Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Jake's Ethical Christmas

It's October 24th, which means you have exactly two months to plan and prepare for Christmas!

This is probably an element of my personality only people close to me know about, but I am passionate about sustainability and reducing waste. I am not one of those people who tries to do a zero-waste year. That is only feasible for healthy people, who have a decent income and plenty of extra time. They also can't really have pets, because even though my dogs are on a raw food diet, I can't bring home 30kgs of raw meat in paper bags.

However, I am a strong advocate for reducing consumerism waste. Things like cheap clothes we wear a few times, or not at all, before throwing away. Trinkets and nick-nacks that serve no purpose. Things that are unwanted, unneeded and unpractical, but are given because we feel we need to give something.

In this blog post, I want to offer some solutions. Many of them will be local to me, but hopefully you can extrapolate them out to where you live—finding the same or similar items in your local area.

IDEA ONE – Be Honest

A great way to reduce waste and actually buy useful items is to be honest with your family and friends about what you need. I think younger generation are better at this than older ones. Older generations seem to find asking for specific things very rude. So instead of helping with rent, or buying the work socks you desperately need, they'll give you a $40 fairy costume for your cat. I think we, as a society, need to get past this. If someone asks you for something they need, and it’s a reasonable request, please get that. They'll appreciate it and it won't go straight into landfill in January.

If you are asking for specific things, take the guesswork out. Give your size and preferred colour. You can also make it fun. "Give me a year's supply of my favourite brand of dishwashing detergent." is practical and amusing.

IDEA TWO – Potted Plants

Please buy terra cotta pots. Terra cotta is just fired clay. Its all natural, there is very little waste or chemicals—bar those required to power the kiln they were cooked in. If cared for, it lasts thousands of years, but if crushed up, its no different to rock. Broken terra cotta pots have plenty of uses in the garden, including just being left on their side to house frogs and lizards.

If you also buy seeds and grow them yourself for people, you are reducing waste greatly. If you are going to buy seedlings in plastic pots, ring around and see where you can donate the plastic pots so they can be reused. Some nurseries will very happily take them back.

A lot of succulents and other plants grow from cuttings. So, if you have a mature adult plant, you can produce endless baby plants for gift giving. Now is a good time to start propagating for Christmas, so the plants you hand over have a good root development and aren't going to die.

IDEA THREE – Biodegradable Toothbrushes

Did you know you can get biodegradable toothbrushes made of bamboo? You can even just throw them in your compost when you are done with them. Did you know every single plastic toothbrush you have ever used still exists? It's in landfill or floating in the ocean right now. Not only that, but it will be here for hundreds of years after you die. That's over 1000 toothbrushes per person.

Assuming people use, on average, one toothbrush a month, 12 toothbrushes is a year's supply. If you gave everyone you knew 12 bamboo toothbrushes every year, you could save thousands of plastic toothbrushes going into landfill.

Many bamboo toothbrushes also come in cardboard packaging, that is also biodegradable. You can order them online from places like Amazon, Aliexpress and speciality stores. They range in cost from about $4 each, to around 40c each and come in a range of colours.

IDEA FOUR – Hand Made, Unpackaged Soaps, Candles & Bath Bombs

Living on the sunshine coast, there is an endless supply of soap and bath bomb makers around, and they stock all sorts of boutique stores and market stalls near where I live. However even if you don't live in an area like mine, most malls these days have a Lush, Dusk or other candle/soap store that has unpackaged items, and sells them in paper bags.

I think its preferable to support a local artisan and buy them right from the people who make them in their kitchen. However, make do with what you have. The good thing about soaps, candles and bath bombs is that they get used up and they are gone. If they are made with natural ingredients (no plastic beads!) they cause no harm. However, they are still a lovely treat to use and receive.

IDEA FOUR – Coconut & Wood Plates, Bowls & Chopping Boards

Coconut bowls are all the rage at the moment. They are probably a more practical gift for the trendy Instagram people in your life. Or the people who wish they were trendy Instagram people. If someone loves food or cooking, wooden bowls, plates and chopping boards may be a fantastic, long used and much-loved gift.

Skip this one for the friends and family who eat take away with one hand and play computer games with the other.

IDEA FIVE – Jars of Preserved Foods

Again, I live on the Sunshine Coast, so I am surrounded by boutique farms which produce their own preserves and sell them at local stalls and stores. Everything from goat cheese, olives, dried tomatoes, garlic cloves, more exotic jams and chutneys than I could poke a stick at.

In my favourite store, the Maleny Food co, which has QLD's best ice cream, a fromagerie and a several shelves of exotic preserved goods, there are always about a dozen things I want to buy. But I always tell myself 'next time'. Then I buy and ice cream, and $50 worth of buffalo cheese, and next time never comes.

Again, this is a gift that is better for people who love to cook. And its probably worth adding a small hand-written note, saying: 'This product is tastiest if used within X months'. A lot of preserved food lasts forever. However, that means some people save them forever! Products like expensive, virgin oils are better used as soon as possible. After a few months they go stale.

Eat your preserves while they are fresh and full of life and flavour.

IDEA SIX – Memberships, Tickets and Gift Cards

How about a twelve-month Audible membership? Or dancing lessons? Or a twelve-month Netflix membership? Cooking lessons? Tickets to events? Gift cards to and eco friendly store? Is there a memory you can have together? Can you go scuba diving or horseback riding? This idea is particularly great for kids. You can buy them a year of music lessons, or martial arts lessons. Anyone who drives a lot will get a lot of use from an Audible membership.

If your friends have no time for classes and are always run off their feet, would 20 hours of a maid service be welcome? How about 4 hours of babysitting so they can go out together for once? If their yard is overrun, can you hire them a gardener?

Think in terms of services, skills and experiences, not just items.

So that's it! My suggested Christmas gift list. I am already gathering my gifts for Christmas (pro tip, you're probably getting bamboo toothbrushes). And if you start planning and ordering now, you should have everything in plenty of time for Christmas, which will make things stress and guilt free.

If you don't celebrate Christmas, or Christmas is a bad time for you, now is the right time to start planning so you will be busy over that period. Make a list of things you want to fix, make and visit over December. Go to the beach, go to the gym, get out in nature, declutter your house, learn to cook some new things, try new restaurants, paint. Find a list of all the local tourist attractions you've never been to and see them all. Tackle that pile of books that you keep swearing you'll read. And, on Christmas day, even if you don't want to, find someone hosting an orphan Christmas and spend the day with them. Let other people feed and distract you.

And remember, try not to buy a bunch of crap that will end up in landfill.

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