Ho-ho-hold the trash: Gift giving made greener

by Jennifer Knoch

I really love the holidays, the songs and the decorations, the goodies and gift giving, but the thing that makes me Grinchy is the sheer volume of unnecessary stuff that gets passed around in the name of tradition. Tradition is a slippery thing, after all: back in the day, Bubbe’s Hanukkah gifts likely looked a lot different. Now, 56% of people are getting stuff they don’t want, and to make matters worse, half of Canadians say they overspent in 2018, with 40% of them having no plan for dealing with bills.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Follow these gift-giving guidelines from me, a pretty good gifter, to maintain sanity, keep your bank account in the black, and have a greener holiday all around.

Photo by Caley Dimmock on Unsplash

Consider Their Values.

We often think about what people like, but not as much about what they value. This is where my best gift ideas have come from. Are they all about family time? Saving animals? Travel? Where do they spend their time and energy? Now ask yourself how you can give them a gift that reflects that, e.g., a family photo session or a creative writing class.

Activities Are Tops.

The holidays are supposed to be about spending quality time together, and what better way to do that then planning something extra special? This is how memories are made, and you don’t have to set foot in a mall or wait in long holiday lines or wrap a thing. Experiences use far fewer resources than any doodad or knickknack and can’t end up in landfill. Granted, this is harder to do in the season of the pandemic, but it is still possible. These gifts can also allow you to support other things you value, like the arts (the theatre, concerts, dance, museums, film festivals — you can buy a digital equivalent or a gift card for when they reopen), nature (a parks pass), or local restaurants who are doing takeout. 

Choose Used.

Now, not everybody will appreciate a previously loved item, but many people will (especially if you call it “vintage”). Me, I’ll love it more. And small kids generally don’t know the difference. The most eco choice (and often the cheapest) is the thing that already exists. My friend Crissy does an annual brunch gift swap, and last year instead of buying something new, they all gave something they already had but didn’t want. Regifting is just waiting for its rebrand.

Make It Edible.

I love gifts that I can eat or drink: they’re not so resource-intensive, don’t make a lot of trash, and don’t take up permanent residence in my small apartment. Edible gifts don’t have to be all cookies and booze either; making someone a freezer lasagna or healthy granola can be even more welcome. Here’s my hot idea: recreate some almost universally coveted Everything but the Bagel Spice, Trader Joe’s blessed gift to seasoning. Thank me later.  

Give Good.

Make a donation to a cause that your recipient cares about. This might seem impersonal, but if you choose the cause well, it shows you’re paying attention to them and their values. And nobody worthwhile should begrudge someone getting clean water or a sloth’s habitat being preserved in lieu of receiving yet another tote bag or mug. With this gift, you’re not only making concrete good and avoiding more stuff being manufactured and disposed of, you’re normalizing, and hopefully inspiring, this kind of giving. Plus, you may earn a sweet tax credit you can sneak in before the end of the year. 

Wrap Wisely.

One of my favourite things about Christmas used to be wrapping things up in shiny paper and ribbons. But eventually I couldn’t stomach the waste, which in Canada amounts to the weight of 100,000 elephants every year. Instead of reaching for those rolls of luxe paper, consider buying or making reusable gift bags, furoshiki wrapping (which can use things like vintage scarves, fabric scraps, etc.), reusable gift boxes, or wrapping in old road maps, repurposed brown paper, or newspaper. There are so many creative gift wrapping ideas that don’t require buying stuff just to throw it away. Lastly, if you do use/receive some paper, in Toronto it can be recycled, as long as it’s not the foil kind. But keep your ribbons and bows out of the recycling, since they can jam up the machinery.

Do Nothing.

Have a conversation and see if you can get some people onboard for no gifts. I did this with my sisters last year and have no regrets. Stress-free, eco-conscious, 100% savings. Sometimes this eco stuff is easy.