We think of the holiday season as a time of no-holds-barred generosity and abundance, but it’s also an incredibly wasteful time. It doesn’t have to be! Check out Green That Life’s eco-friendly gift giving guide for tips and ideas.
Table of Contents
- General Guidelines for Eco-Friendly Gift Giving
- Sustainable Shopping
- Gift Wrap That’s Appealing to People and the Planet
- Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Everyone!
General Guidelines for Eco-Friendly Gift Giving
Green the Entire Process
Staying green during the holidays isn’t just about purchasing or making an eco-friendly gift. To minimize your carbon footprint, take into account the entire gift giving experience: shopping, wrapping, and proper disposal.
Minimize Packaging and Waste
Here’s a scenario: You’ve bought a beautiful potted flower, wrapped in an abundance of cellophane, tied with a shiny, colorful bow, and it’s topped off by a silvery mylar balloon. A green gift, right?
The gift itself is green, but all that plastic packaging is decidedly not. None of the packaging — which used precious natural resources to create — can be repurposed or even recycled. The recipient of your gift will enjoy the “glam” of the gift for a few seconds before tossing it all in the trash.
Wait! Perhaps she’ll reuse the bow and cellophane to wrap her own gifts? She might, but eventually, all that material (made, remember, from non-renewable resources) will make its way into a landfill, be incinerated, or worse, end up as yet more plastic pollution.
The bottom line: Reduce, reduce, reduce the use of extraneous non-renewable filler, packaging, or decorative items to minimize waste.
Less is More
Enjoy your gift giving experience, but avoid giving frivolous filler trinkets (think: gag gifts, cheaply-made plastic toys) that are designed to be enjoyed for a few minutes before being tossed in the trash. Instead, find meaningful, long-lasting gifts that are homemade or made by brands with sustainable business practices. In short, give less but give gifts with meaning and staying power.
Eco-friendly gift giving starts with sustainable shopping. Here are some tips for a green shopping experience.
- Minimize your own waste. If you’re heading out to shop, minimize the waste by bringing your reusable shopping bags and water bottle.
- Purchase gifts from brands with sustainable business practices. Wondering where to start? Check out the eco-friendly gift ideas below, but you can also try eco-focused shopping apps, such as DoneGood, which list hundreds of socially and environmentally responsible brands. Other good resources are reputable accreditation or certification organizations that frequently include searchable directories of certified businesses. See the list of organizations in Green That Life’s greenwashing post.
- Avoid overly packaged products. Look for gifts with minimal packaging, particularly plastic packaging that typically can’t be recycled.
- Keep it local. You’ll reduce the carbon footprint of your purchases but will also provide much-needed support to your local merchants during this economically challenging time. Your locally-owned store may source their products from local purveyors, making your purchases even more environmentally friendly.
- Leave the car at home. To reduce the carbon footprint of your holiday shopping, possible, walk or bike to your destination, if possible. It’s also a good way to work off all those holiday calories!
- Shopping online? Start early. The carbon footprint from processing, transportation, and packaging of your purchases can be high. When possible, plan ahead to avoid rush shipping, which adds to the carbon footprint of your purchases.
- Curbside pickup. Another option if you live close to the store and (even better!) have an electric vehicle, is to order online and then pick up purchases curbside.
Gift Wrap That’s Appealing to People and the Planet
A gorgeously wrapped gift is always enticing, but most gift wrap can’t be recycled. Instead, all that paper invariably finds its way into a landfill or is incinerated. Think of all those trees chopped down for a just few minutes of enjoyment!
This year, complete the eco-friendly gift giving by using sustainable gift wrapping options.
- Reuse gift boxes, wrapping paper, ribbons, and gift bags. Store them in a large container for reuse.
- Repurpose what you have around the house: newspapers, magazines, pillowcases, scarves, cloth napkins, recycled paper decorated by you or your kids, or pretty glass containers.
- Make the wrapping the gift, such as reusable shopping bags, reusable containers (cookie jar, mason jar, decorative glass containers), scarves, blankets, pretty planter pots.
- Pass the (reusable) parcel. Wrap gifts in reusable gift sacs for reuse by the recipient. A regifting plate for edible gifts is also a nice touch.
- Ditch the tissue and unnecessary filler unless they’re made from reusable components.
- Use natural decorations, such as pinecones, evergreen sprigs, dried leaves.
- Using gift wrap? Keep it green by using wrap made from recycled paper. I love Paper Source’s unique designs. Their paper is made with 30% post-consumer waste and they partner with sustainable forestry mills.
Note: Many municipalities will not recycle gift wrap, check with your local waste authority. For more recycling information, check out Green That Life’s Recycling Resources page.
Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Everyone!
Reused (Pre-Loved!) Gifts
Pre-loved gifting is eco-friendly gift giving at its best! Gone are the days of scrounging through thrift stores (though that can be fun). Now you can buy everything — clothing, jewelry, shoes, handbags, furniture, home goods — from a wide variety of sources, including vintage, and second-hand stores as well as online resellers that offer even luxury items.
To get started with your holiday shopping, see Green That Life’s guide to online clothing and apparel stores.
- Edible gifts that you or a local purveyor has made (preferably using organic, locally-sourced ingredients).
- Knitted items.
- Homemade beeswax wrap or candles.
- Homemade cleansers or soaps made with essential oils and natural ingredients.
- Upcycled or re-gifted gifts made from items you find in your home.
Nature-Based or Organic Gardening Gifts
- Potted plants, herbs, or flowers that are pollinator-friendly and native to the recipient’s area.
- Collection of organic seeds: vegetables, herbs, flowers. Check out the untreated, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds from Seed Savers Exchange.
- Insect collection and observation kits.
- Homemade compost.
- A gardening tote filled with tools and supplies for a budding organic gardener. Buy or make the tote from old fabric!
- Gifts to entice more wildlife into your yard: bird feeders with birdseed, birdbaths, pollinator-friendly flowers or seeds, a bat box, a toad abode.
- Nature, organic gardening, or conservation-themed books.
Eco-Friendly Gifts from Eco-Friendly Resources
While it’s best to minimize new purchases, gifts that are made by sustainably-conscious companies can help reduce the environmental impact of buying new.
- For sustainably-created gift suggestions, see Green That Life’s list of the 22 best eco-friendly gifts for this year.
- For gift suggestions for the home chef in your life, see Green That Life’s list of green kitchen gift ideas.
Gifts Designed to Encourage (Hint, Hint!) Eco-Friendly Habits
- A composting kit, complete with Green That Life’s instructions on how to compost!
- A subscription to a community-supported agriculture program.
- A subscription to a low-waste grocery delivery service, such as Grove Collaborative or Loop store, that delivers products in reusable packaging.
- A reusable On-the-Go kit that you put together. Fill it with reusable water bottles, drinking straws, utensils, cloth hankies, reusable masks. “Wrap” the kit in a homemade or new reusable bag.
- A set of cloth diapers for new parents. Even better, gift them a subscription to a cloth diaper laundering service. They’re pricey, but mom and dad will love you for it!
- A make-your-coffee-at-home kit: a french press with fair trade coffee beans and a reusable coffee mug.
Gifts with Environmental Themes
A gift, such as a book, film, or magazine subscription, with environmental themes. For book ideas, check out Green That Life’s Best Environmental Books, including fiction books for kids and adults, and the Green Book Guide with 10 picks for enviro-themed gift books.
- Gifts that focus on experiences: cooking classes, theater shows (when they return), a trip that you’ve purchased carbon offsets for, or focuses on environmental conservation.
- Memberships to a nature center, wildlife conservation, local or national environmental organization.
- A membership to an online membership-based market like Thrive Market, that sources its products sustainably, uses only recyclable and compostable packaging, and is committed to carbon-neutral shipping.
- Gift certificates to a local restaurant that supports local purveyors, or organic gardening centers, like the Seed Savers Exchange.
- Tasks or chores that you’ll do for your gift-ee, such as yard work, house cleaning (with non-toxic cleaners, of course), grocery shopping, cooking, or laundry.
An Eco-Friendly Gift to Support Environmental Causes
For a complete list of green gifts for a cause, see Green That Life’s post on Gifts for Good that Support Environmental Causes.