The Zero Waste Christmas: FAQs with Founder Christine McCaull

A Q and A with founder Christine McCaull on the Zero Waste Christmas.

What inspired the Zero Waste Christmas?
Well, there were 2 things: we wanted better experiences, and we wanted a better planet.

Like most people, we have a lot of people we care about. We used to spend a lot of money each year showing them how much we cared about them with things. That created a lot of stress, and surprisingly, or maybe, inevitably- a huge let down. By mid morning on the 25th, when the packages were opened and the floor was strewn with debris- everyone just sort of stared at each other, or maybe cuddled up with their favorite new video game or something- their expectations sated, saying "what next?" All that hurrying for this tight, tiny celebration? Even the churchgoers among us know what I'm talking about!

But our family's "language of love" is changing- more and more it's about meaning and connection- shared time and celebration and appreciation and service- and we think that's true for many of the people in this country- it just resonates. When there are presents, the ones we remember year after year are just not the pricey ones- it's the ones that make us feel seen.

What are the benefits of a Zero Waste Christmas?
Where should I start? With how great it's going to feel to NOT have that giant credit card bill, that big pile of garbage, the unused toys and closets full of things for later regifting? Or the potential for your best Christmas ever to positively impact the planet?

In America, we generate 25 million extra tons of garbage over the holidays. So, from a pure resources standpoint- the Zero Waste Christmas will reduce the energy and water wasted to make stuff that just gets thrown out, we reduce the amount of garbage in landfills and the energy it takes to get it there and treat it, we save all kinds of other valuable resources, and we send a clear message to people who make products: the way you package things, and the long term value of what you make, matters to us!

But, it also just takes off the stress. By buying less, and only buying stuff that is really valued, and focusing on the human connection, we can have a better experience.

What's needed to make the Zero Waste Christmas happen?
Communicate communicate communicate, you are a seed planter, you beautiful thing! First, you raise awareness and make a little conversation. This is an opportunity to celebrate together differently. Don't just show up with no gifts—let people know what you're up to, invite them to participate at whatever level they are comfortable with. I sent out my family emails in October, just to get people thinking. Why you're doing it, how you're doing it, and how you're going to tell if you were successful at it- get other people involved.

If you have lots of extended/big family events, is it possible to bring a bit of green influence to these even if others aren't participating?
Yes, of course- first, just talk about it, both with the hosts and the others participating. "How can I help this be a no-waste event, Aunt Jane? Would it help if I organized dishwashers so we don't use disposables?" "Hey, Mom, I was thinking- maybe we could do a family circle this year instead of a gift swap, I've been reading about it." But remember, not everyone's going to be where you are, so don't judge, just be an influence and a model- then let go and love!

Is Zero Waste really a feasible goal?
Well, actually, it IS possible, but we admit it's unlikely, given that so many things are packed with Styrofoam and various plastics that can't be recycled- but any step in the right direction helps. We just thing we should set our sights high? Some 2800 major companies have gone to Zero Waste- I suppose we can do it too, if only for a month a year.

Are there "half way" Zero Waste Christmases? What are some baby steps people can keep an eye on even if they can't go the distance?
Even if you do 1 thing with more consciousness it helps. Change takes time, and there are a lot of emotions around the holidays that may take a while to sort out.

Have you/how long have you personally been implementing the Zero Waste Christmas?
We've been progressing in that direction for years. We haven't quite gotten to Zero, but we're trying. We have a hefty carbon footprint from travel- just gathering the clan- but we implement a lot of the central themes of the ZWC- minimal physical gifts, lots of planned activities. When there's a technology gift- an iPod or a laptop, for example- it always has that waste packaging that can't be recycled. And people still give DVDs instead of downloads. The toy category's been cut way back. Homemade wins accolades.

I really credit my oldest son, he's 23 now, with some of the most stunning examples of this. He sought out and framed poems that reminded him of each person. One year he found old Barbies and Kens and made one to match each recipient and wrote a little bio that reflected the person's best qualities. One year, he did humorous little paintings- terribly executed, but fabulously conceived. Another example is making an elaborate paper collage dragon for my Uncle Tom- mom's doing- boy did she labor over that, recruiting all of us to cut out those little scales. He LOVED it- the joy of the surprise- because she knew he was really into these old myths, it was right on. And the farther apart people are, the more this time is about getting to know who they've become now, what's changed for everyone.

What is the potential impact of Zero Waste Christmas?
Oh, the potential impact is infinite. Just begin. Every little step makes a difference.

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written by Karin Tome, 02 25, 2008
It's amazing. The more you practice zero-waste, the more you can see what's possible. Instead of us just sending money for "stuff" this year, I told my brothers that I wanted them to pick two organizations that they supported and I'd send money for a subscription/sponsorship (I ended up just supporting 2 that I knew they'd appreciate!) My uncle used to do this and it wasn't much fun as a kid (!), but I can see its worth now as an adult..... I AM going to send a little bit of money for the kids, though. Small steps.

Thanks for this article - and, for helping to bring zero-waste into the mainstream.

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