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  • Nora Hemsley

A Mini Guide to a More Sustainable Holiday Season

For many, the holiday season is a time of joy and treasured traditions. One of the center focuses on many celebrations is gift giving. I am a big fan of gift giving; I get so excited to find individualized gifts that I think my friends and family will love. But, gift giving also lends itself to a lot of waste and negative consumerism. In the holiday season, the negative aspects of gift giving are only made worse by the massive amounts of waste disposed annually. It is also always important to remember that gift giving is a privilege. Especially with the pandemic, many families don’t have a steady income where they can exchange gifts, or they even don’t have a car, heat or running water. A great alternative to the typical gift exchange is donating gifts to kids who might not have the opportunity to receive any, as well as helping parents with the many challenges that this season brings on. Toys for Tots has one of the biggest charitable programs in the country. You can donate toys or money; visit here for more info. You can also visit here for Pay Away the Layaway, which organizes donations to pay off balances on gifts for children. You can donate to Clean Cooking Alliance, which strives to offer clean cooking to the about three billion people who don’t have that opportunity.

Most wrapping paper is not recyclable, and given how much of it people use during the holidays, it is imperative we find alternatives. If that wasn’t enough, there have been links with major conglomerates’ wrapping paper and sweatshop production. What’s even worse is that wrapping paper is thrown out almost immediately after being used, so there is no reason why wrapping paper is used at the rate it is. But not to fear, if you still want to dress your gifts up, you can still do that (but always be mindful of how much of any packaging you are using because even sustainable forms can be wasteful in large amounts). You can wrap your gifts in newspapers, old maps or even old artwork! You could use different forms of cloth from your home, whether that be bandanas, towels, hand clothes, scarves or whatever else you find. You could even include the wrapping as part of the gift if you would like! If you wanted another way to give gifts, try and use reusable bags rather than wrapping paper because then the gift receivers can reuse the bags! Instead of tissue paper, use newspaper, or try and staple/tape the tops of the bag together so that you don’t need to cover anything. You could also put small gifts in socks (that the receiver can wear) and place them in a gift bag.

When buying gifts, try and buy sustainably! Good On You is a great website that offers lots of information about sustainability in general, and specifically consumerism. Perhaps its greatest asset is the ratings (on a scale of “we avoid” to “great”) of brands. Try and check it out before buying anything for Christmas, or any time at all (I’m looking at you, Forever 21!). Some specific sustainable gift ideas include reusable makeup wipes ($16 at Mindful Goods). If anyone in your family is a frequent coffee capsule user, check out the WayCup reusable capsules for Nespresso and Dolce Gusto systems. If you are gifting to a tea drinker, check out these reusable tea bags, and compliment with your receiver’s favorite types of tea leaves. Possibly consider the most basic sustainable gift option that never fails: reusable straws! These come in many forms: silicon, metal, plastic, etc. If you or someone else you are gifting with has the economic ability, check out Allbirds for great sustainable shoes and select clothing. Like this brand, a lot of sustainable shopping is quite expensive. This is not a possibility for everyone, especially given how devastating the pandemic has been for many people’s finances. If you are looking for gift ideas that are more affordable and won’t negatively impact the environment, consider making gifts yourself! You could try making homemade candy or assembling a photo collage with cardboard, canvas, or paper, photos at your home, glue and any other fun decorations (stickers, glitter etc). If you can get access to a blank journal (or create your own by stapling note cards/paper together), fill it with personal sentiments, quotations, ideas, memories and more that you and the person receiving share. Offer an at-home spa day (even more fun with the pandemic). This could be as simple as a massage and a “foot bath” consisting of warm water and some containers, or you could expand and incorporate facial products, nail polish and more.

Whatever situation you find yourself in this holiday season, whether gift giving or not, just remember that it is truly the thought that counts! Larger price or quantity does not mean better, especially when those gifts contribute to the negative effects of a non-sustainable holiday season. Wishing you all a season of happiness, fun and warmth:). Xoxo




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