Making green

While many of us may be wishing for a white Christmas, the greener variety has positive lessons for our kids

By Katie Ingram

 

Tis the season to be jolly, while being mindful of the impact the season can have on the environment.

“Whether it’s a special holiday or throughout the year, we really should focus on the word reduce,” says Kari Riddell, an enviro educator with the Clean Foundation. “We need to keep that in mind during the holiday, while you’re shopping or entertaining or during the morning of.”

While there isn’t a breakdown by month, according to 2016 data from Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia produced 169,786 tonnes of waste from residential sources, which was up 8,981 tonnes from the previous year. As a whole, Canada produces 10,225,943 tonnes of residential waste.

During the holidays, there is over consumption and over commercialization, which can lead to more waste being produced per household, says Lauren Murphy, manager of youth programs at the Clean Foundation and mother of two.

Murphy finds children are more adept in understanding the reasons behind waste reduction, but there are still lessons and skills to be learned.

“It’s kind of amazing how, if you model something for a child, you can show them the correlation to nature and to animals, something a lot of adults struggle with,” says Murphy, whose children are in Grades 2 and 4.

One area to start with during the holidays is gift wrap.

“You want to think about what you’re wrapping your gifts with,” Riddell says. “Reusable gift wrap could be a scarf versus paper that has glitter and glue and can’t be recycled.”
She also encourages families to use reusable bows and ribbons and to be minimalist when it comes to packaging.

“If you have to use tape, only use a bit of tape,” she says. “You don’t have to wrap it like it’s never going to be opened.”

Emily Dodge, board member with the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, says communication and fun are key in teaching this to kids.

“Challenge kids to find other ways to wrap gifts: paper grocery bags or even scrap paper they can colour themselves and make their own wrapping paper,” she says. “As you’re doing that, you can talk to them about why it’s better than buying a roll of paper. It’s a way to have a conversation about it, while also making it hands-on.”

Giving the task more meaning is something that can also be extended to decorating. Murphy says her Christmas tree is covered in ornaments made by her children.

“Even though my tree definitely looks hilarious, each one of them has more sentimental value than going through a store and buying a box of Christmas ornaments,” she says.

When it comes to gift giving, Murphy says gifts can be something the giver already owns. She will often ask her children to pick something they don’t use anymore, but another person would like.

“They’re even more excited about it because there’s a story behind it, as opposed to their mom went to the store and bought a gift while they were at school and they don’t even know what it is,” Murphy says. “It’s kind of the idea of upcycling or looking at alternatives of having to buy something brand new.”

If parents do choose to buy gifts, the shopping trip can also be a teaching moment. They can show their kids the types of products available and explain how some are more environmentally friendly than others. This can help instill better consumer habits when they are older, says Kate Preper.

“One of the biggest problems right now is over consumption. So, if we keep buying this plastic stuff, they will continue to make it,” says Preper, owner of The Tare Shop, a café and zero waste bulk goods store, and founder of Our Positive Planet, a website focused on environmental success stories. “I think one thing for that [over consumption] is parents not falling for and buying into the new trends and toys. If you get sucked into it, your kid will as well. So, we need to watch what we’re buying and try to move away from plastic to more sustainable options.”

When talking about sustainability, parents can also show their children not all sustainable gifts are physical objects.

“They can also be lessons, or a trip somewhere, whether it’s just to a park or whatnot,” Dodge says. “It’s just the idea a gift doesn’t have to be a shiny, flashy toy or latest electronic gadget; it can be so much more.”

Preper says experiences as gifts might be difficult for kids to grasp, but parents can “foster” the idea from an early age. Like with wrapping and gift giving, Preper says parents should include their child in this process as much has possible. “Ask them what they really want to do,” she says. “If they have enough toys already, maybe ask for money and save up and see if there’s an experience they want to do.”

While experiences and eco-friendly products are better for the environment, they can also be more expensive. Dodge says families should make a plan if they’re going to adopt this model.
“Don’t try to do too much at once because it can be difficult cost wise and time wise,” she says. “If a family sits down with their kids and picks one aspect this year… it makes it a bit easier to attain.”

Other family members and friends can also help.

“Make it clear, to your friends and family, you don’t want gifts, or you want money so you can go on a trip together, or that you want an experience as a gift,” Preper says.
Once everything is done, Dodge says parents should make sure their kids see what their newspaper-wrapped gift or family trip is helping.

“Get outside and try to understand while you’re doing some of these things in the home,” she says. “When they can spend time outside, they understand (for example) where wrapping paper ends up. The big thing in all this is to not forget to go outside and spend time together as a family, to enjoy it.

Mermaids love sustainable gifts

Even though December can be a tad cold and snowy, the Halifax Mermaids are still spreading awareness about the environment. Our Children asked Mermaids Mimi and Tuwala for gifts suggestions to help you lower your carbon footprint this holiday season.

  • Memberships or Museum Passes: Tuwala says taking children to museums not only helps them get interested in the world around them, but it lasts longer and, as an experience, doesn’t produce greenhouse gas.
  • Sea Glass Jewelry: For Mermaid Mimi, sea glass jewelry is a gift that keeps on giving. Families not only go on a trip together, but they can make the jewelry together and help keep beaches clean of debris.
  • Giving Back: Everyone needs help at some point and Mimi points out helping a person do something can often mean a lot more than an object. Her suggestions are offering to shovel snow, helping parents bake food, bread, or sweets for a neighbour, or volunteering to read to someone who needs a friend.
  • Plants: Both Tuwala and Mimi suggest giving someone a plant or tree. Not only do they help remove carbon dioxide form the air, but families can work together to take care of their new leafy, green friend.

Big box alternatives

There are many shops within the Halifax Regional Municipality that offer environmentally friendly or low-waste options. Here are a few to consider this holiday season.

  • Shore Things, Eastern Passage: Shore Things uses reclaimed materials to make unique gifts, most of which are ocean-themed. It’s a seasonal shop, so make sure you shop early.
  • Organic Earth Market, Halifax: While Organic Earth is a grocery store, you never know what you might find there that would be good for stocking stuffers and small gifts.
  • Second hand and antique stores: There are several of these throughout the HRM. Buying used items helps limit how many clothes, toys, or other items end up in the landfill. A few suggestions are Elsie’s Used Clothing and Finer Things Antiques and Curiosities, both in Halifax, and John W. Doull Bookseller in Dartmouth.
  • Nurtured, Halifax: From baby toys and puzzles and games, to waste-free lunch containers, Nurtured has dozens of eco-friendly items designed for sustainability.
  • Bulk food stores: Looking to give a person’s favourite candy or even a healthier snack or two as a gift? Halifax has a few bulk stores, including The Grainery Food Cooperative or The Tare Shop, both in Halifax.
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