Nova Scotia

How a N.S. couple plans to go plastic-free this Christmas

A couple from Hammonds Plains, N.S., is dreaming of a green Christmas: Megan McCarthy and Zan Gallant are endeavouring to go plastic-free this holiday season. They're hand-making Christmas decorations, gifts and cards, and showing remarkable creativity.

'We're really just trying to be creative with our resources,' says Megan McCarthy

Megan McCarthy and Zan Gallant of Hammonds Plains, N.S., decorated their yard for Christmas with handmade reindeer, made from trees that fell during a recent storm. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

A couple from Hammonds Plains, N.S., is dreaming of a green Christmas: Megan McCarthy and Zan Gallant are endeavouring to go plastic-free this holiday season.

They're hand-making Christmas decorations, gifts and cards — all in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint during a time that has traditionally focused on overindulgence and abundance.

"It's about slowly replacing plastics, one by one, with things that are either reusable, upcycled, handmade or old things that are fixed up and made new again," said McCarthy, 35.

"We're really just trying to be creative with our resources."

For Christmas cards, Gallant collects books, magazines and local flyers and carefully cuts and glues pieces together to make inventive collages that his friends and family often cherish for years to come.

Megan McCarthy says making gifts for your loved ones is a win-win: it's better for the environment and generally beloved by the recipient. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

McCarthy made their two-year-old niece a cooktop from fabric that slips over any chair. She collected scraps from fabric stores and sewed them together to create burners and a kitchen window complete with curtains. She also purchased a small frying pan and cookie sheet from a thrift store.

The couple decked the halls with zero-waste reindeer, made from trees that fell on their property following a recent wind storm, branches for antlers and lichen for tails.

Gallant and McCarthy also recently hosted a party to create beeswax food wraps for stocking stuffers. The simple process involves sprinkling shaved beeswax over cotton fabric of various sizes and baking it in the oven to create food covers that replace traditional plastic wrap.

McCarthy said hosting these types of holiday events can instill new habits and spark real change.

"I think it's important to lead by example and show people what we can do," said McCarthy. "If I'm just replacing one piece of [plastic] wrap, it might not be as impactful, but if I can tell all my friends about it and 50 of them are doing it, that can really make a big impact."

Megan McCarthy says if you're unable to make beeswax wraps yourself, buy some from a local maker to help stimulate the local economy. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

And it's also enjoyable, added Gallant.

"Give it a try. It's fun to do crafts together and the holidays are a great time to share that sort of stuff," said Gallant, 31.

Tony Walker, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University's School for Resource and Environmental Studies in Halifax, said our society's consumer lifestyle is unsustainable year-round, but it becomes exacerbated during the holidays.

He said everything from wreaths mounted on Styrofoam and Christmas cards contribute to the issue.

The Tare Shop in Halifax offers a variety of sustainable gift ideas. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

"The seasonal holiday cards that are exchanged, some have got print and glossy paper, which makes them difficult to recycle," said Walker, adding that people could make their own cards, recycle last year's cards or send e-cards.

"Sometimes small is beautiful. Sometimes people don't require so much stuff. They probably already have stuff."

What to do with kids toys?

Another major problem is the Christmas morning carnage, as children rip plastic bows off presents that contain plastic toys wrapped in plastic packaging. And then there's the issue of what happens to the toys when children are done with them.

"Food containers have obvious packaging symbols for recycling, but that tends to be less apparent with toys made of plastic, and many toys nowadays are composites of different plastics and really difficult to recycle," he said, suggesting that unwanted toys be donated to a charity or thrift store.

"Chances are if they break down into smaller pieces plastics, they end up in the garbage... and make their way to the landfill."

The importance of early education

    Walker said it's important to start educating children about the impact wastefulness can have on the planet. He said his own young kids are already asking questions like, "Where does this go when we're finished with it?"

    "I think everyone should enjoy themselves. I'm not advocating to be the Christmas Grinch by any stretch," he said. "But I think people are starting to make a conscious effort."

    Kate Pepler, the owner of The Tare Shop in Halifax, said people could also think about buying some of the ingredients they require for holiday recipes from a package-free bulk store such as hers, or from a local market.

    Kate Pepler is the owner of Halifax's first zero-waste bulk store and coffee shop. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

    "We've had people come in recently who are cooking a turkey or a roast and just need a certain amount of spices, so will come here and just buy the quantity they need," said Pepler, standing in front of a wall of glass jars brimming with bulk food items.

    She also encouraged people to think creatively about how they can sustainably wrap their presents, including using a reusable bag, newspaper or brown paper.

    McCarthy and Gallant are also giving some members of their family a water filtration system they learned how to create while attending the Earthship Academy in Taos, N.M.

    The system uses two large food-grade buckets stacked one on top of each other and a silver impregnated water filter that lasts up to two years. It's a powerful system that removes harmful substances such as lead and bacteria and can filter flood and lake water into clean drinking water.

    The system uses two large buckets and a silver impregnated water filter to store up to five gallons of clean drinking water. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

    Again putting her sewing skills to use, McCarthy created covers for the buckets to make it more esthetically pleasing in the kitchen. She said it's a gift that serves a meaningful purpose and educates people about an inexpensive alternative to Brita water filters.

    Pepler had this advice for those who may be intimidated or overwhelmed by the prospect of changing their lifestyles and habits to be more eco-friendly: take baby steps.

    "As you run out of laundry soap, dish soap, shampoo, there's your opportunity to come and refill items here or at other bulk stores," she said.

    "It's really important that we all do our part and do what we can... and why not start now?"

    Sustainable gift ideas:

    • Experiences that create memories, such as a weekend trip or concert tickets.
    • Reusable items, such as a bamboo toothbrush, reusable grocery bag or beeswax wraps.
    • Eco-friendly cleaning items, such as Canadian-made wool dryer balls or dish washing block.
    • Homemade gifts, such as baked goods.
    • Eco-friendly beauty items, such as lipstick with recyclable packaging.

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Aly Thomson

    Reporter/Editor

    Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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