Updated: May 23
As a society, we are conditioned to give gifts. For anyone on a sustainable journey, gift-giving can feel contradicting with the concept of buying less. We have been led to believe that giving tangible gifts to our loved ones is necessary, even expected, on special occasions. Luckily, there are ways to give without producing waste. We've come up with a list of Rs for green gifting to encapsulate how to gift sustainably.
This might come as a shocker but giving tangible gifts has its downside as well. During the holiday season, the average Canadian family throws out 25 to 45 percent more garbage than other times during the year. A lot of this waste relates to gifts, packaging, plastic and other trash that end up in landfills.
It goes without saying that our current gifting options are harming the environment as we seemingly overlook the waste produced during these special occasions. However, we can practice more control on the giving end curbing our inadvertent contribution to this growing global situation.
Read on for the first of our three-part series to see how you can use these Rs in your gifting practices. Show your family, friends, and colleagues how much you care about them and the planet with our sustainable gifting tips and ideas.
‘Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’ ― Anna Lappe
Each Canadian generates approximately 2.7kgs of garbage each day, over 720kgs per capita of waste produced annually. Adopting a 'reduction' mindset throughout different areas of your life can be beneficial in so many ways, but the first challenge where to start.
In the world of gifting and its associated consumerism, gift-giving often means buying and spending more than what is needed. By reducing tangible gift purchases and the environmentally harmful packaging that goes along with them, we can limit the waste that ends up in landfills.
Most of the waste generated over our celebrations is from materials that are not environmentally friendly. Every year, Canadians throw away 3 million tonnes of plastic waste, only 9% of which is recycled. In fact, Canada has been surveyed as one of the worst waste-producing countries in the world.
Reducing gifts doesn't necessarily mean no gifting, but it means being more creative with how we gift. Here are a few pointers on how to reduce your gift-giving and gift-wrapping waste:
Bring your own reusable bags when shopping. If forgotten, try using one bag to hold the other items you buy within the day.
When getting bags from the store, turn down their excess packaging, boxes, gift wrappers and accessories.
Request a Wish List from your gift recipients to avoid buying something that won't be used.
Shop with purpose. Look for locally-made, sustainable gifts and support businesses that have sustainability practices where you can.
Start early or shop gradually. Procrastinating and leaving this as a last-minute errand often results in buying things that are not wanted or needed.
Choose quality over quantity. Instead of buying a lot of cheaper gifts, gather your friends and consider pitching in for one big present for the giftee. How about helping them start their very own capsule wardrobe?
Come up with new family traditions, like colour-coding gifts by the recipient to avoid extra name tags, or only buying gifts for the children in the family.
Try Secret Santa or Kris Kringle gift exchanges with family and friends, where you only need to gift one person rather than each individual
Ultimately, shop with a plan and the intention to reduce waste. The less waste produced, the less there is to manage. Think about not only who you are buying for, but also where you are buying from, and the materials of the product and packaging.
‘Waste isn’t waste until we waste it.’ ― Will.I.Am
Each Canadian tosses about 50 kilograms of garbage over the holidays - the result of wrapping paper, foil, ribbons, cards, tissue paper, gift bags and tape. That is about ¼ more than the rest of the year, equivalent to the weight of 100,000 elephants or 4.5 CN Towers!
There are so many ways you can reuse items around the house when it comes to gifting. Look around, and you'll be sure to find creative inspirations and materials for unique wrapping, packaging, and accents.
Below are a few more ways to reuse items for gift-giving purposes:
Save, keep and store all used and unused wrappers, paper bags and other gift accessories in a known location, so they are easily accessible. Use the supplies you already have, and avoid buying any more unless you have to.
Wrap gifts in something that the recipient can use again. Items like decorative boxes, canvas bags, fabric, cloth or textiles, and cardboard boxes can be reused for sturdier packaging.
Get creative with using different materials, such as newspapers, magazine pages, handkerchiefs, scarves, paper shopping bags, trinkets, to name a few.
Use natural greenery, such as hemp, twine and sprigs as gift-wrapping accents, for beautiful ways to dress up any present.
Mason and other glass jars can be filled with edible gifts, such as mixes, cookies and other freshly baked goods.
Try your hand at making this fabric drawstring bag, perfect for oddly shaped presents.
Capitalize on what you already have and get inspired with the items you have around; you’ll see that the possibilities are endless. Your home is full of reusable items for gifting purposes, all it needs is a little imagination. Fortunately, as a nation, we are slowly shifting towards normalizing environmentally friendly gift-wrapping, with 65% preferring it over regular packaging. It's definitely a step in the right direction.
‘Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.’ ― Howard Zinn
Recycling is an impactful way to reduce our contribution to landfill waste, as it eliminates the need for extracting, processing and producing new resources.
Recycling has been around for so many years, yet we are often still confused as to what can or cannot be recycled. Shiny, glossy, and sparkly gift wrappers and ribbons end up in landfills as most contain plastics that can't be recycled. With the creation of new plastics or complicated materials, this becomes an even bigger challenge.
Here are some sorting tips to help ensure that the rubbish ends up in the right place after opening any gift:
Separate items that can be recycled, and sort them out in the proper bins. Items such as foil/metallic wrapping and other accessories or fillers like bubble wrap or plastics cannot be recycled.
Determine the materials used in the gifts and the packaging. When it comes to recycling, the simpler, the better. Elaborate designs and fancy details have little to no chance of being recyclable as most are lined with plastic or have non-recyclable elements.
Choose materials that are 100% paper-based with no synthetic dyes, such as newspapers, brown wrapping paper, Kraft paper, and cardboard boxes.
Rinse and clean glass bottles before recycling; lids are thrown out separately in the garbage bin.
Coffee cups and other waxy cardboards used for how liquids like soup, cannot be recycled. Use glass containers, ceramic coffee mugs or thermal flasks instead.
Wrap presents with recyclable materials including old t-shirts, bandanas, scarves, and old textiles.
If you require the use of tape, avoid using scotch tape and go for Washi Tape instead. Washi Tape is a thin but durable decorative masking tape made of renewable resources and natural fibres like hemp and bamboo. It easily sticks on surfaces and can be removed effortlessly without causing any damage.
Recycling is not simple nor is it straightforward as each municipality has its own rules. Make sure to find out the recycling guidelines, requirements and initiatives that are unique to your city.
‘It is our collective and individual responsibility to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live.’ ― Dalai Lama
The onus is on us to make a change for the good of the environment. We, as individuals, need to make it a priority to take care of our fellow human beings and the planet. Doing our due diligence to research the companies we are supporting and the products we are giving.
Time is the most valuable gift you can give someone. Whether you use it to make something for them or to buy a thoughtful gift, your time and energy are part of the giving. No matter what you choose, give a gift that counts, choose to give the gift of sustainability.
Now that we've (hopefully!) got you thinking about gifting greener in this introductory blog, make sure to check out part two where we give you practical ideas and specific examples of sustainable gifts.
What green gifting practices do you have at home? Share your family traditions with us in the comments below!
Do you want to create a sustainable future for yourself? Our 3 Simple Ways To Start Living Sustainably blog can help you with that. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram @goodearthgifting, and TikTok @goodearthgifting for more gifting ideas.