Toy Mountain

Well another Christmas has passed, with the merry moments and warm wishes that go along with it. I have always loved the Christmas season, the sparkly lights, the pretty packages and the good spirits. I remember feeling sad as a child, when it was all over at the end of Christmas day.

My children are just getting old enough now (at ages 2 and 5) to get really excited about Christmas. They were so excited yesterday morning, when they realized that Santa really did come, and he really did eat the cookies and drink the milk. They were doubly excited when they saw that Santa really did bring the toys they had asked for. It was magical for them and for me too.

This year, I was committed to not use a scrap of wrap in the giving of our gifts. All my gifts were given in a homemade bag, a tote bag or a reusable gift bag. As a result we generated less Christmas garbage than in other years. Way less! Some family and friends also used homemade gift bags as well. We had cute fabric bags a plenty this year! One sister went as far as to make all her Christmas gifts, and a friend of mine gave Kiva loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world! I was so inspired by these gifts.

Despite this, we still managed to generate a lot of garbage associated with the toy packaging. It is obscene really. The most annoying thing is how all the toys are pinned in with multiple ties and screws and elastics and tape. Why? With some, you have to be careful not to break the toy when prying it free from its plastic cage.

How can I reduce that next year? Well one idea is to purchase used toys instead of new toys for my kids. I actually did some of that this year – they got some used story books, and some used toys from Santa in their stocking. However, I could have gone further if I planned better, and looked for stuff earlier on, such as at summer garage sales.

The second idea is to drastically reduce the amount of toys that we get the kids. Right now they each get three toys from us and one toy from Santa, along with a stocking full of toys from Santa. This is clearly too much, since they also get toys from Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties and Uncles and cousins.

The worst part is that they are starting to get greedy for toys, especially my oldest. This must be in part, due to the amount of toys they have and get. What am I promoting here? That toys are what we value? When they grown up, what will they value? Adult toys? More stuff? This rampant consumerism is exactly the opposite of what I want to be promoting.

It is so hard though, since their little faces light up when they see the toys, and then they spend hours and hours playing with them. They do love the toys, and use them. It is hard to take that away, and they will probably not understand. However, it is in their long-term best interest. That is what parenting is about – thinking long-term, and educating for the long-term. That is why we don’t let them eat cookies and cake all day long.

So enjoy today kids, playing with your new mountain of toys. Next boxing day might be different.  Perhaps we will go sledding! 🙂

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Footprints

This evening I was walking outside as the snow fell. I was going to a meeting. I was staring down at the sidewalk as I went along, noticing how the untouched snow sparkled under the dim street lights. The sky was pink and dark, as it often is when it snows at night. I felt a sense of peace, and like the situation reminded me of something. Then it hit me. It reminded me of being a kid; walking outside, snow in my hair and on my eyelashes, enjoying the moment.

Earlier today I was chatting with a couple work colleagues, both of whom have older children. One of them just had both his children move out on their own, each straight into a brand new built house. Someone else remarked how kids these days go out into the world expecting the best of the best right off the bat. They don’t go with the second hand furniture or hand-me-downs. They buy brand new houses and brand new cars and top of the line appliances. Then we started talking about appliances we had. Someone asked me about my dryer. “I don’t use it”, I replied. “Why!?!” they asked. I paused, smiled, and then answered, “I am trying to walk more lightly upon the Earth”.

Hmm, I bet that got them thinking.

Tonight walking back from my meeting I noticed that the footprints I had made 2 hours earlier were now covered over with snow. I walked over it again and made new ones.

The problem is not walking upon the Earth. The problem is walking so heavily that the footprints never fade.

Take Out the Take Out

Today I went out for lunch to the local food court with two people from work.  As we walked up, I started to think about my lunch garbage.  Looking up at the various neon signs starting back at me, I realized that if I wanted to avoid Styrofoam (polystyrene foam), then my choices would be severely limited.

Of the 9 food outlets, 5 of them required the use of a Styrofoam container, 2 of them gave you Styrofoam for about half their meals and 2 of them were Styrofoam free.  So if you do the math, out of the hundreds of lunches that were pumped out each day, approximately 2/3s generate a Styrofoam container.  How many containers is that per lunch hour?  This is just one food court, out of many downtown, and many more throughout the city.  How many containers are thrown out per day, just in my city?  Then multiply that by 251 working days per year, then by the number of cities in North America, then by the number of years we have using Styrofoam…

Stop!  My head is spinning.

So on this day, I did not order a lunch with Styrofoam.  Normally I would have.  Today I did not.  What difference will my choice make?  How will my choosing to not use Styrofoam, among the mountains of Styrofoam produced each day, make a difference?  This is where I start to get weary.  Why even try if it doesn’t even make a difference?

Well I am voting with my dollars, by shopping at those establishments that have Earth-friendlier packaging.  If everyone did what I do, I am sure that these establishments would quickly get the message.

There are alternatives to Styrofoam.  There is a high density cardboard, which I have seen around town.  Why can’t food stores switch out?

Why?

I carried my non-Styrofoam lunch to a food court table to eat with my coworkers.  Looking down at my meal, I realized that even without the Styrofoam, I still had a napkin, a plastic fork, a paper plate and paper tray liner all to throw away.  It was the first time I had ever thought about this.

So much of our waste in landfills is due to single use items.  Napkins, drink cups, straws, coffee cups, hamburger wrappers, fry containers, Styrofoam containers… We just use ‘em then lose ‘em without a second thought.  Have you ever brought your family to McDonalds and looked at the tide of garbage on the tray afterwards?  We just open the shoot, dump ‘er in and away we go.

In grade eight there was a girl at school whose parents would go to McDonald’s and bring all their own dishes.  I am sure the McDonald’s workers were very confused.  How do you make a burger without putting it on the wrapper first?  How to you serve fries without the container that fits the fry dispenser?  How do you put a regular cup in the pop dispenser where paper cups should go?  Everyone at school talked about it.  I thought it was cool.  How brazen and defiant! 

But this was back in 1988, people.  It is not a new idea.

Today’s resolution – refuse napkins, forks/spoons/knives in stores (carry my own in my purse) and avoid Styrofoam.

Shop ‘til you Drop

Black Friday was just this past weekend. It is an American tradition, so we Canadians just sit back and watch in awe. We are still impacted a bit of course, with the TV commercials and spam emails from our favourite online retailers. Someone in Canada decided to start an opposing tradition for this day, called “Buy Nothing Day” in protest against the spectacle of consumer gorging.

It is a simple issue really. We love to shop, but in doing so we are rapidly using up the resources of the planet. As the title of my blog indicates, we only have One Earth to Live. Once we run out of resources here, there isn’t a spare Earth floating by that we can all hop on to. This is it. Some people have likened this to the idea of a spaceship. Earth is our vessel as we careen through space. We need to use resources aboard wisely, to ensure that they don’t run out, that everyone has enough, and that the conditions required to keep life alive persist.

So the core idea of being Earth friendly is to be less wasteful. That is it. Don’t use (consume) more than you have to. What you do take, use wisely and efficiently. Make less garbage and use less energy. It is simple really.

So why is it so hard to do? Why do most people not do it? Heck I didn’t do it. For me, it took a series of exposures to this issue, over a period of about 4 years, which finally culminated in my reading “Now or Never” by Tim Flannery that made me sit up and really take stock. After reading the book in one night, I found myself crying at 2 in the morning, vowing that from that moment forward to take action. I worried for my children and future grandchildren. I desperately wanted the world to change, not to save the Earth, but to save ourselves – humanity. It took this drastic awakening in me, for me to start to change my ways. What will it take for everyone else?

I was driving in my neighbourhood one day, this caught my eye (actually my son pointed it out):

Then we found this one nearby:

Hmmm… a shopping cart at the top a mountain of snow, right in front of Wal-Mart. How interesting. How symbolic really. We are all climbing a mountain – working and striving to make money to support our families and to buy stuff. We work harder and harder to buy bigger and better stuff, so that we improve our standard of living and live more comfortably. Does this make us happier? Well perhaps it does, since why else would we all do it? At the end of the day, the stuff is somehow supposed to equal happiness and success. It is the shopping cart atop our mountains.

My 5-year old son thought it was funny. I bet the kids who pulled this prank probably thought it was funny too, I am sure they were rolling around laughing at the sight of it. I wonder if they thought about the symbolic piece of landscape art they had just created….