Now that Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday are behind us, we need to re-evaluate.
That was potentially an expensive week.
This time of year, we thrive on excess. We feed an urge to buy stuff. And while mega-retailers are more than eager to shovel that money into their profit margins, it is the local shops downtown that are equally dependent on our willingness to consume (or overconsume) and indulge (or overindulge).
We need to frequent these stores. They are the backbone of our communities, and the business owners are our neighbors and friends. We all know that a smile and recommendation go a long way when it comes to customer service. Ask any merchant, they will say we — as a society — are too willing to let the goods come to us.
Not shopping local is like taking money out of wallets and handing it to people who have no interest in our schools and sidewalks. Online retailers do not care whether there are empty storefronts in our downtowns.
That makes each of us part of the problem. And as hot a topic as climate change is, this is akin to that. Shopping patterns are linked to behavior. It is easier to avoid a problem and believe that one person’s role in a system does not matter. Except that you are not the only person not shopping downtown this holiday season. Nor are you the only person who won’t recycle, or compost.
The holidays, for all of their beauty, are a menace. They increase our personal debt. They lead to further accumulation of stuff. And consuming and indulging — no matter from where we buy our gifts — leads to significant waste.
Which leads to the reality check: The amount of waste we generate is staggering. That waste isn’t limited to wrapping paper and packaging.
According to Stanford University, which has an entire department that tracks waste products, Americans throw away 25% more trash during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday period than any other time of year. The extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week.
According to the Stanford study: “If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.”
It includes food waste, as well.
According to Worldwatch Institute, Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, three times more food waste than at any other time of the year.
On the pages of our Weekend Magazine in recent weeks, there have been some articles offering tips about packaging and reducing the holiday footprint in our lives.
Consider that wrapping paper is often used once and thrown away. One of those articles suggested using colorful pages torn from magazines to wrap small gifts, and old maps or the Sunday comics for larger boxes (we approve of this one). Avoid using paper entirely by using reusable decorative tins, baskets or boxes. If you do buy wrapping paper, look for ones made of recycled paper. Reusable cloth ribbons can be used in place of plastic bows. Finally, unwrap gifts carefully and save wrappings for reuse next year.
And while shopping, consider gifts with an environmental message: a nature book, a refillable thermos bottle, a canvas tote bag, a battery recharger or items made from recycled materials. Choose solar powered instead of battery powered products. Or better yet, ones that require no power at all. (And they can be found locally.)
And as is Vermont tradition: Go homemade.
As for food scraps, if you aren’t thinking about them this year, you will be next year.
Starting July 1, 2020, food scraps are banned from landfill disposal in Vermont. Keeping food scraps out of your trash has plenty of benefits, among them, extending the life of Vermont’s sole landfill, reducing greenhouse gases, supporting green jobs and improving our soils.
So be mindful this holiday season. Don’t let the holidays consume you.
And for heaven’s sake, add a compost bin to your gift list. You’re going to need it.