While the holiday season is a time of joy, celebration and gift-giving, it also brings an exuberant amount of waste. According to Stanford University, there is a 25% increase in waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s — which amounts to 25 million extra tons of garbage! As horrifying as this number appears, there are sustainable swaps and tips to follow to reduce your waste this holiday season.
First off, I want to share some rules of thumb when trying to be more sustainable with your gift-giving. Avoid gifting someone a single-use product, especially one made from plastic or styrofoam that will take hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill.
Instead, consider investing in reusable items such as metal straws, reusable shopping bags, mesh produce bags and reusable water bottles. Another item to avoid gifting is clothing from fast-fashion companies, such as Shein, H&M, Forever 21, Pretty Little Thing and Romwe. These brands contribute to textile waste and pollution by overproducing cheaply made garments that are made from unsustainably sourced materials.
Instead, purchase an item secondhand from a thrift store, Poshmark, Mercari, Depop or other resale sites. Not only are these items usually cheaper, but you are also giving an item a second life — keeping that garment out of a landfill.
Now that you have taken those points into account, it’s time to pick a gift.
A great sustainable gift is an experience, rather than a physical item. This could be in the form of tickets to a concert, sporting event, performance or amusement park — the list goes on. This gift can be personalized to anyone and can be adjusted to a wide variety of price ranges. If you’re into cooking or baking, consider gifting someone home cooked meals, baked goods or canned sauces and preserves. Though it was very time-consuming, my family gifted our extended family homemade maple syrup — collected from maple trees on our property.
A homemade gift can be very personal and show your appreciation for someone. My final gift idea is to donate to an organization or charity in a person’s honor. This charity could represent someone’s interests, hobbies or passions — it doesn’t even have to be environmental-centered!
A branch off of this idea is to adopt an animal in someone’s honor. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has an opportunity to adopt a gorilla as a gift. Not only do you get to select your gorilla, but you also will receive updates and photos of your gorilla throughout the year — all while helping to protect an animal species.
Now that you’ve shopped consciously and purchased your gift, it’s time to package it up. If you’ve chosen the physical gift route, avoid disposable wrapping paper. I know it’s very tempting with all the festive patterns to choose from. But in reality, you rip the paper off in a few seconds and then throw it away without ever looking at it again.
Instead, use newspaper or reuse brown paper bags or the paper that came with a package. Oftentimes, companies will stuff shipments with brown paper that can be saved and reused. Try to think ahead and save paper bags you may get from shopping trips to use for gifts for the holidays.
After your gift is wrapped, you can use a holiday-shaped stamp to create your pattern and tie it off with some twine. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can collect some winter berries or pine branches to cut and tuck underneath your twine. Just because you’re being sustainable, doesn’t mean your gifts won’t look nice and festive!
My final tip is simple: reuse. If you don’t have brown paper bags or other materials I mentioned, search to find something you already have. The key is to create the least amount of waste by saving materials and using them in the future.
Whether it’s a gift bag, bow, ribbon, box, gift tag or wrapping paper, save and store it to reuse the following year. My family has a collection of holiday boxes that we save and reuse every year. Though we’ve received them previously, it doesn’t make opening presents any less special. The way a gift was wrapped is the last thing on your mind after you’ve seen the most important thing — what was inside.
I hope you take these tips with you into the holiday season upon us. While your mind may be filled with gift ideas for family and friends, don’t forget to give the gift of sustainability to the Earth.