I’ve become frustrated with public holidays recently. The endless food waste, the unfathomable unnecessary packaging and most heartbreaking of all, greed. For all we’ve been told and is generally agreed upon - we let our behaviours slip in order to satisfy our need to impress, and to conform to traditions that have developed to lose their true meaning altogether. Christmas is such a wonderful occasion in the midst of the cold season, where we share loving warmth with the people around us by giving, and spending a merry old time together. But in an age of such outrageous consumerism, have we lost sight of what really achieves the joy of Christmas?
I absolutely get that at Christmas we want to spread joy amongst our loved ones and show our kids the festive traditions that we grew up with. However, unfortunately, in the face of all of the widespread marketing and media, we tend to let our creativity slip, and we fall into the trap of frankly absurd convenience. Think for a moment, about how much one person buys in December. Multiply that by the people you might pass each day, and let your imagination run wild. Think of all the needless toiletry gift sets given to those who are ‘hard to buy for’ (think especially of the plastic packaging in these!), all the food that won’t get eaten... All the clothes that don’t fit but don’t get sent back and end up overwhelming charity shops, or worse, landfill.
The responsibility each of us takes, particularly in this festive season, makes a huge impact on the environmental crisis we’re facing. I want to share 3 points I think it’s important for everyone to be aware of and to consider during the festive season. I hope they give you an alternative perspective to what we’re swarmed with in mainstream media, and maybe even help inspire a more considered Christmas time.
My first consideration I want to share with you is about whether there’s really a need for physical gifts at all. Think about what people really take away from their Christmas time. Is it the presents they received, for the sake of the exchange, or is it truly the case that “it’s the thought that counts”? What if what you give really is the thought, and the company, and the laughs and the quality time. Think how much less impact presence has on the environment, than presents.
Secondly, I urge everyone to give thought to where everything ends up after Christmas time. There’s such an abundance of education these days about landfills and how much of what is disposed of ends up polluting oceans. So why on earth are we still clinging to the consumerist tradition of disposable ‘joy’? It’s hard to imagine how much waste is created if everyone is celebrating in this abundant way, buying such bulk of overly packaged gifts and food. Where does it all end up? Our recycling system is in a crisis of its own and there’s simply no way to handle all the waste in a way that doesn’t have disastrous effects on the planet, and where is the joy and cheer in that?
On Black Friday this year, XR Brighton Fashion Group staged a truly enlightening event. They set up tables and rails outside Brighton’s Churchill Square shopping centre, presenting thousands of free items, which had been kindly donated in the weeks prior by local residents. They also handed out leaflets and arranged for several professional speakers to share their knowledge on the matter of consumerism and waste and its’ impact on the environment.
The point made here, is that there’s truly no place for Black Friday in an environmental emergency.
What I found truly motivating about this action, was the image it created with the crowds of people approaching in disbelief, that they were allowed to take quality items for free. For themselves or for Christmas presents (there was even a free gift-wrapping table), or to take and donate to someone they know in need. Another highlight of helping at the Free Market was the conversation with shoppers and the resulting real-time behaviour changes.
The Free Market not only offered us free physical items, but a free wealth of inspiration at a time when it’s desperately needed.
These thoughts I’ve shared come purely from where I stand on consumer responsibility, from my own experience navigating sustainability, and while I’m certainly not perfect, I am doing what I feel is best. I also absolutely believe that the responsibility largely also belongs to government and businesses, and my christmas wish is that this all clicks into gear very soon. I’m going to enjoy my christmas with the family and friends I love, as mindfully as I can. I wish you all a wonderful yule time, and I look forward to a 2020 that brings positive change led by all of us in our own special ways.
Katie is the founder of The Textile Review. Having worked in the events industry, the amount of waste she witnessed compelled her to create new solutions for the industry and others using fabric in temporary ways.