How to not Gift Trash

The holiday season is the most wasteful time of year. According to the EPA household waste in the United States increases by more than 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. There is so much waste involved, from packaging, shipping materials, wrapping paper, to getting gifts that you don’t want or need and then having to Marie Condo your house a couple of times a year. Let’s be real for a second, most of us really don’t need all that stuff. Most of it just ends up cluttering our lives or we end up throwing it out or giving it away. Below is a guide on how to avoid giving gifts that contribute to the massive waste problem we are facing. 

Do we really have to gift something?

I know this might sound controversial, but I think it is time to rethink this whole consumerism thing. Giving something just because society told us that it is the “right thing to do” is questionable. Presents are super nice and sweet gestures to show the person that you care and appreciate them. But especially during times like Christmas, this can turn into a lot of pressure just to find something to gift, even if you cannot really think of an item that that person really needs or wants. Maybe, just maybe we don’t always have to give away an item that most likely will end up cluttering people’s homes. There are other ways to show that you care. Also with the rise of minimalism, there is a chance that your well-intended gift might cause that person more stress than joy. If presents feel more like a chore to you then talk to your friends and family members. If they feel the same way then maybe getting rid of presents all together or limiting them could be a great idea.

Make sure the person will like it and actually use it!

Ok so you decided that you still want to give presents, I feel you, it is definitely part of the tradition to open presents for Xmas. This point is kind of obvious, but still worth mentioning. Before you go on a shopping spree pause and really think about what that person likes, not what you like. 🙂 Do they want this present and will they use it? If you are not sure, ask them or somebody that knows exactly what they are into what they want or need, and then make sure to get exactly that. Meaning, if you buy something for their house, make sure it matches their style; if you buy a clothing item make sure it is the right size and again their style. If you buy something that smells good, make sure they like the smell too, etc. You get my point. If you don’t want your present to end up being wasteful the person has to actually use it.

9 ideas on how to not gift trash

Below are ideas for sustainable presents and tips to increase the chances that your gifts don’t end up generating more trash. For more specific products check out my sustainable holiday gift guide

1. Usable gifts

Think about items that the person would most likely purchase anyway because they use them up on a regular basis. For example, body lotion, soaps, personal care products, beeswax or soy candles, and food items. All of these can be part of a beautiful gift basket. Gourmet foods for your foodie friends, beauty products for your beauty-loving friends, etc. Make sure you source sustainable and non-toxic products. 

2. DIY gifts

Homemade gifts are the perfect inexpensive but very personal gifts. If you are into crafting this can be a super fun holiday activity for the whole family. The following examples give you some DIY ideas, but really, the sky is the limit. Infused olive oil, soaps, candles, cookies, chocolates, truffles, and jam are some ideas to get you started.

3. Zero waste necessities

Gifting reusable items that will avoid trash in the future is a nice way to help give your community the right tools. This is the perfect gift for your friends that are already trying to be more eco-conscious. Package-free shop in NYC offers a wide variety of products that you need in order to live a plastic-free life. From cotton produce bags to personal care products this store has everything you need. If you are in NYC skip the delivery and go straight to the store to give useful, long-lasting zero waste gifts to your friends and family members.

4. Experiences and activities

Memories of fun activities together are the most sustainable and fun things to gift. And the options are endless. Examples are concert tickets, day trips, manicures and pedicures, guided tours, adventures, massages, cooking classes, spa treatments, meditation classes, or getaways if you want to spend more. Memberships to the movie theatre or a museum, or classes/courses the person would love to attend are other great gift options.

5. Functional quality products

Does your friend or family member really need or want a very specific item that will bring them joy and last for a very long time? Maybe they love to cook and wish to have a very specific kitchen gadget. Maybe they are into a specific sport and need new gear or equipment. Quality is key here and knowing exactly what it is the person wants and needs. These items are often on the person’s wish list. If the price tag is high, you make it a shared gift with other family members or friends.

6. Items from the thrift store

Not everyone will appreciate these, so keep that in mind. But for those people that are into antiques, love to roam thrift stores, or appreciate the sustainability aspect of shopping for clothes or other items from a thrift store, this can be an excellent choice. Thrift store shopping is the best solution to keeping unwanted items out of landfills and at the same time saves new resources from having to be used.

7. Item swapping

This is a great idea for a secret Santa-type gift giving. Tell all your friends and coworkers to pick a used but obviously nice item from your home and regift it. You could do the same with regular gifts for friends. Decide to swap an item that you know the other person loves, For example, if your friend always points out a specific item that they love in your home or from your clothes, jewelry, etc and you are willing to give it to a new owner who will love and cherish it, gift it to your friend. It is such a meaningful way of giving.

8. Support small local businesses that offer eco-friendly products

We vote with our dollars and to make meaningful changes we need small business owners that engage in sustainable practices to be able to survive and thrive. So whenever you buy a gift look for local, eco-friendly businesses and put your money where your mouth is. Make sure you don’t fall for green-washing though. Take those extra 5 minutes and look up some of the claims they are making.

9. Use reusable or recycled wrapping

Last but not least rethink the wrapping options. I remember bags of trash after Christmas when everyone was done unpacking the presents…so sad. You could choose to not wrap your gifts at all, or use reusable or recycled materials. Examples are to buy a cotton produce bag that can be used for future shopping trips to the grocery store and wrap the items in them. That is double useful. You could also save any type of gift bags and paper wrappings throughout the year or use old newspapers to wrap gifts. Again the options here are endless, so take a look around your home and let your creativity run free. Pimping the packages up with some twine and greenery, cinnamon sticks or dried orange slices makes for a beautiful presentation.

Now I would like to hear from you? How do you feel about gift giving? What are your favorite ways to avoid waste during the holidays? If you enjoyed this article please share it with your community.

Happy holidays


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