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Consumerism With A Twist

As mentioned in our last blog, consumerism is in large part a result of advertising that infiltrates our daily lives and is ingrained into our society. Encompassing so much and so many people, its implications are vast.

We all know what consumerism is and how it impacts our surroundings and environment, but it can be discouraging on an individual level to tackle the issue of consumerism when the surrounding discourse is so extensive and somewhat negative.

As we find ourselves amidst the busy, bustling, often expensive holiday season, we should look at consumerism in a different light. Though overconsumption plays a large part in polluting our planet, we can turn negative into positive if we shop smart and, importantly, buy with intention -- locally or products that spread sustainable habits.

The essence of gift giving is to show admiration, love, affection, or appreciation to the people around us [1]. The advertising industry has redefined affection -- and how to show it – through giving gifts.

Also consider that consumerism doesn’t stop with the gifts themselves. Gift giving includes cards, wrapping paper or bags, and the disposal of those items.

During the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Years, there is 25 percent more trash tossed than at any other time of the year [2], and its in addition to the billions of tons already discarded during the rest of the year. So, thinking about how to eliminate some of that is more important than ever, especially during the holidays.

Most everyone is familiar with the phrase, “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” As simplistic as might seem, it can serve as motivation for people to take a few easy steps during the holidays in an effort to cut back on waste.

For instance, reducing the amount of paper used to wrap presents -- using less tissue paper and skipping the bow can have a big impact. Saving and reusing holiday or birthday gift bags is easy and creates a stockpile to have on hand for future gift giving.

Recycling is a key word any day of the week, but around the holidays it's a big consideration. A lot of gift-wrapping materials are not recyclable, so reusing old newspapers for wrapping and those aforementioned gift bags can be a nifty way to repurpose old materials, extend their life, and ensure your gift wrap is recyclable at the end of its life.

As well, gifts themselves can be a perfect way to cut back on consumerism.  Holiday gift-giving traditions are wonderful, but give some thought about what you are giving -- it's as wonderfully important.

Consider cutting back on “gag” gifts, especially those that are made of plastic or are packaged in plastic. Self-contained gifts like books, candles, or other items that don’t contribute to landfills through their packaging are not only great gifts, but also thoughtfully sustaining.  

Going even further, gifts can be sustainable in their own right. Practicality is key here. For example, many people use plastic wrap, but it is doubtful its given as a gift. The sustainable alternative, and a great gift besides, is reusable, plastic-free beeswax wrap [3]. A similar idea would be a reusable water bottle or coffee cup. Both can go a long way to not only cut back on waste, but also give the gift of an ongoing, reusable-cup discount many coffee shops honor.

As a New Year’s resolution, resolve to rethink gift giving, with an eye on our collective, sustainable future. Remember, every small step toward sustainability is a positive one.

Learn more about consumerism and sustainability in related Facing the Future texts and lesson plans

[1] The Origins and History of Gift Giving 

[2] The Eco-Conscious Gift-Givers Guide to the Holidays

[3] Bee Wild

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