The Heim Family: The ecological costs of ‘swag’ are staggering

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Every year our kids love to go the Amherst Block Party — it’s a fun local event and we thank local businesses for sponsoring it.

But this year it fell right before the international climate protest, where children all over the world and here in Amherst walked out of their classrooms to protest the global inaction on dealing with climate change. When they came home from the Block Party with bags of swag — plastic-y stuff like inflatable beach balls and cheap sunglasses — we couldn’t help note the disjunct between their aspirations about the ways we need to change (use less fossil fuel, stop polluting our planet with plastics) and the pile of useless loot they bring home every year from the Block Party.

As we talked about the environmental costs of a world saturated with swag, our kids’ initial enthusiasm for collecting these freebies turned to disgust.

This junk clutters up our houses for a few days or weeks before it gets unceremoniously dumped in the trash and carted off to a landfill, where it may well eventually find its way to our oceans and contribute to the spectacular pollution of our ocean water and destruction of marine life.

Furthermore, the ecological costs of swag are staggering when we consider the oil and other fossil fuels used to create this stuff and then transport it. None of this plastic trash can be recycled.

Of course, the corporate reason for handing out such junk is to promote business. But might the banks, firms and businesses giving out swag consider alternatives for next year? Giving apples or mini pumpkins from a local orchard or farm would leave little carbon footprint and no lasting damage to our earth.

Businesses could hand out treats from a local bakery or coupons for another local business, or promote their own donations to local charities or land trusts. They could become models of conscientious corporate citizenship in a town increasingly sensitive to these issues.

If these gentle nudges don’t work, could the Amherst BID ban swag at the Block Party and other local events? Or should our newly empowered youth show up next year with signs, protests and a campaign to boycott businesses that practice plastics pollution? We need to do things both large and small, globally and locally, one business and one town at a time, to change the culture of junk, over consumption and the normalization of pollution.


The Heim Family