It’s been almost four months of our little Kootenay family adventure, living in Kimberley, BC. Two weeks ago, as a family of four, we put out our first standard bag of garbage for pick up since we moved in at the end of August, and I cannot say how surprised I am!
Over the past four years, we have slowly been making small, but consistent changes in our family to minimize our environmental impact. You may recall a post I wrote back when the kids were 2 and 3 years old on how we had been collectively moving towards eliminating single-use plastics. Since then, we have worked diligently at simply buying less, reducing our consumption of plastics and have largely diverted most waste to compost or recycling.
On our arrival to our new digs in Kimberley, Blake and the kids had chatted about a family goal of one standard garbage bag every three months as our garbage ‘allowance’. The kids were all for it. I was the one who was skeptical. Previously, we had been producing about one garbage bag a month, how could I cut that back to a third!? Frankly, I felt it was an unachievable goal and humphed around the house about it but Blake and the kids remained steadfast. ‘We can do it, Mom!’ they said.
Perhaps it’s because we are deep in the season of frenzied buying for the Holidays, or maybe it’s the fact that every day, I look to our snow-bare local ski hill that usually would have skiers racing down its slopes by now, or maybe it’s in light of recent natural disasters across our province, but I’ve been reflecting much on our relationship with our struggling planet of late.
As a parent, it’s easy to spiral into a negative space when thinking of our children’s and our grandchildren’s futures. Regularly, I see direct consequences of climate change on patients’ health in our family medicine clinic: kids and elders with respiratory illnesses who were forced to spend their summers indoors due to devastating, raging forest fires across British Columbia, youth with sky-rocketing levels of eco-anxiety linked to feelings of hopelessness for their futures, higher rates of depression among adults whose livelihoods, financial and food security are all directly affected by increasing rates of climate disasters and extreme weather events across our country (with Indigenous communities being most gravely affected).
Trust me, I deeply empathize with the urge to metaphorically stick our heads in the sand, to cling to climate change denial, to cover our eyes and pretend all is well and to plod on blissfully unaware.
It’s an effective strategy, one that I use on the regular at home when the kids are being too wild. I pop in my noise-cancelling earbuds and boom, all is seemingly fine! ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ my dad would always say to us growing up. It’s a much easier existence to ignore than to act.
While this blog post may be incongruent with the cheerful holiday music playing overhead or the commercial messaging of ‘Everything’s just fine! Keep on buying!’, I’m truly not trying to squash the joy of the season or be a Scrooge. The point here is also not to point fingers, lay on the guilt or polarize opinions, but to perhaps pump the brakes a bit and reflect on how we all might make small changes this Christmas and to maybe imagine a better way forward for 2022.
The Van Winckles’ Guide to Sustainable Planetary Existance 🙂
Haha, just kidding! Not for a second do I profess to be an expert here or claim to be perfect in any way. I’m not a climate scientist, nor do I feel it is even my place to tell people how to live their lives. You do you.
However, if you’re looking for ways you make some sustainable changes for 2022, here are a few strategies that our family have committed to in reducing our impact on the environment and honestly if we can do it, I know that you can too.
Ok, I realize that for some folks, ‘gift giving’ is their love language, but have you ever been present during a Christmas morning when kids are tearing through seemingly endless presents like possessed demon children? At the end of the frenzy, they have no idea what they were actually given or who the gifts were from and you’ve barely had time to register their reactions to their gifts. Worse yet, you haven’t even had a moment to take your first sip of coffee. The kids’ brains are so hyper-stimulated and short-circuited that all they can manage to say is ‘Where are more presents? What else did I get?’ Yikes.
Simply consider buying and giving less! Yes, I know. Novel idea eh? But seriously, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, BUY LESS FREAKING JUNK!!! Do a secret santa with your families or colleagues and avoid buying novelty items that end up in the dump before New Year’s. I promise you that your children and family will still love you if you focus on the quality rather than quantity of gifts this year. You don’t have to be a full-on Scrooge, I love to give and receive gifts and definitely plan on gifting the kids a select number of special presents. All I’m saying is perhaps when instead of panic-buying this year, just pause and think, will my kids’/partner’s/family member’s/friend’s/co-worker’s holiday experience be seriously affected if I skip the extra three gifts I bought ‘just in case’? Is it possible that you could be over-gifting to compensate for something unrelated or out of guilt? From what I see at work, people young and old are largely suffering from lack of connection and loneliness, especially during the Holidays, feelings that are exacerbated by the pandemic. Could FaceTime or a phone call, a visit or a letter be what is actually needed this year instead of the ten items you just bought on Amazon?
Consider giving experiences rather than buying stuff just for the sake of buying something. Gift a day at the spa, a gym membership, a cleaning service, a random dinner out in the middle of February… (haha, this MAY or MAY NOT be my own Christmas list – Blake take note! 🙂 )
Buy used. Instead of maxing out your credit card at Walmart, check out your local Facebook marketplace, thrift store or second-hand kids’ store. We almost exclusively buy all of our kids’ clothes, books and toys second-hand. Avoid the packaging and keep diverting products from the landfill!
Refuse single-use plastics. I fill the kids’ stockings exclusively with non-plastic gifts. Pencil crayons, second-hand metal Hot Wheels cars, chocolate santas in foil wrap, oranges, etc. Resist going crazy at the Dollar Store and buying plastic junk just for the sake of filling the stocking.
Reuse decorations, gift wrap, bows, etc. Or better yet, use fabric gift bags that can be pulled out year after year. I recently checked out the local thrift store here in Kimberley and there were loads of gently used Christmas gift bags, gift tags, wrapping paper and tree decorations. You may get a few eye rolls (like Blake does to me!) when I carefully fold up bits of wrapping paper to be re-used next year, but think of how much garbage you will save by simply tucking it away for next year.
Consider making a donation in someone’s name in lieu of a gift. There are endless non-profit organizations, locally and internationally that would greatly benefit from a financial donation this year.
Get crafty. I’m no Martha Stewart but instead of buying our kids’ teachers a random mug that they will never use, we make cookies and put the kids to work to create a piece of artwork that I then pair with a well-deserved bottle of wine 🙂
Buy local. Independent buisnesses have been struggling during this pandemic. Buying locally often reduces the packaging associated with shipping while supporting your local economy.
Try not to loose your shit about this one, but consider eating less meat products over the holidays. Do we really need to cook a massive turkey and a ham for Christmas dinner? Consider plant-based alternatives or at least just reduce the number of meat-heavy mains over the holidays.
In the Kitchen
Grocery shopping, kids’ lunches, cooking, etc. mostly falls under my portfolio in our home and this is where the majority of our waste reduction has stemmed from. Here are a few areas where we have worked hard these past months to make the most change.
Refuse plastic bags. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few years, it’s now common practice to use resuable bags when shopping. Simply commit to never using a plastic bag. Ever. I mean it! When I forget my resuable bags, you’re damn right that I’m the one begging for a box from the produce guy or just packing out my items to the car arm-full by arum-full. Just refuse. Commit and remember that any plastic bag that you do use, consider it ‘yours’ for the next 400 years. Ok? Great.
Reduce meat consumption and eat a plant-based diet. Drastically cutting down our meat consuption has made the most impact by far in our family. Without buying animal products, our plastic and styrofoam waste has been reduced to almost zero, not to mention that decreasing our consumption of resource-heavy meat and animal products is an effective strategy to combat climate change. I’m not sayin that everyone must switch to a vegan diet. Our kids still eat meat and I definitely splurge on a burger once or twice a year, but just consider reducing your meat-based meals, even once a week as a start.
Get naked. I promise you, no one will die if you bring home your produce just as it is. Use reusable produce bags, refuse produce that is wrapped in plastic and please, please stop the insane practice of using plastic produce bags! That plastic bag that you used for the ten minutes to get your broccoli from the store to your fridge will now be in the landfill for freaking years!!!! Gah! 🙂
Refuse single-use plastics. Yes, at first our kids were grumpy when I stopped buying berries in plastic clam-shells, but now they read me the riot act if I come home from the store with any products wrapped in plastic. I regularly ask at the bread counter for unwrapped loaves to put in resuable bags and I buy our kids’ favourite pepperoni sticks in bulk, directly from the local meat shop wrapped in butcher paper instead of plastic.
Go big or go home. On a regular basis, we rock the local bulk food store and fill reuseable containers with all of our dry goods: nuts, trail mix, baking supplies, dried fruit, rice, cereals, etc. This has massively reduced our garbage waste by eliminating product packaging all together.
Kid lunches. Ugh. You know that thing you have to do EVERY. SINGLE. NIGHT?! Truthfully, making kid lunches used to be my pet peeve, but now I actually feel a small amount of pleasure filling little resusable containers with various items – like a bento box for kids! I also make bulk batches of muffins, nut-free energy balls and granola bars to pop into reusable zip locs during the weeks to make their lunches completely waste-free.
Every day I’m sparklin’! For cleaning products around the kitchen, we buy powdered detergent in a cardboard box for the dishwasher, buy bulk dishsoap or use the local refill station to prevent the need to toss plastic spray bottles.
In the Bathroom
I find the bathroom a low-hanging fruit in terms of going plastic-free and reducing waste. It’s a good place to start because these days, there are so many alternatives to plastic-bottled products. Basically, all of our bathroom waste is paper-based. I use a brown paper bag to line the garbage bin, then every once in a while, I put the whole thing into our woodstove (but could also go in the compost). Here are a few of my faves:
Shampoo and conditioner bars – I have been using Unwrapped Life bars for years
When looking at kids’ toys, clothes and gear, with a bit of effort, it’s fairly simple to reduce waste. With online gear swaps like Facebook Marketplace, even in small-town Sioux Lookout, I was able to borrow or buy second-hand clothes and gear. We very rarely buy new clothes or toys for the kids. Pre-covid, we essentially used the local thrift store as a toy exchange – each kid would donate a toy to be able to bring a ‘new’ one home which prevented a lot of accumulated stuff. Again, buying pre-loved items not only eliminates excessive packaging but also reduces the carbon footprint of the toy and diverts it from the landfill. For the kids’ birthdays, on the invitation, we politely ask for ‘no gifts please!’ Instead, the kids have received amazing little homemade cards. Not only does it eliminate the massive gift-opening frenzy that I always found to be awkward, but it reduces the stress on families who are under financial pressure. In our experience, as long as there are cupcakes, our kids haven’t even noticed a ‘lack’ of gifts!
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for letting me stand on my soap box!
I hope that it may give a few of you pause in the heat of this consumer-crazy season and perhaps inspire you for the New Year ahead.
A few parting notes:
Progress over perfection. The same mantra that I use for my weekly workouts, is so applicable here (and in most scenarios!) too. The planet doesn’t need you or any of us to be living an envinronmentally-conscious lifestyle perfectly and certainly we are also far from perfect. I still use standard, store-bought deodorant and I definietly still drive to the gym at 6am because I’m too lazy to bike in the cold, dark. Expecting perfection isn’t realistic but just like at the gym, putting in consistent effort to make small changes over time leads to massive results.
Low-waste living is for the priviledged. Agreed. When you don’t have to worry how you’ll feed your kids their next meal or whether a comment to your partner gone wrong could land you in the ER, you sure as hell don’t have capacity to be considering your impact on the planet. Our family is certainly privildged in this way, and I do acknowledge this. However, if you and your family are also similarly privildeged, consider engaging in a discussion with your partner, your kids, etc. What could your family do differently for 2022 for the health of our planet, and subsequently for the health of your community and communities worldwide. You’ll be surprised, the kids are usually the ones who are most gung-ho!
Start with small goals and consider a waste ‘budget’. Making changes in your family’s lifestyle may be challenging. Sure, I am sometimes annoyed that I can’t buy exactly what I want at exactly the moment I want it. Being a thoughtless consumer is super convenient and it does take a bit of extra planning and time to seek out used gear, rejig your dinner menu because all of the caulflower is wrapped in plastic (WHY?!), or remember your resuable containers to haul to the Bulk Barn. So, start small. Pick one area of your home to work on at a time and commit! Consider talking with your kids about a waste ‘budget’. Could it be possible to put out your garbage every second week as a first step?
Embrace the awkward. As someone who doesn’t like confrontation or to put anyone out, asking the server to find you a piece of tinfoil in the kitchen to wrap your dinner leftovers because the takeway containers are styrofoam is awkward for me for sure. I know it’s weird that we have a ‘clothesline’ above our sink to wash, dry and reuse plastic ziploc bags and I am very aware that we are the only family that still bikes our kids to school in December instead of using the car. However, over the past few years of making a concsious effort, I have yet to receive a negative response when politely declining plastic packaging or for asking for paper instead. Consumer demand can drive change!
Finally, think of your kids. And your kids’ kids! There is no easier motivation than their futures.
I would greatly appreciate hearing your ideas or tips on how you’ve reduced waste in your life. We would love to work further towards our goal of treading lightly on the planet so that we can continue all of our most treasured pastimes in the outdoors in a healthful way.
All the best to you and your families for the holidays!