Holidays and Zero Waste

I’ve previously published a post about zero waste, and I thought it was only appropriate to follow up that post with a holiday edition. A lot of the junk we collect is given to us at holiday time. But is it stuff we really need? Is it going to be enjoyed for a few days, and then discarded, never to be used again?

As such, when buying gifts for others (or – let’s face it – for ourselves), we should ask a handful of questions.

What does this person actually need?

Personally, I think the time has come where it should no longer be taboo to just ask for money if that’s all you need. It’s an expensive world we live in, and millenials are generally underpaid, and as such, have trouble making ends meet. While your friend might appreciate that new tea kettle or fuzzy cat socks, they might be more concerned about making their paycheck stretch to cover their rent.

Is each person in the family/group buying a gift for everyone?

Not only does this get expensive quickly, it generally leads to a stack of useless clutter. Why not draw names instead, and each person buys a gift only for the person who’s name they drew? More economical, and cuts down on the haul everyone collects. It also allows the giver to be more meticulous with the gift they do select. The gifts given are more likely to be meaningful, and your gift-giving budget goes further. Rather than buying seven to ten little gifts, you can buy one really nice gift.

Is this gift sustainable and ethical?

I’m not a Black Friday shopper, but I am a Cyber Monday shopper. I hate crowds, and online shopping allows me to stay home in my pajamas. And yet, I know that it’s more taxing on the environment to have gifts shipped to me, rather than going to a store in my own town. When at all possible, shop local. Not only are you more likely to find out how it was made, buying in store uses considerably less plastic packaging. And if you can’t avoid shopping online, opt to have it shipped to store. Not only is it free to have it shipped to the store, the store already receives large shipments, so you’re adding one box to a truck already bound for that destination.

Does this gift fit the recipient’s lifestyle?

Are you shopping for someone who is a minimalist, who chooses their belongings with great care? Are you shopping for someone who enjoys browsing and making sure they get exactly what they want? Instead of giving a wrapped gift, consider gifting an experience. Buy them tickets to see the Nutcracker, admission to the axe-throwing house, or a gift certificate for brunch at their favorite coffee place. If they’re a browser, a gift card to their favorite clothing store, book store, or gear shop.

Is this person more likely to just appreciate my time rather than anything I could buy?

For some people, simply our time is the best gift we could give them. This often includes our parents, our grandparents, and other elderly family members or friends. Bake their favorite cookies and go to their house for tea, stream a movie and knit together, play a game of cards, or work a puzzle together. They’ll appreciate the conversation and quality time more than any ornament or candle.


So it boils down to this:

  • Buy less
  • Buy local
  • Buy/give intentionally
  • Give experiences
  • Give time

Remember, the world needs a lot of people doing zero-waste imperfectly, rather than a few people doing zero-waste perfectly. Small steps are still steps in the right direction.

Happy trails!