Green Valentines

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Family, Holidays, Robbie White, Waste Management | Posted on 06-02-2009

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by Robbie White

I have been pondering the last-minute mindset that marketers and retailers have cultivated in our culture. For example, we all know for 365 days prior to February 14 that we will be expected to participate in some form of Valentine’s Day celebration. Whether that participation is elaborate or simple is determined by our individual tastes and situations. Marketers and retailers would like us to rush out on February 13 to our local superstore and purchase the most expensive, over-packaged, sticker ladened, and trendy set of valentines for our classmates/lovers/family members/co-workers heedless of the resources we consume and the costs we pay. This isn’t really a question of how much to spend because valentines are CHEAP! Each one may even come with an envelope, a card, a sticker and even a piece of candy. Sadly, valentines rarely get looked at twice. They are opened, admired and pilfered of sweets, finally to be thrown away by parents at the earliest possible moment. It has bugged me for years that this practice is so wasteful. One year, my five year old was asked to bring over 50 valentines individually signed. He was part of an open area classroom with four classes! I am still amazed at the huge bag of cards he brought home that year! It was a dizzying display of conspicuous consumption.

What if we did things differently? At our church, there is a fabulous event every year marking the beginning of Advent. During season of Advent we prepare for the birth of the Christ child on Christmas. The main feature of the Advent Festival is the crafts. There are several dozen different crafts to make. The planning for this event begins in January after the ladies in charge carefully pack the leftovers away into a designated closet. Then, they scour the stores for the best late-season discounts, purchasing materials for future festivals at 75%-90% off. These bargain buys are all stored until September when they begin to organize in earnest. There is very little waste with this event because of the thoughtful way the organizers use resources. This year, they made snowmen out of recycled smoothie bottles. In many previous festivals, they made snow globes out of recycled baby food jars. Old Christmas cards have been cut up to make any number of different crafts.

This event inspires me to think more carefully about the stuff I use.

Laura is a good friend of mine with whom I plan mission projects for the children at our church. She is an excellent steward of resources! Laura has spent many years volunteering in various ministries and community groups, and she has learned how to make the most of what’s available. Recently, she planned to provide the kids with materials to create handmade Valentine’s cards for the homebound members of our church. First, she went to the office staff to ask them for envelopes leftover from other projects. She managed to get about 5 dozen envelopes that would otherwise have been tossed—all the same size in excellent condition. Then, she went to the supply closet to choose paper. She chose construction and craft paper from our existing supplies and cut the paper to fit the envelopes. In our supply closet, there is a huge box of stickers sorted (by volunteers like Laura) into themes, from which she chose appropriate stickers.

Most people would have gone to the store and purchased new envelopes, new paper and new stickers, but Laura was intentional in her use of resources. The project was completed by the children in two phases which included 1)addressing of envelopes and 2)creative work of making cards. Of course, there are a myriad of steps that go into any such project, such as the gathering of names and correct addresses, sealing and posting the cards and cleaning up afterwards. For the cost of postage and Laura’s time, the children created unique personal greetings for the members of our faith family who are not able to travel to the church building anymore. The blessings were abundant!

For me, the best part of this project was the lesson I learned in simplicity. Not every need requires that stuff and/or money be devoured. Some needs are best filled by our time and thoughtfulness. You can apply this lesson to Christmas or any event that requires participation or giving. We have a choice—do we allow the retail/marketing industry to define our level of consumption, or do we choose to save resources with careful and creative planning?

I may not be able to get out of providing valentines for the my children’s classmates. However, with a little planning, I can do it with as little environmental impact as possible—recycled materials, small sized greetings, stamps instead of stickers, or perhaps a card that folds into its own envelope? The possibilities are endless. I am energized by the sense of empowerment this choice gives me!

I’d love to hear from all of our Fresh Greens readers— how do you infuse green into Valentine’s pink and red?