Sustainable Holidays: Green Gift Giving


Happy Black Friday!

Whether we like it or not, the holiday shopping season is officially upon us. Though this time of year can be exciting as we hunt down the perfect gifts for our loved ones, it is also a time of excessive waste in many ways. Americans throw away 25% more trash during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than they do the rest of the year. In addition, about half of the paper products Americans use each year is used for wrapping gifts

Where does all this waste come from? Just think about all of the bows, ribbon, wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, toy packaging, food waste, and unwanted gifts that pile up during the holidays. But solid waste is not the only problem. Americans also travel more during the holidays and use more energy to light their holiday decorations, which adds even more carbon to our atmosphere.

So, what do we do about it?

There are many different ways to make the holidays sustainable, but we’ll focus on the gift-giving process. 

The first step in green gift-giving is to consider alternatives to material gifts. Instead of buying someone a shirt they’ll maybe wear once or a random item they’ll store in their closet, try gifting experiences. Buy tickets to a concert, cook a nice meal for them, or purchase a subscription service for them, like Spotify Premium or Netflix. The important part is spending time together, and as we grow up, this is typically more valuable to our loved ones (and to us) than any material gift.

If you can’t find the right experience, you could look into volunteering your time for a local organization. Even better, you could volunteer with someone! You could also donate to a charity in someone’s name (and check Charity Watch to ensure the charity is doing as much good as they claim to be). 

If alternatives aren’t your thing (or not the receiver’s thing) be more conscientious when buying gifts. Look around your house for items that could be re-gifted (looking at you last year’s white elephant gift) or make a homemade gift. Artwork, pictures, recipe books and pre-made meals or dessert mixes all make great gifts! Stopping by thrift stores or antique shops can also spark some creativity and add a unique flair to your gifts.

Finally, give the gift of sustainability! Items like travel mugs, bar shampoo/conditioner, a travel cutlery set, lotion bars and reusable sandwich bags are practical and environmentally-friendly. Other practical, sustainable gifts are other consumable items like coffee or chocolate. If you end up going this route, try to find fair-trade, locally made/grown, or organically grown items. Check out this article about making a greener cup of coffee before buying more beans and this one for buying eco-friendly chocolate. 

Other than the gifts themselves, we need to adjust our gift packaging habits. Try wrapping your gifts in old newspapers, reused wrapping paper, or reusable packages like baskets or bags. If you feel wrapping paper is really necessary, look for material made from post-consumer recycled content. When shopping, bring your own bags (old plastic or tote bags) to limit the use of new ones.

This may seem like a lot to consider, but if each person committed to making one small change toward sustainable gift-giving, we would end up making one huge impact! All it takes is a little bit more awareness, and we can make the Earth happy during the holidays too.

For more information about making the holidays more sustainable, check out Vanderbilt’s Sustainable Holiday Greening Guide or the CDC’s recommendations for going green during the holidays.

Happy green shopping!