During the holiday season, does your household practice giving in a green way? Do you spend more than you have, on gifts that may not be fully used and possibly stored away or eventually thrown away? Or do you choose to be creative in your gift giving and share your time, energy and love with those around you?
I have stepped away from writing this Green Living Column since last November for many reasons. Chief among them, was an extended visit back to Japan. There, I worked on a writing project about ‘trash.’ I began researching what Japan does with their trash- everything from villages committing to ‘Zero Waste’ to Japan’s scary plans for the disposal of the colossal amount of radioactive waste. All in time to put on a good face for the 2020 Olympics.
It was interesting returning home, after studying and researching trash for 6 months. I became uber-aware of the degree that we Americans buy, consume, use (and sometimes not-use), then throw away.
When I was a child, my family celebrated Christmas and all its wonderful fixings. Santa was always very good to our large family. That nostalgic picture in my head of gifts flowing from under the tree still makes me warm and fuzzy. Yet, I can barely remember the attachment to the gifts year after year. My attachment was to time with my family, uninterrupted by work and the outside world. My dad was off work and my mom instilled in us that the holidays were for family and friends and giving to others.
Enough is enough – Or is it?
Americans have accumulated over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. The average household owing $5,700 and $16,048 for households that carry debt from month to month. This year Americans are expected to spend another trillion dollars during the holiday season alone.
The average US household owns over 300,000 things. One out of ten households rent offsite storage. Among households with two-car garages, 25 percent do not have room to park the cars and 32 percent can fit only one car. Most homes have more television sets than people and the average 10-year old has 238 toys, but plays with only twelve. The average American women owns 30 outfits and 20 pairs of shoes and throws away 65 pounds of clothing every year.
Precious energy is needed to produce, transport, ship, wrap and dispose of our holiday gifts. Greenhouse gas emissions are involved in all of these processes. Thinking our gift giving through from cradle to grave can be a vital change in greening our household holidays. Especially since it is now known that even with our best efforts, we will need even more aggressive measures to not only reduce carbon but to capture it.
In June, Sweden’s parliament passed the world’s most ambitious carbon reduction pledge. Not only do they plan to reach “no net emissions’ by 2045, they plan to go even further. The Swedes are aware that in order to make up for some activities like flying planes, using cement and fertilizers they will need to use technology to also capture some of the carbon. In other words our best efforts won’t be enough to avoid the dreaded 2 degrees celsius increase above pre-industrial levels. That is a staggering thought.
So why not join the Swede’s and make a change this year with sustainable gift giving. There are many ways to cut down. First, cut the carbon miles added to your gift giving, by considering where the product was made and how it is delivered. Local products make great gifts and supports local businesses. Second, try home-made gifts that add a personal touch. Recently, my talented husband used extra material we had to make a beautiful cushion for my sweet mother who is not as mobile anymore.
Be a real trailblazer and ditch the ‘stuff’ and be creative. Gifts of volunteer service to our friends and community rewards the giver even more than the recipient. And finally, the best gift is the gift of time and presence with our families and loved ones. Rapt attention without laptops, cellphones, schedules and gadgets to distract us is the greatest gift we can give others. It doesn’t cost money and is carbon free.