How To Gift Sustainably: A Guide To Low Waste Giving

With the holidays here, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all the glitz and the glam of gifting. Often times, we find ourselves trekking through a crowded mall, looking for the "perfect gift" for everyone on our list. Aside from the stress that comes with this, there's also another problem: Waste. The holidays are not known for being sustainable, and the same can be said for gifts. Between the plastic packaging on most items and the waste generated from wrapping paper, gifts aren't always eco-friendly. That's why I've decided to share five ways to gift sustainably this time of year. Instead of thinking "I must get the perfect gift," start thinking about getting the most conscious gift. Here are some ways to go about doing exactly that.

Look into experience gifts  

Who says you need an actual item to give thoughtfully? Sometimes, experiences are even better. Think about the person you're gifting: What do they like to do? What are their favorite hobbies? Get them tickets to a movie, magic show, play, cruise, or concert. Purchase a class for them in something they've always wanted to do: painting, drawing, archery, fencing, cooking, etc. There are so many options…all you have to do is get creative. If you can't think of anything off the top of your head, no worries: There are loads of websites out there that make experience gifting easy. Try Xperience Days—you can select your location, choose a category, and even choose a price. This will help you narrow it down to a few experience-oriented gift ideas. They have a ton of experience gift ideas: There are things I've never even heard of or knew about until I found it on Xperience Days! Give it a good look, and even if you can't find anything, it should give you a few ideas of your own. 

Gift them an antique  

Want to make sure your gift stays around a while? Gift something that's an antique or a collectable. Value and appeal don't always translate into new objects. Antiques have earned their value through time and have historical and sentimental value. These gifts are perfect for those on your list you know will cherish and appreciate them. Since they're being reused, there's no impact on the environment (it's not like further resources were just wasted to create it—it’s been made for several years now). Start by visiting a local flea market or vintage shop: You're bound to come across tons of antiques and collectibles there. If you can't find exactly what you're looking for, perhaps try asking the old timers what they've found most useful over the years. Many old tools, for example, are made from better, sturdier materials than today's counterparts. If you do find something you feel would make a great gift, be sure to get it touched up (if need be). Some old objects may need a little shining or fine tuning in order to make them gift-worthy, but that will be worth it once you see the finished results. 

Make something homemade 

Sometimes, the best gifts are crafted with your very own hands. At least with these gifts you have full control over the ingredients/supplies you use, as well as the packaging. You can avoid plastic packaging entirely when you make items from scratch. There are so many homemade items you can make that would make great gifts: DIY beauty products, knitted products, baked goods, DIY décor, etc. You simply have to get creative and think about what the particular person you're gifting likes. If they like beauty, consider making them some body scrub and body lotion, or bath salts and soaks. If they like makeup, try your hand at DIY lipstick and lip gloss, or DIY eye shadow, eyeliner, and mascara. Do they love baking? Try your hand at baking them something yourself, or, make them a baking kit. You can layer it with dry baking ingredients used to make all sorts of goodies: brownies, cupcakes, cookies, cakes, etc. Whatever you do, choose one dessert for each jar you make: One mason jar for cookie ingredients, one for brownie ingredients. Layer each ingredient needed to make whatever dessert you choose, but make sure they're only dry ingredients like flour, sugar, baking powder, etc. This will make sure they don't spoil. If you'd rather not gift anything to do with baking, think about knitting, sewing, or crocheting something for someone. There are tons of things you can create with some needle and thread, plus it can be quite therapeutic. Whatever homemade gift you choose, make sure it's from the heart and it will please your loved one very much.  

Give "old" gold jewelry 

Gold jewelry might be nice, but the price isn't cheap (and I'm not just talking about the initial cost of the item). Mining for gold comes with its own environmental problems, as well as health risks to humans. Cyanide is a toxic chemical used in the gold extraction process worldwide. Did you know just one teaspoon of 2% cyanide can cause death in humans? And another problem: Leftover cyanide waste is often stored in mine tailing ponds with thin liners that can leak or break. Unfortunately, it's not unusual to have spills of cyanide solution and heavy metal-laced water: This can contaminate groundwater, kill fish and waterfowl, and even get into drinking water. So how does this wrap back into gold jewelry? Well, 78% of newly mined gold each year goes towards jewelry fabrication (earrings, rings, bracelets, etc.). And guess what? Just one wedding ring produces 20 tons of waste. Of course, this waste isn't just rocks—it’s cyanide treated rock, and as you now know, cyanide causes way too many environmental problems. So what can you do? Stop supporting the gold industry (at least until they clean up their act). If you really want to get someone some gold jewelry, get them "old" gold jewelry. You can find old gold jewelry in antique shops, swap meets, and jewelry shops. Many gold jewelers can also recast new designs onto antique, old gold jewelry to create a fresh newness to it. You can also choose to buy recycled gold jewelry: Gold can be recycled repeatedly with no degradation in quality, so its uses are infinite.

Wrap Thoughtfully 

Last but not least, I encourage all of you to wrap your gifts with the planet in mind. If your gift needs wrapping, please try to use something other than traditional wrapping paper. Conventional gift wrap might not be recyclable where you are (check and see your state's recycling laws). Even if it is recyclable where you live (in NYC it is), opt for other methods of gift wrapping. There are so many ways to sustainably package things. Here are a few you might like to look into: reusable fabric gift wrapsseed paper gift tags, shredded paper box filler, cardboard boxes from old packages, hemp twine instead of ribbon, magazine/newspaper/maps instead of wrapping paper. There are so many ways to creatively package a gift without wrapping paper; I hope these inspire you. Plus, hey, it might save you a few bucks on the fancy wrapping paper they sell in stores. Helping the planet and saving money? Can't argue with that. 


Want more ways to reduce waste and live sustainably this holiday season? Check out my guide to having a zero waste Christmas! Happy holidays from me to you.