Day 10: Over-consumption & how you can go ‘cold turkey’
At this time of year we tend to consume and spend a tad more than usual as we join in with the festivities. Of course, Christmas is a special time for many of us and we want to show our appreciation and love to friends and family, we don’t want to be called eco Scrooges after all! However, we could also show our love and appreciation for the planet at this time of the year too, by being a little more mindful of the amount of ‘stuff’ we waste over the ’12 days of Christmas’ and try to have a more sustainable festive season.
OK, here are some sobering Christmas waste facts and figures for you – bear with us, we will return to our usual positive selves (or should that be elves) shortly. According to the Love Food, Hate Waste campaign, in the UK alone, we throw out the equivalent of 2 million turkeys (10 million are bought), 5 million Christmas puddings and 74 million mince pies. And it gets worse, apparently we tip 15 million cups of turkey fat down our sinks on Christmas day alone – a ‘nightmare after Christmas’ for our water companies that have to deal with the consequences of this – the dreaded ‘fatbergs’ that’s are clogging up our sewers.
And that’s only the food. If we turn our attention to the purchasing and wrapping of presents for friends, family, work colleagues and pets, we find over a third, at 37%, of people claim they have received gifts they neither want nor use. One in five say they end up at the back of the cupboard, and almost half consider selling them on. And, apparently, we could gift wrap the entire island of Jersey with the amount of wrapping paper thrown away!
What eco actions can we take?
There’s much we can all do at Christmas to create less waste and have a much more sustainable, jolly time.
Citizens: think about the amount of perishable food you will realistically get through over Christmas. Try buying items that are reusable, multi-functional and have minimal or no packaging. We can reduce those ‘unappreciated’ presents by buying good quality, ethical presents which will last and be reused or shared. If you choose an artificial tree then do re-use every year (it takes ~10 years for its environmental impact to be lower than a real tree). Look up ‘leftover’ recipes and don’t let those sprouts, mince pies or turkey go to waste – really do try to go ‘cold turkey’ this Christmas.
Civil Society: a sharing economy model involves communities coming together around the notion of sharing resources and ensuring under-utilised products are used more efficiently. Collaborative ownership of goods such as power tools or cars is an effective way to reduce resource use and save money. Also using web-based platforms for reusing goods, such as ‘Freecycle’ or ‘Freegle’ type websites is effective. Finally, remember to share your Christmas with as many people as possible. It’s much more energy efficient to cook one big meal and heat one home rather many individually, much more sociable too.
Corporates: businesses obviously play a large role in shaping our consumer habits, especially with the relentless advertising at Christmas, but they can still help reduce consumption without effecting their bottom line, by ‘designing out’ excess packaging and waste, extending sell by dates to reduce food waste and stocking and encouraging ethical purchasing of products that are not ‘single use’ disposable items.
Thought piece: How to dump our Throwaway Society
Currently our global economy is dominated by the ‘linear economic model’; where the process of consumption is defined by: extraction – production – use (typically one off or temporary) – disposal – more extraction etc. This has resulted in our modern, typically western, lifestyles being defined by the moniker the ‘throwaway society’. Overwhelmingly, what we buy ends up in landfill or incinerators and sometimes, in the case of plastic bags, after only a few minutes of useful life. This type of economic model is also very carbon and resource intensive and is not sustainable, especially when the abundance of commonly used, raw materials is rapidly decreasing.
The growing movement that presents a ‘circular economy model’ as a viable alternative is very much coming of age. Circular economy models envisage designing waste out of products from their inception. So instead of a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach to production, we instead design a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ production process where waste is eliminated and the products we use have lifespans way beyond their original purpose. This would involve a considerable shift in mind set for many of us, not least our designers and manufacturers, but the opportunities and advantages of the circular economy are almost endless, just like a circle in fact!
Resource efficiency There is some good news however; around the idea of doing ‘more with less’. Over the last decades, there has been relative improvement in our resource efficiency. For example, the world economy, in 2009, used around 30% fewer resources to produce one euro or dollar of GDP than 30 years previously. Two reasons for this involve packaging levels being reduced and technology becoming more compact, hence we are using less resources in the creation of laptops, televisions and phones for example. However, on the downside, overall resource use is still increasing despite efficiency gains, mainly as a result of us consuming ‘durable’ products more frequently, demanding the latest version of the latest ‘must-have’ device way before we have worn out our existing device. So, unfortunately, this positive resource efficiency trend is more than outweighed by the overall growth of our economies through purchasing more ‘stuff’. In this case, the key thing we can all try to do is to extend the lifespan of the gadgets and gizmos we already have, and not be tempted by the latest, very slightly improved version.
The sharing economy The Sharing economy is another model that has gained much ground and attention in recent years. The basic premise is that we share resources we already have, instead of individually buying new, especially for massively under-utilised products. It’s a crazy fact that the average power drill is used for a total of 9 minutes in its entire useful lifetime, the rest of the time it sits in the garage unused. Platforms exist nowadays that allow you to do this in your local area, so streets and community groups can share commonly owned resources such as hedge trimmers, power tools, pasta makers (!) etc., even homes! The room sharing online platform, Airbnb, is an example of this, where spare rooms are rented out to visitors, or car sharing websites that link people together who are making the same journey, to share vehicles and hence remove cars off the road, a good idea for your travel home for Christmas this year, possibly?
Designing out waste There are many opportunities to create new products which design out waste and solve the issue of disposability at source. Some great examples of this are the reusable products that our partner for today’s theme, Onya, produce. Onya’s guiding mission is to eliminate unnecessary, particularly plastic, waste from our lives. Whether it is through their original, but much copied, Onya ‘bag in a bag’ range, through to reusable packed lunch wrappers, or reusable water bottles and other cool items, their products allow us to become much more ‘circular’ in our lifestyles and get rid of the waste once and for all.
To conclude, we know most of us will have a higher environmental impact and carbon footprint than is usual during this festive period, but it can also be a great opportunity to explore your inventiveness and encourage broader change in your lives with respect to waste and resource use. With people coming together at this time of the year, any actions you may take now have a good chance of being noticed and influencing others. You might find you enjoy having a lower carbon Christmas more than a wasteful one! We wish you all a merry, sustainable COPmas!
Presented by eco action games and our theme partner Onya products.
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