As holidays, celebrations, and birthdays approach, many of us start to think about what gifts to give our friends and family. Picking out a gift for a loved one is a great way to show them how much they mean to you. That being said, I’m sure you’re well aware that gift-giving can also lead to the purchasing of unnecessary items, create waste, and overall have a negative impact on the environment.
Luckily, there are many ways to give gifts in an environmentally responsible manner! Although you may initially think that green gift giving significantly narrows down your options, there are plenty of ways to give green, and live out your values. Gift giving is also a beautiful way to connect others to new and unique Eco-friendly items and suppliers that they may not have known about. Besides that, it feels AMAZING when the gifts that we receive also help others in need, or help to save an endangered species, or plant trees, or support small Eco-friendly businesses! Wins all around!
If you’re interested in purchasing green gifts during the holiday season, or any time during the year, I have 8 basic principles to guide you in your decision-making, so that you can give a great eco-friendly gift, without the greenwashing!
1. Give consumables you know they will enjoy
What do I mean by consumables? This is anything that we eat or drink. It is that special treat from back home or the cake we loved as a child, or the specialty liqueur. These types of gifts tend to hold special meaning, as they remind us of a special time together or represent a treat or a taste of home. Plus, they have the added benefit of not taking up space in their home for long, and will be less likely to be tossed in the trash and sent to the landfill or the thrift shop.
2. Limit the number of gifts
Although it may be tempting to shower your loved ones with an abundance of presents, that practice can be quite wasteful. There is a good chance that at least one, if not more, of the gifts you give someone will be something they don’t need, don’t have use for, or is simply not to their liking. Instead of buying lots of gifts or adding in filler items to make the gift seem more substantial, try purchasing a single present you know they’ll appreciate. After all, why spend lots on multiple things when you can choose one gift that is more meaningful?
3. Don’t shy away from practical gifts
Although it may seem boring from the buyer’s point of view, many people appreciate receiving more practical items. The beauty of a practical gift is that you know it will be used and it ends up saving the receiver money, as it is likely to be something they would have bought themselves otherwise. While practical gifts can be items someone would use in their everyday lives, they can also be items that the receiver has picked out ahead of time. Gifts don’t always have to be extravagant surprises!
4. Homemade and natural are meaningful!
Gifts don’t always have to cost money! Instead of buying something at the store, consider putting your skills to use. If you are a good baker, crafter, knitter, or have any other creative talents, there is a good chance your work will be highly appreciated by the ones you love.
An added bonus of homemade gifts is that you are able to control the ingredients/materials that are used to make them! This way you can ensure they are environmentally friendly. Stay away from plastics, resins, glues and toxic materials, always thinking about the end of the product’s life and if it will biodegrade.
5. Spread the giving with charitable donations
Instead of giving a physical gift, think about donating to a charity on behalf of your loved one. This is especially appreciated if you know the person really doesn’t need anything, but you still want to show you care and are thinking of them.
If you opt for this type of gift, choose an organization or charity that is dear to the recipient’s heart in order to make it extra meaningful. Do they love to adopt cats from the local shelter, then perhaps a donation there would be extra meaningful. Did her mother pass away from cancer, then perhaps a donation to a cancer organization would be most meaningful.
Both you and your loved one will feel good about this gift! And of course, the charity you donate to will be thankful as well. These types of gifts multiply the benefits when we give to organizations in need and also avoid physical gifts that can negatively impact the environment.
6. Give the gift of time
Instead of purchasing a tangible item, show your appreciation for your loved one by planning a special activity to do together. Spending quality time together can be the greatest gift of all! This gift can be anything from a stay-at-home movie night to a picnic in the park to a stargazing date with your special person.
Make sure to choose an activity that is out of the ordinary and something the recipient will enjoy. For example, you can try an activity, such as snowshoeing or a painting class, that they have never done before. Consider activities that have low environmental impacts or do good for the wellbeing of the recipient and the environment.
7. Memberships and lessons are great too!
A membership to an art gallery, museum, yarn spinning or birdwatching club, or perhaps guitar or canoeing lessons that your loved one enjoys is a great idea for a gift! Buying them a membership is a great way to encourage their passions or interests and show that you care about their mental wellness.
These types of gifts are great as they give long after the birthday or holiday is over. To have the opportunity to explore galleries or develop a skill and connect with like-minded individuals is worth much more than any store-bought gift in many cases.
8. Buy Eco-friendly and sustainable products
Would the recipient enjoy receiving some Eco-friendly products such as zero-waste kitchen supplies or perhaps non-toxic beauty products or baby toys? This is a great option for those who are interested in learning about the products and may not know they are available or be able to afford them.
You can even buy items that will help your loved one along on their sustainability journey! Replacements for single-use items such as coffee cups and straws are always a good place to start and come in many fun designs and colours. Do you have people in your life who would love to know about these cool products?
Or, if you have a specific idea of what you would like to get your family member or friend, consider purchasing that item from an eco-friendly retailer. Many items can be sourced from a variety of retailers, so why not opt for the Eco-friendly company? You can find out more about certified green corporations and select from those.
9. Consider the value of vintage and upcycled!
Used items for gifts? Yes, it can be the right gift when we think of super cool vintage finds, a family heirloom, or meaningful memorabilia (think favourite sports team, etc.). Used items can be an amazing and very meaningful gift, especially when the recipient knows that you took the time to find something suited to them, and not just what was available at the mall.
There are also great upcycled products being made by small crafters and artisans that are worth checking out. Your gift then can help support a small business and also be lighter on the planet as it is made from upcycling used goods. I interviewed lots of great Makers in Episode 42 of the Live. Well. Green. podcast, and of course you can also find beautiful sustainable gifts on the online maker space, Etsy.
10. Wrap it right!
Last but not least, there are ways you can avoid using environmentally harmful wrapping paper, bows, and cards! Reusing materials is always the best option, and within the family you can simply keep using the same paper or cloth gift bags. If you do need to wrap a gift for others, consider repurposing plain brown paper bags from shopping trips and embellishing them with natural materials like pine cones. It is beautiful and much more sustainable! There are plenty of creative and beautiful ways to wrap gifts using plain brown paper, newsprint, or fabric.
Avoiding plastic bows and ribbon is also a good idea for sustainable gift-giving. Besides, there are so many beautiful options that are far more sustainable like using natural fibres - think raffia, plain twine or even a quality ribbon or bow that you reuse from year to year.
In our household we keep a selection of fabric bags, beautiful boxes and fabric ribbons that we reuse year after year after year. It really makes wrapping a sinch and nothing goes into the landfill!
As for cards, consider the material it is made of. Does it have sparkles, glitter or foam on the paper card? Or perhaps even an electronic device inside? When we think about all of that just ending up in the landfill after a brief smile, it seems like not the best attachment to a gift after all. Consider writing your kind sentiment on a plain paper card, or one created by a local artist.
When you get into the habit of more sustainable gift giving and wrapping it is actually a whole lot less stressful than traditional shopping trips. It becomes fun and meaningful, allowing you to put your energy into a few gifts that you know people will love and hang on to - or gobble up, as the case may be!
Being green doesn’t mean no gift giving; it means giving gifts to your loved one, and to future generations - pretty powerful when you think about it.
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