A month or two ago I was asked to submit blogs to the ConserveLand page (http://conserveland.wordpress.com) so that’s where most of my original posts will go from now on, but I will continue to update this as well, especially with reprints from the other blog site. Enjoy!
As I perused the aisles of clothing, accessories, home goods and gadgets at a local department store, searching for Christmas gifts, I got an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I wasn’t surprised; it usually happens this time of year. Yes, part of it is just the thought of my next credit card statement, but it’s more than that. Every November and December (I am a late present buyer) I am hit with thoughts about consumerism. As a conservationist, the typical American buy, buy, buy mentality runs counter to many of my beliefs. Shouldn’t we minimize our possessions to help protect the planet? After all, Americans consume nearly 25 percent of all the world’s resources even though we only make up 5 percent of the population.
Yet we are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us that the only way to help get out of this horrible economic slump is to buy, buy, buy. The federal government gives us tax refunds with the hope that we won’t save it; they want us to spend it all. I want to do my part to help the economy turn around, but I don’t want to add environmental woes in the process. Is there a way to have a holiday where you can still give to your loved ones while not creating more useless junk that will end up in a landfill a couple years down the road?
There are many ways, both large and small, to make your holiday season more environmentally-friendly. Of course the simplest way would be to avoid buying “stuff.” Instead, you could give a donation to your favorite charity. Many offer gift donations where you can name the recipient and they receive a real or electronic card of thanks. Because of the bad economy, non-profits are having an even harder time raising money this year, so these gift donations will help them out, make you feel good, and recognize someone special in your life. I am giving gift donations to my family members, even though we had agreed to a no gift Christmas this year, because I can say, “It’s not a gift for you; it’s a gift for the kid in the middle east who will get a polio vaccination,” or something like that. Christmas gifts that do good – I like it!
If you do buy “stuff,” there are ways to make your shopping greener. Try to buy everything in one trip so you cut down on gas emissions (and save $ on fuel costs). When you head out to the store, bring reusable bags with you. Or better yet, stay home and shop online. If you can purchase most gifts through one retailer and have them shipped together in one box, all the better. Buying through a local retailer will cut down on vehicle miles driven and spent fuel. Think globally, buy locally, as they say.
Once you have those gifts at home, how will you wrap them? Well, if you’re a newspaper reader, why not use the old papers, especially the comics? Or if you’re especially crafty, use some old papers (junk mail, old college term papers, etc.) and use stamps or colored pencils to decorate the wrapping yourself. Sure that takes a little more time, but it’s a unique concept that your loved ones will appreciate. I’ll admit that I do use regular wrapping paper for some gifts, when I’m feeling lazy or in a hurry, but when possible I reuse it or recycle it. No one is 100 percent perfect, but any little steps we can take will lead to a better tomorrow. And speaking of a better option, gift bags, especially those made from post-consumer recycled content are a good option because they can be reused over and over again. I re-gift my gift bags for holidays throughout the year. Better yet, why not buy a reusable bag from your favorite store or conservation non-profit and stick the gift in it? That way they’re getting two gifts for the price of one and will think of you anytime they’re out grocery shopping with their bag.
The holidays are a time to remember our loved ones, but we can remember them in ways that don’t involved spending hundreds of dollars on things they don’t really need. What most people want is to spend time with the people they care about, to eat some yummy food and to feel loved and appreciated. It’s unfortunate that many now judge how much they’re loved by the size or abundance of the presents they receive. We in this country have so much already, when compared with most of the world, that we need to get back to basics. If you are going to go out and buy presents, take a few small steps to make this a conservation Christmas for you and your loved ones. Happy holidays!