Cutting back on stuff

| 14/12/2009

The Department of Environmental Health circulated a press release recently that asked people to cut down on waste this season by thinking about the kind of gifts they give at Christmas, and while it was a little self-serving because of the DoEH’s obvious resource problems at the moment, it was still a very good point.

We all consume far too much stuff all of the time. The world is effectively drowning in the garbage generated by First World countries, where it sometimes seems as though the major purpose in life for people is to work their fingers to the bone in order to consume more stuff. At Christmas time the consuming of stuff turns into a frenzied feeding of the ‘stuff monster’ that creates even more waste from stuff that people often didn’t want in the first place.

I tried looking for statistics showing how much more waste was created by stuff at Christmas and couldn’t find anything definitive, but common sense tells us that the season to be joyful is also the season to be even more wasteful than ever.

The people at the DoEH made some great suggestions about presents that produce less waste from gift-cards for spa treatments and cinema tickets to home made baked goods and gifts of time and services, which are great ides. One of my own favourites, and long time readers of Cayman News Service will already be well aware of this, is the idea of buying friends a donation to charity that’s tangible.

Oxfam started "Oxfam unwrapped” several years ago, which offers Christmas Shoppers the chance to buy a real gift, which instead of being delivered to the recipient goes to someone who needs it more. For as little as $10 you can buy five bags of seeds to send to a family who needs it most in Africa, or if you are feeling particularly generous, $27 buys you a school teacher to send to India. A card is sent to the person you’re buying the gift for explaining why their Christmas present has gone to someone else, which is a great idea all round.

It solves the dilemma of what to get people, it cuts down shopping time, it saves on waste enormously but it still tells someone you thought about them, and there are few people that would be offended by such a gesture (or at least they’d never admit it), and if anything, you usually find you make another convert to the cause.

Oxfam is not alone in its Christmas donation scheme. Other charities have also picked up on the idea, giving gift buyers the chance to tailor the donation to suit the recipient’s own cause, from animal protection to cancer research.

You don’t have to be a Christian to understand that this time of year is about giving to others and remembering people who are special to you, but in our world of excess and over consumption, the DoEH was right to talk about making gifts more meaningful.

Whether you choose to send your gifts to the Third World or knock up some preservers and cakes in your own kitchen, it’s still giving and it’s giving from the heart as much as the pocket. We should not let ourselves be defined by the cost or size of the gifts we give to each other, and while kids may have certain expectations about midnight deliveries from the guy in the red suit, workplace secret Santas can be just as much fun (if not funnier) if the theme is ‘make your own gift’ or donate to charities.

Let’s face it, unless we plan to cover  Mount Trashmore with snow and turn it into a ski-park, we really need to do something, and with each successive government appearing unable to tackle the issue of waste management in the Cayman Islands, it’s time for people to take action. Even if we all convert just one gift into something that doesn’t produce waste this year, with more than 50,000 of us that’s still a heck of a lot of waste savings.

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  1. OneOfTheFewResideAmongstTheMany says:

    I’m a Caymanian going to school in Canada and the in area I live it’s mandatory to recycle or you will b given a serious fine.  When the loss of money is an issue you can guarantee ppl will follow rules. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s not that a gift is being given to someone else; it’s that you receive the gift of helping someone.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Everyone I have met who arrives on this island is shocked that there is no recycling of paper, plastic, aluminum and glass. To suggest that people cut back over the Christmas season is like asking people to cut back on drinking over New Year’s. Perhaps well intentioned but largely useless.

    I have heard over the radio a regular local caller saying that he doesn’t believe that the Caribbean people are up to recycling and that they would use the recycling bins for trash. If an expat made such a comment all hell would have been unleashed upon the devil racist foreigner.

    It is time to just do it.

  4. Good theory.. says:

    I am VERY thank full there is no fee at the dump… could you imagine the state of the island when people stop using it because they suddenly have to pay?!   I already see a sickening amount of dumped construction and domestic materials (including… car batteries and similar unsafe items) in places that would otherwise be nice to walk.  Doing the responsible thing is not a common feature here.

  5. knee deep in the hoopla says:

    I agree Wendy.  We really do appear to have lost it when it comes to Christmas, but more so when it comes to the amount of waste we create.  The lack of a tipping fee at the dump very common in other jurisdictions, certainly does not add to awareness or taking responsibility for refuse.  It should be evident that we live on an island.  It has a limited amount of space, and although excess garbage is unpleasant and unhealthy anywhere it is even more critical in our situation.  We must for our own well-being, and the well-being of the island begin to do something about it.  And, as in most things, waiting for government to come to that realization or take the initiative is something we don’t have time for.  If the facitlities are not in place for us to re-cycle and they are not the next best alternative is to reduce our amount of waste.  Christmas is a perfect time to reduce waste and to ask ourselves why are we buying something? what the purpose is.  Is it necessary? And can we show the same sentiment with a gift that will truly help someone? 

  6. Anonymous says: is a great program to consider as well

  7. supporting that all the way says:

    Well said Wendy!  My kids received a card each saying that in lieu of a gift for themselves, the money had been sent to provide clean water to a child in a poor country.  Even at their ages of 8, 6 and 4, they all understood and were reallly thrilled.  One card went to school here for a proud show and tell story!  My eldest daughter also had the gift of supporting a rescued dog – and shereceives a picture of him and progress reports.  She loves the whole thing!