Gifting green this holiday season reduces carbon footprint

The holiday season is upon us again. How will your household practice giving in a green way?

Will you spend more than you have on gifts that may not be fully used or just added to the accumulation of stuff (and inevitably waste)? Or will you choose to be creative in your gift giving and share your time, energy and love with those around you?

I have stepped away from writing this Green Living column since last November for many reasons. Chief among them was an extended visit back to Japan.

There, I worked on a writing project about trash. I began researching what Japan does with its trash — everything from villages committing to “zero waste” to Japan’s scary plans for the disposal of the colossal amount of radioactive waste — all in time to put on a good face for the 2020 Olympics.

Upon returning home, after studying and researching trash for six months, I became uber-aware of the degree of stuff that we Americans buy, consume, use (and sometimes not use), then throw away.

I was raised in a large family that celebrated Christmas and all its wonderful fixings. Santa was always very good to us. That nostalgic picture in my head of gifts flowing from under the tree makes me warm and fuzzy.

Yet, I can barely remember the attachment to the gifts year after year. My attachment was to time with my family, uninterrupted by work and the outside world. My dad was off from work, and my mom instilled in us that the holidays were for family and friends and giving to others.

Americans have accumulated over a trillion dollars in credit card debt with the average household owing $5,700 and $16,048 for households that carry debt from month to month.

This year Americans are expected to spend another trillion dollars during the holiday season alone.

Enough is enough — or is it?

The average U.S. household owns more than 300,000 things. One out of 10 households rents offsite storage. Among households with two-car garages, 25 percent do not have room to park the cars and 32 percent can fit only one car.

Most homes have more television sets than people and the average 10-year-old has 238 toys but plays with only 12. The average American woman owns 30 outfits and 20 pairs of shoes and throws away 65 pounds of clothing every year.

Precious energy is needed to produce, transport, ship, wrap and dispose of our holiday gifts. Greenhouse gas emissions are involved in all of these processes. Thinking our gift giving from cradle to grave can be a vital change in greening our household holidays, especially since it is now well-known that even with our best efforts we will need even more aggressive measures to not only reduce carbon but to capture it.

Sweden’s carbon reduction pledge is the most ambitious. Not only do the Swedes plan to reach no net emissions by 2045, they are aware that in order to make up for some activities such as flying planes and using cement and fertilizers, they will need to use technology to also capture some of the carbon. In other words, our best efforts won’t be enough to avoid the dreaded 2 degrees Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels.

Green gifts

Green gifts don’t have to add to your carbon footprint by being shipped from China or India. Locally made products include honey, pine nuts or gifts of produce from the growing local farmers markets.

Green gifts can be also made with love from recycled materials. My husband recently made a beautiful cushion to sit on for my mother who is not as mobile anymore.

Green gifts can be gifts of service to our friends and community. Volunteering is a gift that rewards the giver even more than the recipient.

Finally, the best gift is time and presence with our family and loved ones. Rapt attention without laptops, cellphones, schedules and gadgets to distract us is the greatest gift we can give others, and it doesn’t cost money and is carbon free.

Mary Beth Horiai has split her adult life between Japan and Southern Nevada. In Las Vegas, Horiai works for the nonprofit, Green Our Planet. A graduate of UNLV, she was trained as a speaker for The Climate Reality Project and also teaches part time at College of Southern Nevada. For more information and links to additional resources relating to this column, visit www.driverofchange.net.

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