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Christmas…in September!?

16 Sep 2021

This year, what if we swapped rather than shopped…?

I’m not one to put up the Christmas tree early, so writing about Christmas in September feels a bit wrong. But there’s an alternative to the last-minute present scramble that I thought was worth sharing.

The first point to make is that Christmas just keeps getting bigger. As a nation, we’ll spend more than £24 billion this festive season, with the average adult spending more than £500 on gifts. A good percentage of which will probably fit into the very literal ‘you shouldn’t have’ camp.

The biggest beneficiary of all of this? Amazon.

Last year, Amazon customers in the UK ordered 3.5 million items, or 41 items per second, on the busiest day in the run up to Christmas. Worldwide, Amazon shipped more than 3.5 billion packages last year, with an ever-increasing percentage of these orders coming from the 100 million or so Prime customers for whom instant gratification has now become the new normal. 

The environmental cost of our behaviour shouldn’t be lost on us. It’s impossible to get billions of packages from factories to distribution centres to homes without causing a significant amount of harm to the world around us. In 2020, for example, Amazon said its activities emitted the equivalent of 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That number probably won’t mean much to most of us but to put it into perspective it’s a larger carbon footprint than Switzerland.

I’m using Amazon as an example of what’s going on rather than pointing the finger. In fact, Amazon and Jeff Bezos, its CEO, have set some clear targets as well as pledging billions of dollars to tackle climate change. However, the only way we’ll deliver the change we really need to see, in a timeline that’s acceptable, is by changing our own behaviours. And that’s easier said than done.    

An alternative to Amazon?

But alternatives do exist and there’s one I wanted to make you aware of today.

It’s a business focused on children’s toys. It’s particularly timely given the looming ‘perfect storm’ in the world of toys. The pandemic has hit the industry with a double whammy: shipping containers are piled up in the wrong places and the production of containers themselves has slumped. Meanwhile, toy retailers are facing a shortage of lorry drivers when goods arrive in the UK. A typhoon in China and the reintroduction of Covid restrictions in some Chinese manufacturing bases also haven’t helped. And yet, faced with a Christmas without access to the best toys, the advice given to parent’s nationwide focusses on getting in early and stowing presents away for the big day now. Yes, go and buy your Christmas present now – in the middle of September face hits palm.

Before you start stockpiling presents, think about what actually happens on Christmas morning. For the very young children, the box itself often holds more appeal than the present. And for the older children, you might find that your best intentions have sadly missed the mark. Every year, children receive multiple presents that they don’t want. These presents either take up residence at the back of a wardrobe or, even worse, they’re sent back (further exacerbating the environmental impact).

A bit of research kicked out some statistics that take all the fun out of playtime. The average child has four toys they’ve never played with, 8.5 million toys are thrown away every year in the UK, and 80% of all toys end up in landfill.

Introducing, Whirli

There is, however, an alternative model to the buy, use, dispose mantra that now seems to be the norm. Speaking with Emma Davies (CEO of Octopus Ventures) about all this last week, she explained why we recently invested in a business called Whirli. Though they’re not going to tackle all our Christmas problems, I think they can make a big impact in the world of toys. Through the power of the sharing economy, Whirli has created a proposition that works for both parents and the planet. Subscribers borrow toys instead of purchasing them and any unloved or outgrown toys can be sent back and swapped for something else.

By borrowing, parents are getting far better value for money while reducing their environmental footprint, and their children are getting more varied playtime while learning valuable life lessons.

I’ll be able to vouch for that come January when my nieces and nephews receive their first borrowed toy. From my perspective it can only be good for children to be aware that these borrowed items are destined to be enjoyed by other children someday soon, something we (and the planet) could all benefit from is an understanding that you do not need to own to enjoy.

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