Credit: Cindy Jeftovic

I live in a pretty environmentally aware community. Some might even call Kitsilano very environmentally aware. You need only look at the plethora of compost bins and the “Take Action Against Climate Change” lawn signs to know that Kits residents get it.

My children attend a pretty environmentally aware school, too. They promote litter-less lunches (no more mini-yogurts or Saran Wrap for us), and walk to school week (which we do daily). Some classes have made their own worm composters, and the school’s “spirit team” raised chum fry to be released into the creek at Spanish Banks. My daughter’s class uses organic ingredients on baking day, and we often take public transit on field trips.

But every year, we are asked to fundraise. I understand the need for money to buy new playground equipment or a computer lab. But am I the only one tired of trying to flog wrapping paper, chocolates and Entertainment Books to everyone I know? And isn’t it time we considered the environmental impact of all this stuff?

My son started school in Calgary. While that city is hardly a beacon of environmentalism, at least we weren’t asked to sell a bunch of junk to raise money. At the beginning of the year, parents were asked to make a contribution (I think it was $40 per child) in lieu of fundraising initiatives. For some families, this was a bit steep, so they were given the option of paying in
installments, or opting out altogether.

So I was blindsided when we moved to Perth, Australia and my kids started school. One morning, my daughter’s teacher stopped me. “Don’t forget your box of Maltesers,” she said.
“A box of Maltesers?” I thought. “For me? How nice.” What she meant was a crate of Maltesers for me to sell. When I went to my son’s classroom, I was similarly given a crate of individually wrapped chocolate frogs. On each box was a note: “Please do not return unsold product.”

I almost cried. What was I supposed to do with 50 chocolate treats? I knew no one in Perth except other school parents who had their own candies to sell. Maybe my mother-in-law could help. Yes, she had nine other fundraising grandchildren, but surely she’d take pity on her foreign daughter-in-law.

“I don’t really like Maltesers or chocolate frogs,” she said.

“Who cares!” I wanted to cry. “Buy some and throw them out!”

Instead, I bought both crates and ate the frickin’ things myself. Seriously, I ate 25 boxes of Maltesers (I fed most of the frogs to the kids). And I threw out 25 cardboard packages and 25 plastic frog wrappers.

So when we returned to Vancouver and our environmentally aware neighbourhood, I was surprised when my kids came home with catalogues of wrapping paper to sell. Wrapping paper? That didn’t seem very environmentally friendly. One of my neighbours took a stand and refused to sell it. “I’m against wrapping paper,” she said. But I was new and wanted to be liked. And I wasn’t really “against” wrapping paper. I just thought it should be used sparingly.
I ended up buying six rolls and a can of chocolate-covered popcorn.

This year we sold Entertainment Books: a better environmental choice in some respects. But as an incentive, kids were invited to sign up on a website to win all sorts of junk: holographic sunglasses, puzzle cube erasers and expanding dinosaur eggs. Should we really be
encouraging consumption of this plastic junk, most of which is likely shipped from China?

I brought the idea of cash in lieu of fundraising up with a parent-council member, who felt it would be a hardship for many of our families. But isn’t selling stuff to people who don’t want it a hardship too?

Now that we’ve been at the school for a while and I’m less desperate to fit in, I’m going to take a stand. Instead of buying junk I don’t need, I will donate the cash equivalent. I’ll still participate in the fundraising bake sales and car washes and talent shows, but I’m not buying – or selling – any more crap. Although… that chocolate-covered popcorn was really good.

Robyn Harding lives in Vancouver and is author of the novels The Journal of Mortifying Moments, The Secret Desires of a Soccer Mom and the recently released Unravelled.