10 Sustainable Christmas Gifts

10 Sustainable Christmas Gifts

Single and multi-day shopping events like Black Friday have turned holiday shopping into an all-out frenzy of thoughtless consumerism.  These events condition us to buy, buy, buy, without giving any thought to the negative effect we are having on the environment.  Every year from early November to late December, consumption spikes all across the Western World.  With such a massive increase in consumption, comes an increase in waste.  According to the EPA (circa 2013), Americans generate 25% more waste than average from Thanksgiving to New Year.  That waste shows itself in the form of extra packaging, emissions from shipping and driving to stores, wrapping paper, as well as unwanted and discarded gifts.

This year, stop to think about the environmental impact of your holiday purchases.  Instead of buying something new, make something by hand, give experiences instead of gifts, and if you do choose to buy a new gift; make sure its environmentally friendly and comes in recyclable or biodegradable packaging.    

It might seem overwhelming at first, but with a little research and creativity, you’ll find an abundance of green gift ideas.  To get you started, here’s a list of 10 environmentally friendly holiday shopping alternatives.

1. Opt Outside

rei opt outside

This alternative to Black Friday was pioneered by outdoor retailers like REI and Patagonia and has gained steam in recent years.  The idea is simple: instead of spending all day driving around for Black Friday deals, do something with your family instead.  Go for a hike, play in the park, or build a snowman.  Depending on weather conditions and work schedules, “Opt Inside” works equally well.  Have a Christmas movie marathon or finish that 3,000 piece Bob Ross puzzle that’s been collecting dust in the basement for months.  Where you are and what you do is largely irrelevant, the important thing is choosing to spend time with friends and loved ones instead of participating in wasteful Black Friday consumerism.

2. Give to a cause

give a charitable gift WWF

Instead of giving a gift this year, contribute to a cause that will support things your loved ones are passionate about.  Does your son or daughter love animals?  The WWF offers programs where you can symbolically “adopt” a wild animal; with donations going to conservation efforts for that species.  Is your friend a teacher? Programs like adoptaclassroom.org allow you to support classrooms and teacher programs around the world.  Supporting the interests of friends and family shows you care about them and helps them to enjoy the things they love for years to come.

3. Give a star!

star registry name a star

Gifts may be used and appreciated for months or years; but eventually, most gifts are thrown away or disposed of.  Give a gift that is truly timeless by naming a piece of the night sky after a loved one.  Star registry services such as starregister.org allow you to name a star and then give you the resources to locate that star in the night sky.  Though NASA will probably have something to say about the official name of the star, naming a star after someone is a unique and timeless way to show someone that you care.  Each time they gaze up at the stars, they will think of you and feel loved. 

*When naming a star, opt for the digital information pack instead of them mailing it to you.  This will save on paper and packaging! *

4. Give a living gift

living gift succulents

Give a gift that actively fights climate change in the form of a plant or perennial flower.  Plants absorb carbon dioxide and other airborne toxins, while simultaneously releasing oxygen into the air.  Make sure that you give a plant which is suited to the light and temperature conditions of the persons’ house.  I’m a big fan of succulents and snake plants because they are low-maintenance and can thrive in a wide range of conditions.  You could also give a windowsill herb garden or tomato plant for a green gift that keeps on giving!  I started giving my mother plants instead of flower bouquets for Mother’s Day several years ago, and now her house is full of plants she can enjoy all year long.

5. Go digital

give an ecard sustainable gifts

One of the largest contributors to holiday waste is packaging. From plastic and Styrofoam packaging to wrapping paper used at home; Americans throw away hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaging every year.  It’s estimated that $11 Billion worth of packing material is discarded every year in America alone!  One way to combat that waste is through packaging-free gifts.  Let’s face it, we live in a digital world, and digital gifts are a great way to give something that doesn’t have any packaging or environmental impact.  A digital gift can be any number of things.  It could be something as simple as an e-card, or a digital gift card to download books, music, games and more.  You could even give software programs like the Adobe Creative Suite for an aspiring graphic designer, or Rosetta Stone for that future-UN delegate.  As products and services begin to exist more and more in solely-digital form; packaging free “e-gifts” will continue to grow in popularity.

6. Give something handmade

DIY gifts sustainable gifts

Handmade gifts always feel more meaningful than store bought ones.  It shows that you took the time and care to make something especially for the recipient in mind.  The possibilities are literally endless when it comes to handmade gifts, the only limit is your imagination.  Here are some easy handmade gift ideas:

  1. Make a photo book
  2. Recycled blanket from old t-shirts
  3. Mason jar candles
  4. DIY cosmetics and toiletries

For an even more personal touch; give the ingredients/materials for a DIY project and then make it with that person.  Instead of Black Friday shopping this year; try staying home and make Christmas gifts by hand!

7. Give an experience

sustainable gifts experiences

The fond memories of an epic camping trip or a beautiful ballet show will last much longer than another toy, gadget, or piece of clothing.  Give the gift of experience this holiday season by planning a trip or activity, or buying tickets to an event.  This can be anything from planning a hike, to signing up for a pottery class, to booking an extravagant eco-safari in Africa.  Ten years from now, which do you think someone will remember more:  that random thing you got them, or the epic shared experience you had together?

8. Give sustainable gifts

zero waste gifts

If you do go a more traditional route for Christmas shopping; choose to give sustainable gifts.  When looking for gifts in-store and online; search for things that are plastic free and zero waste. Give things like a reusable water bottle, stainless steel food storage containers, or a watch made out of bamboo.  Also do some research and try to buy from companies that work to reduce and offset the environmental impact of their shipping.  Here are a couple of websites that focus on sustainable products and low-impact shipping practices.

  1. https://www.bambeco.com: Sustainable home goods
  2. https://www.lifewithoutplastic.com : A wide variety of plastic-free products
  3. patagonia.com: Outdoor clothing and accessories made from recycled fibers and via responsible labor practices

9. If you must buy new, buy online

hydroflask reusable water bottle sustainable christmas gifts

This may go against conventional wisdom, but with advances in supply chain management, online retailers have become increasingly more efficient at shipping products to consumers.  It’s to the point now that it requires less carbon emissions to order something to your door, than driving to the store and purchasing it in-person.

If you have your heart set on buying something new, search online instead of driving around from store to store looking for gifts.  Do your research and try to find environmentally friendly online retailers to buy from.  Online purchases almost always come with more packaging, so shop on websites that actively work to ship with recyclable or biodegradable materials.  If you can’t find information about shipping practices listed online, contact the company before making a purchase.

10. Make a green investment

sustainable gifts for everyone on your list

Are you financially savvy?  Consider giving a gift that will grow alongside your loved ones.  Investing in a green mutual fund supports sustainable companies and could materialize into a sizable gift down the road.  Renewable energies and companies committed to sustainability will continue to grow and thrive as demand and popular opinion shift towards more environmentally friendly practices.

10 sustainable christmas gifts pinterest graphic

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Giving a green gift doesn’t have to be lame or tacky.  With just a tiny bit of extra effort, you can find gifts that are good for the planet AND will be loved by friends and family members.  I hope you found this list helpful, happy holidays!

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