Christmas has passed. And so have many, many goods.
Our two kids, 4 and 8, got a few gifts, but certainly not as many as I know many other kids got. Most of the gifts are now “put away”, meaning they are probably only going to be used a few times more, if ever. Some will last, but I think they are the exception. Gifts came by UPS and FedEx, box after box. The shipping boxes contained plastic padding around the product boxes, almost in all cases one product per box. Boxes were then wrapped with paper (although in some cases we were able to use WrapSacks). Boxes contained inserts and additional packaging. It all “went away” — in our case mostly recycled … but instead of complete waste, it’s only mostly waste. I nearly cried when a single CD came in a box that was 2 feet by 1 foot by 8 inches.
But what gets to me is that almost everyone we know thinks we’re strange, or mean-spirited. We have very politely asked grandparents, our siblings and others to send no gift, or something constructive. For the most part (after asking for years), people have grudgingly accepted our request, but not without a raised eyebrow or comment.
I work for a company that provides advice for buyers of consumer electronics, like MP3 players, widescreen TVs, digital cameras, camcorders, and so on. We are able to see traffic trends over the year, so I can confirm that everything you read about “cyber Monday” is true: a very substantial share of our business comes around Christmas and the holidays. So yes, we’re part of the problem. But the point is that the amount of stuff people buy, and buy for Christmas is simply incredible. Good thing, too — without this, economies would collapse!
Getting right to the point … I think we are addicted to buying things. A nice simple holiday has turned into a consumption orgy. Ok, this is not news to me or anyone, but the stakes are not just the habits and expectations of greed we’re building into our kids, but a whole pattern of waste upon waste upon waste. If you think I sound self-righteous, please let me be the first to say that I am a sinner indeed. I really don’t know how to stop.
What’s so wrong about this? It’s just incredibly inefficient. The amount of energy used to create, transport, package, wrap, store, and then dispose of these things is huge. I would love to know how to translate the cost of things into energy cost. I would bet that the cost is some percentage of the dollar cost of the product. Are you thinking 50%? I’m thinking more like 110%, since so much of the energy cost of goods is not accounted for. But let’s say 50%.
Thinking positively, where there’s waste, there’s opportunity to make a difference without giving up more than is bearable. The mission of Five Percent is to find ways to reduce energy usage by 5% — and here’s a big chance.
So how can we change this pattern. Here are some practical suggestions:
- Give an “experience” gift (credit to Ideal Bite) — a nice night out, a trip for two, etc.
- Talk to your family and explain why you are a Scrooge
- Give one nice gift — avoid the gluttony
- Give a “virtual” gift, like a subscription to iTunes where you can download music
- Send a digital photo
- Give a charitable contribution to someone or some group doing good things
- Let Amazon and others know we don’t like their wasteful shipping practices
It’s not a simple thing to completely change. But I think this year we probably reduced the total waste a little, and that’s where we need to start.