Sustainable Gift-Giving

With Christmas just around the corner, it’s time to get festive! This includes brainstorming gift ideas for your friends and family, decorating the Christmas tree, and hanging up fairy-lights around the house. But with all other celebrations and family traditions comes the cost of material waste and other practices that may potentially harm our environment. Previously oblivious to the sheer amount of consumption involved with the holidays, I only recently began to observe the ubiquitous items of paper, plastic, and other single-use materials that are involved with the process. However, I also recently began to consider how we can take this opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint - without having to sacrifice the festive spirit!

As someone who communicates partially in the love language of gifts, I inevitably fall prey to the customary traditions of gift-giving, gift-receiving, and exciting gift exchanges such as Secret Santa. I admit that I find it difficult to exclude myself from such bonding experiences and the opportunity to express gratitude through material good - especially when it’s the last year that I will be able to do so with many of my classmates. However, I figured that we can continue to participate in these types of activities while maintaining some level of sustainability simply by altering our practices. Without being a Debbie Downer or seeming ungrateful, we can continue to indulge in the Christmas spirit while remaining (relatively) eco-friendly.

Before I dive into my list of tips, I want to clarify that I am far from an expert on the ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle. However, it has become one of my utmost priorities to minimize the amount of waste that I generate, and I am keen to share my ideas on how I (and others) can attempt to do so this Christmas (and in the future). From paying no attention to the waste resulting from present-giving and other practices just a year ago, I am hoping that this will take me a step further in the right direction and eventually, I will be able to entirely eliminate unnecessary waste from my life in the future. In the mean time, this is still a work-in-progress, and I hope that this effort still counts for something!

Anyway, onto the tips (these apply to both gift receiving and gift giving):

1. Create a Wishlist

But doesn’t that take away the element of surprise? Yes, it does, but I’ve come to realize that if it’s not something that you consciously think about wanting, then do you really need it? When it comes to birthdays, weddings, or anything of the sort, it may seem a bit obnoxious to hand out a wish list to all your attendees, but in terms of Christmas and Secret Santa, where it’s given that you’ll be receiving a gift, the best way to ensure that no items go to waste is by creating a wish list. A couple of great websites that allow you to do this include Elfster and DrawNames. Otherwise, you might receive items that you already posses/will never use, and this will simply contribute to the landfills and serve to benefit no one.

2. Buy second-hand

On your wish list, be sure to make a note to your gift-givers that you are happy to receive anything second-hand (it’ll most likely be cheaper for them!) and emphasize the low waste factor - especially when it comes to wrapping and - if they’re ordering something online - the packaging. Second-hand, or ‘previously loved’, items are something that I have always felt somewhat hesitant towards; however, I believe that (with the possible exception of second-hand underwear and worn out shoes) the benefits far outweigh the costs, and the amount of waste you will be generating by buying second-hand will be infinitesimal as compared to if you were to buy several new items. In terms of buying second-hand gifts for other people, you may want to consult them about this first, but if this is something that they are not comfortable with, simply refer to the other tips listed on this post!

3. DIY

Create something yourself! Use what already exists at home - scrap paper, unused markers, old rubber bands, etc - to make something with love! This can always come off as more personal to the receiver, and you can be as creative as you want with it. If being creative is not your thing, then you can always apply this trick to card-writing, where instead of buying fancy cards that are usually packaged in plastic, you can make use of what already exists at home/at school/at work to create something beautiful.

4. Reuse wrapping paper

Of course, wrapping paper plays a massive role in building up the element of surprise which drives the excitement of traditions such as gift-giving. If you are not willing to entirely eradicate the wrapping paper yet, take advantage of the gifts you have received, and instead of ripping open the wrapping, carefully open it up so that it may be reused in the future. Not only does this save trees, but it also saves you the cost of buying new wrapping paper! Alternatively, if you do not already have wrapping paper/gifts lying around, you can also use newspaper or scrap paper to wrap the gifts. Most if it is bound to enter the recycling bin anyway, so might as well use it to cover up the gifts!

5. Buy ‘sustainable’ items!

The best way to educate someone is by showing them how to do it. Order your friend a metal straw off Plastic-Free HK, purchase a stainless steel razor from Live Zero, or buy a stick of natural deodorant from No!w No Waste - the possibilities are endless! This way, they can continue to receive a gift while playing a role in the low impact, zero-waste movement. Another way you can spread joy is buy purchasing gift cards - or if your budget is high, maybe even a train ticket! Experiences, unlike material goods, can create everlasting memories.

6. Donate to a charity

This one is particularly applicable to birthday parties, weddings, and other personal celebrations, but imagine how much money is spent in total on gifts! If all that money was donated to a charity organisation, imagine the lives you could save (depending on the charity)! You can create a fundraising page through JustGiving and select the charity you wish to collaborate with. I understand that this is extremely hard to do - it’s difficult to place the satisfaction of strangers above our own - so just to hold myself accountable, I’m going to claim it here now that I plan to do this for my own birthday this year. I have everything I need, after all, and others deserve to enjoy the same privilege. :)

And those are all my tips! I hope you got something useful out of this post - it was definitely a very enlightening process for me to write it. I also hope that everyone continues to enjoy a festive Christmas and makes an attempt to minimize their carbon footprint without having to sacrifice any of the fun.