working or some better TV comes along, it will also contribute to a growing electronic waste problem—a 2016 University of British Columbia report shows that Canadians generate about 725,000 tonnes of e-waste each year, with only 20 per cent of it being recycled properly.
Every single thing we buy has an impact. While most of us can’t completely buy nothing, we can definitely reduce and be mindful of what we purchase.
Consider more sustainable options, such as donating to one’s favourite charity or local organization, gift certificates or money for swimming or sewing lessons, homemade freezer meals, used products (try thrift shops, share sheds, and local buy and sell groups), support local crafters and markets, or make something of your own.
The ninth annual Earth Friendly Holiday Event in Williams Lake will take place Friday, December 6 from 5–9 p.m. and Saturday, December 7 from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre. It includes fun and artistic nature-oriented crafts for all ages. The event is free but be sure to bring non-perishable food items as a donation for the food bank.
You can also help offset your carbon footprint by donating to carbon offset programs. The David Suzuki Foundation advises choosing a program that is Gold Standard certified (www.goldstandard.org), but you can also volunteer in your community to help offset your impacts.
If you wish to wrap your gifts, do not buy wrapping paper or gift bags. Instead, choose reusable fabric bags (best if made out of scrap fabric) or old newspaper you still have lying around. According to Zero Waste Canada, 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags are thrown out each year.
Most importantly, inform your loved ones of your new or reaffirmed traditions. Educating them about these issues could be the greatest gift of all.
Erin Hitchcock is a stay-at-home mom with a journalism diploma and more than 15 years of related experience. She is part of the Cariboo-Chilcotin Pachamama Alliance and is passionate about creating a better future for the Earth. She can be contacted at CCPlanetEarth@gmail.com.