I figured what better time to be talking about overconsumption than Christmas season. The holidays aren’t the only time we buy stuff either. We frequently over consume year round. Especially with Amazon Prime being such an enabler. We can have access to most items within 48 hours or less. As convenient as that is, it’s also really scary since it comes at the cost of overworked Amazon employees.
We don’t need a lot of stuff to make us happy, we need healthy relationships. If you’re looking for gift ideas this holiday season, go for experiences. This could be as extravagant as a vacation or front row seats to a concert or as simple as a wine and painting night. These experiences create long lasting memories that you can share with the ones you care about.
Those Target and T.J. Maxx runs can be addictive. They are the ultimate stores for generating impulse purchases. After all you don’t go into those stores to buy one thing without coming out of them with more things than you expected. The marketers of those companies do a great job of making sure that “you don’t choose the stuff, the stuff chooses you.” However, the happiness from the stuff you buy only creates a temporary fix. Plus you waste extra money that could go towards more long term savings or experiences.
It’s one thing to buy a normal amount of stuff and use those things for a long time. However, it’s the overconsumption that’s the problem. Feeling like you need to replace new stuff; including buying fast fashion and replacing those clothes every five weeks (but that’s a topic for another day) is unnecessary and extremely wasteful. No one needs a new iPhone every year or whichever other latest gadget is released. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that 50 million metric tons of E-waste (electronic waste) end up in landfills every year.
Make sure that when you buy that you are making responsible purchases that you know will be used for a long time. You don’t need to replace things besides food on a weekly basis. Additionally, you could also try to go shopping less and replace that time with trying new activities such as going to museums, ice skating, cooking classes, etc. Finding activities to do other than shopping can get you new experiences, skills and also help you cultivate new relationships.
Now that the holidays have officially “begun,” I would like to discuss the energy use that comes with Christmas. So much energy is used throughout the month of December to keep Christmas lights on. In fact, a study from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) back in 2008 found that holiday lights count for 6.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity consumption per year. This is also just a small fraction of the amount of energy used in the U.S. per year. In fact, 6.6 billion kWh could provide enough energy to small countries like El Salvador for a year.
As festive as these lights are, they take up TONS of energy and are very costly. I’m not saying don’t celebrate with holiday lights this season. However, here’s a few tips to be more energy efficient with your lights.
Use LED Lights
LED lights last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Incandescent bulbs are harmful to the environment because they emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and heat, according to environmental lobbying groups. Although they are more expensive when you purchase them, they will save you more money and last longer than incandescent bulbs.
Schedule Shifts for the Lights
Rather than keeping your Christmas lights on all day, consider limiting the amount of time you have your lights on. For example, you could only have them on at night, when the lights look very special. Also you could set a schedule, such as keeping them on from 5pm-10pm each day.
Have Lights Closer to Christmas
Instead of doing a whole month of lights, perhaps shorten the period of time for lights in half. While I understand that this is a special time for so many, perhaps you could consider shortening the amount of time the lights are up. This can cut down on the amount of energy the Christmas lights are being used for. Perhaps they could be up for two weeks rather than the whole month.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Starbucks Coffee Farm in Alajuela, Costa Rica. This farm is also called Hacienda Alsacia. Costa Rica is known for their amazing coffee and as an avid Starbucks fan myself, this was a real treat. We got to learn about the the process of how coffee is produced as well as the logistics behind the production. I also learned about the research and development that goes into producing coffee sustainably.
Hacienda Alsacia Cafe
At this farm, Nicaraguans grow and manage the crops. They also live on the coffee farm. Their children go to school on the farm while their parents are working.
The process of producing coffee takes a very long time. It takes about five years before the crop of coffee cherries can be harvested off of the coffee tree. The coffee cherries have to be fully bright red in order to be harvested. When they are ready to be harvested, they are picked by workers. The coffee trees only produce one pound of coffee per year. It also takes 25 beans to produce a single espresso shot.
There is a big difference between U.S. coffee and Costa Rican Coffee. Costa Rican coffee is much stronger and darker than U.S. coffee or coffee imported to the U.S. Costa Rica is the only country where I personally feel comfortable drinking black coffee. Also, in Costa Rica, there is no such thing as decaf coffee, they only have coffee that is fully caffeinated. So be careful if you drink coffee at night.
You can only eat the red skin that holds the seed inside. It tastes very earthy from my experience. The beans go through a machine where the outer cherry skin is husked off. Then the beans get dried outside before being packaged. The outer skin is often used as compost.
I am now an official coffee connoisseur after this tour. Like the way that people have an interest in wine tastings. Everyone got to try a sample that is shown in the left photograph. It was very strong and had a dark chocolate and earthly taste to it in case you wanted to know. After the tour, my friend and I sat down in their cafe and got even more coffee. We enjoyed our coffee while also taking in the amazing views.
This tour was one that I will truly never forget. It brought me a greater appreciation for coffee and all the hard work that goes into growing and producing coffee. It also raised my standards for how I want my coffee. Starbucks is a coffee buyer, which gets coffee from farms all around the globe. You can always count on Starbucks to have responsibly grown and fair-trade coffee.
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Everything is smaller, so there is less waste.
From houses to cars, everything is smaller and more modest in Costa Rica as well as most other countries compared to the U.S. Many cars here are smaller based on my Uber experiences here. These cars are not electric, but less gas is used for them. The smaller houses also use less electricity compared to much larger houses in the U.S.
Costa Rica is known for having many natural ingredients in their meals that take less energy to produce. This includes rice, beans and many fruits and veggies. Some of their most popular dishes are Casado (bottom right), Gallo pinto (left) and Arroz con pollo (upper right). They also have amazing coffee where the beans are grown on plantations here in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is also very sustainable when it comes to clothes.
Costa Rica has many thrift stores as well called Americana’s. I came here to teach English and get my certification and my teachers told me that I could buy work apparel in these stores at an affordable price. These stores also allow clothing to be recycled and not go to waste. Additionally, many Costa Rican homes have a washer, but not a dryer, so they are using less energy and electricity by putting wet clothes on a clothes dryer.
In terms of transportation, Costa Rica doesn’t have the best infrastructure. Although it’s a small country, it takes a long time to get to different places. There’s also a lot of traffic in the central valley as most people live there. Taking a car around the country can be the quickest way to get from point A to point B around the country, however this can be more expensive (especially if you are under 25) and you use up a lot of gas. Taking a bus can be the most sustainable and affordable way to get around the country since it helps less cars be on the road.
Most people live in the central valley (San Jose area).
This could be seen as a bad thing as there’s lots of traffic. However, Costa Rica is an extremely biodiverse country. Outside of the central valley area lies many species of plants and animals which make up large green and natural landscapes throughout the rest of the country. These landscapes can stay this way by not being teared down for commercial or residential property.
The country has made a lot of effort to reduce plastic waste.
I’ve noticed while going to coffee shops and grocery stores that many of them have reduced their plastic consumption. I have been given paper straws in coffee shops. Many grocery stores have gotten rid of their plastic bags, so customers are expected to buy or bring reusable bags at the grocery store. In fact, on November 26th of 2019, Costa Rica implemented Law No 9786 also called the “Law to Combat Plastic Pollution and Protect the Environment (elaw.org).” This law prohibits plastic bags from being used in grocery stores and other retail establishments. This law encourages biodegradable and reusable bags to be used in stores.
Plumbing in Costa Rica.
One last thing you should know, especially if you are considering visiting Costa Rica is the the plumbing system here is not great. Also if you are eating or can’t handle gross things, you might want to skip this part. In Costa Rica, you don’t flush toilet paper down the toilet, but rather you throw toilet paper out in the trash can next to you. The country’s septic system was never built to handle excessive amounts of toilet paper, so people dispose of their toilet paper in the trash can next to them.
This is all I have learned so far about sustainability in Costa Rica. I’m looking to explore more about sustainability and Costa Rican culture. Come back soon for more information!