Escaping holiday consumerism

Ways to reduce waste through the celebratory season

Helga Jakobson, executive director at ArtsJunktion, helps Winnipeggers build a more sustainable, less wasteful holiday season. (photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black)

ArtsJunktion is a creative space filled with shelves of paper scraps organized by colour, buttons ordered by size and piles of fabric scraps, reclaimed wood and old magazines. There’s even a filing cabinet full of donated photographs, from formal family shoots to blurry travel candids.

Inside ArtsJunktion, imagination and innovation abound. By promoting environmental awareness through community engagement and programming, this colourful depot space helps to repurpose and redistribute 3000 kg of “waste” materials per month. The art supplies ArtsJunktion collects is claimed by local schools and daycares, while Winnipeg artists can procure one-of-a-kind objects to help actualize their creative visions.

Helga Jakobson, executive director at ArtsJunktion, says the charitable organization has three core values: art, community and the environment.

“We try to find ways of programming and supporting artists and community members of all kinds in their creative process in a more sustainable way,” she says.

While the world seems to have a growing understanding of what sustainability means, attempts to reduce landfill waste and consumption seem to disappear during the holidays.

Who doesn’t love carving a pumpkin for Halloween? This seasonal activity seems harmless, given that pumpkins are natural and biodegradable. However, data from Statistics Canada shows that of the 80,000 tonnes of pumpkins produced per year, only 66 per cent are sold to customers. These leftover pumpkins (along with the rinds left over from jack-o-lanterns) are often then tossed in the trash weeks later.

Sara Campbell, outreach and education assistant at the University of Winnipeg sustainability office, recommends roasting pumpkin seeds and then dropping off pumpkin remains at Compost Winnipeg’s Annual Pumpkin Drop. This event encourages Winnipeggers to drop their pumpkins from the CF Polo Park parkade into a waiting collection truck below. Intact pumpkins are set aside to be eaten, while carved pumpkins are turned into compost.

Halloween is not the only holiday that produces excess waste. Zero Waste Canada estimates that 545,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags, 3000 tonnes of foil, six million rolls of tape and 2.6 billion cards contribute to 25 per cent more waste during the weeks surrounding Christmas alone.

ArtsJunktion is a testament to the fact that where creativity exists, there is rarely a need to purchase new items.

“We encourage and teach people different techniques for lower waste and more sustainable practices. So, for instance, during this holiday season, we are gonna be doing a series of crafternoons,” Jakobson says.

These free drop-in workshops will include tutorials on eco-printed gift wrap, ornament making and Christmas cards. As always, the materials used will be secondhand and low-impact.

Jakobson hopes these sessions will “provide an opportunity for people to get festive in a more thoughtful way.”

Campbell proposes skipping the gifts altogether. Unlike tangible items, which quickly become lost or broken, a shared experience has the potential to last a lifetime. Experiences give “the gift of time, which is all too valuable and allow people to make memories.”

Jakobson encourages a spirit of creativity when it comes to holiday gift-giving. “Buying secondhand and reimagining the materials you already own into gifts not only (helps) the environment, but it also helps your pocketbook.”

Giving sustainable gifts is also a great way to build community, Jakobson says. “Everyone should have the ability to access gifts and to be able to celebrate. It’s also a very inclusive thing to do.”

“If you can’t imagine a better world outside of the moment you’re in, you’re never going to be able to make the next steps to be able to create that world,” Jakobson says.

Published in Volume 77, Number 09 of The Uniter (November 10, 2022)

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