The Christmas gift challenge

Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series

By Ginny Colling

When my daughter was nine, she failed to write her usual letter to Santa in September. Then, one month before the big day, she announced, “I want Santa to bring me a white costume like the one Victoria the cat wears in Cats.”  (She’d almost worn out her VCR tape of the musical).

Problem: It wasn’t exactly something you could find at Toys ‘R’ Us.

Solution: Unlike me, my sister Jane is a knitter. She jumped at the challenge and soon created furry white leg warmers, arm warmers, cat’s ears and a tail. I found a white dance leotard at a local dance supply store. Done. 

That story reminds me of a few tips we could follow to be a little more sustainable in our Christmas gift-giving.

  1. Make it yourself – or enlist someone handy, like my sister. My daughter (the same one) is now 26. She recently whipped up several soy candles in lovely glass jars complete with customized labels she designed and printed. I especially like that they’re soy. Paraffin candles are derived from crude oil, and some studies show they can release toxic gases when burned. 
  1. Shop local if possible – and feel good about supporting local businesses. If you want to buy Canadian-made, check out craft stores and art galleries for items from area artists. Not only are you supporting them, but there are also far fewer emissions when the item isn’t being shipped from China. I know; Baby It’s COVID Outside, and online sales are easier, safer and sometimes unavoidable. Last December online sales in Canada increased almost 70 per cent over the previous year, according to Statistics Canada. To reduce the environmental footprint of letting your fingers do the shopping, look for items that ship from Canada, and avoid fast shipping. “The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact,” UPS’s director of sustainability says, because items can no longer be consolidated in one box or one shipment. 
  1. Take the long view. That can mean buying better quality stuff that will last longer. It can also mean looking at where an item will be in 50 years, or 500. If it’s made of plastic or polyester (both petroleum-based products), it could take hundreds of years to break down, and then it will only break down into microplastic — nothing nature recognizes. Concerns like this are getting serious. A recent study found that babies have 10 times the amount of PET plastic in their bodies as adults. Microplastics have been found in Great Lakes fish, in ground water, in air and in food. Concerns about plastic particles include what’s in wrapping paper. Glitter is actually plastic, and foil papers can’t be recycled. Best to avoid them.

These days my preferred gift ideas lean toward donations to non-profit groups. My sister Jane, the knitter, is also a gifted wildlife and bird photographer. Last year I donated to Birds Canada in her name.  But a restaurant gift certificate for the foodie on your list would also work.  You get the picture. 

Lots of us have ways we’ve cut down on our ecological footprint at Christmas. Maybe those tips are something else we could share this season.

And in case you were wondering, this is how my nine-year-old daughter reacted when she saw the Cats costume with its knitted accessories: “Those kids were wrong — there is a Santa Claus! My mom couldn’t do that!”

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