Challenge 18 – to make one mindful change to reduce your plastic usage this Christmas

Your challenge this week: to make one simple and thoughtful change this Christmas to reduce the amount of plastic your family uses.

Before you are put off please let’s begin by being reasonable and realistic here, there is no expectation for you to boycott all plastic. It’s an impossible and unrealistic ask. Instead, learn a little more about it, help your children to identify it and consider its impact on the planet. Once you’ve had a look at the video links below and had a few conversations with your children about them, take a bit of time over dinner one evening to think up some ideas (or read my ideas below) for how you and your family can reduce your use of plastic this Christmas. It might seem like a big deal right now but I promise you, making one change is really easy.

This challenge encourages the following values:
Kindness, Responsibility, Gratitude, Generosity, Resourcefulness, Optimism, Patience, Commitment.

Ditching the tinsel this year for paperchains.

What you need to complete your challenge this week:

  • You don’t need anything specific for this challenge – the change or changes you choose to make are up to you and your family.
  • Have an open mind to alternative options in terms of gift buying, where you buy your food and decorations.
  • Discuss the subject of plastic use and recycling with your children and let them come up with some ideas of their own.
  • Commit to making at least one change.

If all else fails…
Make sure that any plastic that you do accumulate finds it’s way into the plastic recycling bin or up to the recycling tip. This is easier said than done over Christmas due to the sheer volume of plastic (and card and paper) that builds up so be sure to flatten and squash everything right down to maximise your recycling container’s capacity.

Food for thought for the grown-ups:

First things first I urge you to take this little test courtesy of Friends of the Earth to see if you can identify where the hidden plastics lie – for the record, I got 6 out of 8, can you do better?

In 2004, Defra calculated that the UK would be throwing away and not recycling 114,000 tonnes of plastic over the Christmas period. The equivalent weight of 3.3 million Emperor penguins! That was in 2004 and suspect the situation has deteriorated hugely since then.

Did any of you, like me, an average parent with an average family, see the recent run of documentaries on TV highlighting the desperate state of our oceans and in turn it’s inhabitants, due to plastic? Did you too come away wondering how you could make a difference? I think it is normal for us to question whether changes we make will have any significant impact on the scale of the problem, but is this scepticism a reason not to do something? Granted we are only one person or one family but if just one person or one family in every street in every town in every country made a change, that would make a small but significant impact right? And surely by doing this, we would be modelling positive behaviour to our children? Surely our small actions and our subsequent conversations would be raising a little awareness? Surely these small adjustments to our lives would lead to us raising children who are more enlightened and empathetic toward the planet that in a few short years will be theirs to manage?

This is a movement toward a more plastic free world, a movement towards raising a forward-thinking generation with a conscience.

Who wants in?

We are dumping millions of tons of plastic, from thousands of sources, via the most obscure routes, into the sea every year and the results are catastrophic. It is imperative that we continue to recycle but reducing our use of plastic, single-use plastic especially, is vitally important if a change is going to happen. Therefore, this is the focus of our challenge. And what better time than at Christmas when the rate of plastic waste rises to dizzying proportions.

Search the little shops selling products made by local traders.

In no way do I want to make any of you lovely readers feel guilty about this life of plastic dependence in which we have all found ourselves. This is 2018, and we have been conditioned, to some extent, since our own childhoods to depend on plastic. We haven’t consciously chosen to pollute our planet but we have, unknowingly, for a long time and the damage has been catastrophic. What is important now is to become aware and mindful. With better knowledge, we are able to start thinking about how we might play our part in changing the habits we have unconsciously started. I am (virtually) holding your hands here, I am the same as every one of you, I am no better or worse, but this Christmas is the year I make some changes together with my family. (Cue groan from the teenager who wants the computer game, packaged in the plastic box, with the plastic cellophane. Nope, not this year, sorry sunshine.)

With the festive season coming to life all around us we are faced at every turn by all that is bright and shiny, sparkling and colourful. We are unfortunately surrounded by a multitude of plastic paraphernalia that makes Christmas what it is expected to be today. Plastic packaging vacuumed packed around plastic items we buy as gifts, that we carry home in plastic and then wrap in a wrapping paper which contains plastic. Even the wrapping paper itself is wrapped in plastic. It feels hopeless, doesn’t it?

Oh where to start!?!

We, as a generation, buy less useful and thoughtful presents for those nearest and dearest and instead feel pressured to buy for everyone we know. This is a shift that has been seen over the last few decades and had been driven by consumerism and materialistic nuances. I do understand that we need a little consumerism to keep the markets going but we need to be more mindful of whose pockets we are filling. We need to try to devote just a little more of our time thinking about whether we can buy from independent traders who are generally more environmentally conscious, buy locally produced products and support our more immediate economy.

Our buying habits reflect this expectation to buy for everyone we know. Our money has to go further, the presents become cheaper, more gimmicky. We no longer buy gifts with usefulness, longevity or quality in mind, instead, the ‘two-a-penny’, ‘fun-for-five minutes’ gifts don’t last and end up in a landfill site within a month!

What is frightening to consider is that as soon as that plastic wind-up racing spout or the plastic bookmark you found in your cracker leaves your hand and enters that bin it becomes invisible and disappears in our minds. We (the vast majority of us – me included) often have little thought as to where it will end up. I don’t expect anyone to become a “one family crusade” for the cause, but I would love my family and yours to commit to making a change this year to reduce the plastic we use. Show your children that there are alternatives options out there which will reduce the impact your Christmas will have on the environment. And make sure you utilise your Council’s recycling services!

Here are a few of my ideas:
1. Buy your Christmas veg from a farmers market
2. Use brown paper and string instead of wrapping paper (in my house we will use potatoes and paint to stamp festive prints to make it bright and colourful and festive)
3. Ditch the tinsel and instead make paper garlands to put on the tree, there are loads of easy to make kits available out there.
4. Buy reusable gifts, an aluminium water bottle for example.
5. Try to avoid any unnecessary plastic wrapping, try to buy gifts that don’t contain any plastic elements. Try Lush, their products are plastic free and they will wrap your gift in a fabric made from a recycled plastic bottle! Alternatively, try Becksy for some artwork or home-ware, Rebecca is currently committing to transitioning to become 100% plastic free in her wrapping and packaging by the end of next year – no easy feat for an independent artist trying to make a living but it’s highly commendable. (PS this is indeed a shameless plug for my sister’s business but if you order through the link above and use the code ‘getfamilyhappy’, she’ll give you a 20% discount.)
6. Take a reusable bag to bring your shopping home in.
7. Be prepared, recycle everything that you can.
8. If you want to buy something plastic try to buy gifts that are not single use or a gimmick 5-minute wonder, make it something that that person will still be using in 10 years time. There is no getting away from it, plastic has its place and as a material, if an item is designed and produced with usefulness and longevity in mind it will last forever!
9. When you buy your Christmas cards buy responsibly, look at what they are made of and recycle them when Christmas is over. And I’m so sorry to break this to you but please avoid cards with foil and glitter – I know, I love glitter too, but they can’t be recycled. Gulp! This is a personal devastation to me but I will be strong.
10. Lastly, if you struggle to do anything differently this Christmas, please just say no to single-use plastic. Especially plastic straws – they are everywhere still and causing so much damage once they hit the oceans.

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If you’d like to read more about ways that you and your children can reduce your dependence on plastic at home a look at Friends of the Earth‘s campaign #plasticfreefriday, it’s is a brilliant article to enjoy over a cup of tea. Greenpeace has also pledged to join the campaign. Have a look at their website and check out their 7 ways to make a change. The common theme here is committing to devote one day of your week to reducing your plastic use. The more aware we are of this subject we are the more it will filter into our everyday lives.

And for the children:
BBC’s Blue Planet has done lots to raise awareness of the catastrophic mess that has been created by plastic but how do we transfer our own knowledge into something we can introduce to our children? One very easy way, (and I’m not about to feel bad about this) is by the power of TV, always a popular choice in my home. Start by watching one or two of these short Youtube films with your children. They have been developed and filmed by agencies fighting the ‘war on plastic’ cause and are written for specifically with children in mind. I’m sure with a bit of research you could find a wealth of material yourself and I urge you to do this but I’ve identified a few for you here to save you time. Older children could watch The lifecycle of a plastic bottle TedEd talk and Kids take action against plastic published for the National Geographic. For younger children watch All the ways to the Ocean by Freedom Three Publishing.

This is a tricky subject to raise with children because essentially the problem is so huge they won’t even begin to comprehend the scale. The other issue is that they have been exposed to and dependent on so much plastic for so much of their lives that a life without plastic would be utterly alien and virtually impossible for them to imagine. Our TV is plastic, our phones? plastic, their toys? mostly plastic, their clothes? contain plastic, their food and drink? contained in plastic, their lunchbox? plastic, their chair at school? plastic. It is literally everywhere, so we need to tackle this from another angle, we need to teach our children to see it, to identify it and to challenge and question its necessity. Older children can think more laterally. Could an alternative be found so that we use less plastic, allowing us to become less reliant on it and how would this alternative impact the environment? positively or negatively? When you are out with your children during this pre-Christmas period point out the plastic in their environment. You can, of course, talk about the beneficial uses of it, as I mentioned earlier, no one is denying that it is useful stuff if produced and used responsibly, but is it absolutely necessary all the time? Much of this is about encouraging your children to think outside the box. To challenge their own ideas and to consider the implications of how that plastic bauble was made and where it will eventually end up.

So go for it,
Commit to making one change this Christmas and late in the evening on Christmas Day when you sit down with a small glass of mulled wine you can feel just a little bit warmer and fuzzier knowing that you have done a good thing, you and your family have made a difference and that difference counts.

Merry Christmas lovely readers.

Thank you to Paper Star Lights for allowing me to photograph their beautiful Christmas decorations at the Canterbury Christmas Market. For more information and to see their product range please visit their website here.

Disclaimer of sorts. I have written this purely from my own opinions and using information I have learnt from research, it may not be 100% accurate as I am no expert in the field I just feel strongly about this cause and want to do what I can to educate my children and help the environment a little along the way.

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