How to give eco-friendly and sustainable gifts for birthdays, Christmas and other holidays

Gift-giving can be a sustainability nightmare. Many gifts and gift sets are designed to look pretty while you’re giving them. But they’re often impractical, overpriced and destined to end up in landfill. Yet it can be difficult to abstain from giving gifts, especially if you’re in a family and/or friendship group where it’s the done thing. Socially speaking, choosing not to give gifts can lead to someone being seen as a “Grinch”, stingy or even uncaring. Such is the neoliberal nature of our societies that our level of love or friendship for others can often be reduced to material things. 

Receiving gifts can be a beautiful feeling though. Especially if it’s an item that shows how much someone truly knows you. One of the most beautiful presents I’ve received is from my boyfriend when he surprised me with a handmade, zero waste solid perfume bar in a little wooden box. It wasn’t expensive or luxurious, but it made me realise how much he truly understands me, my sustainability journey and my values. That’s the warm and fuzzy feeling we want to create with the gifts we give. Meanwhile, avoiding plastic, shopping eco-friendly and voting with our money are key components too. Read on to find out how to give sustainable gifts for Christmas, birthdays, 

1. Sustainable gifts to help someone live more eco-friendly

Choose lasting sustainable gifts that can help the receiver live more eco-friendly and zero waste in their day-to-day lives. Be sure you choose carefully and try to get something they don’t already have – or have enough of. Think along the lines of a practical water bottle, a cute reusable coffee cup if they’re a coffee drinker or some reusable straws if you know they like straws in their drinks. 

There’s a lot of room to show how much you know this person here. Depending on how much you want to spend, you could also look for local sustainable gift hampers or subscription boxes. Your gift may just help convert them to a more eco-friendly lifestyle! 

Last week’s episode: Is compostable packaging actually sustainable?

2. Support small, local and handmade businesses

One thing to remember is that the gift you’re choosing is ultimately is for the other person. It can be easy to gift things that we would like or believe in when they may not be useful to the other person. If your gift-receiving only likes drinking bottled water, giving them a pretty water bottle likely won’t change that. 

In these cases, a more sustainable gift idea can be to give a traditional gift that’s from a small, local and/or handmade business. If they’re a chocolate fan, look for some handmade truffles from your local farmers market. If they love jewellery, look for local businesses making pieces from recycled metals. Etsy is a great place to find local handmade items wherever you are. 

3. Give the sustainable gift of feeling good

We’ve all been there. Opening a gift that someone has so thoughtfully brought you only to realise you hate it and you’re now stuck with it. Giving people physical gifts that aren’t consumable is only adding to the amount of junk they already have in their homes. 

Instead, we can give sustainable gifts that will help someone feel good. These include charitable donations in their name, planting trees as a gift or carbon offset credits. This style of gift should be reserved for your charitable friends and family. Someone who loves material presents may not be as appreciative of something like this. 

4. Shop second-hand for sustainable gifts

Can we please normalise giving second-hand gifts already? There is enough stuff on this planet. I would be thrilled to receive a second-hand present and know of a lot of people who feel the same way. 

You can often buy a lot of second-hand items that have never been open, worn or used. In fact, many items on eBay and other second-hand selling sites are people reselling gifts they received and don’t want. If you’re happy to receive second-hand gifts, make sure you tell your friends, family and significant other. 

5. Gift something consumable, digital or an experience

Unless you know it’s something they really want, I feel it’s best to give someone a gift that isn’t going to hang around as clutter in their home. That’s why giving consumable items such as food, wine or skincare is usually a great bet; especially when it’s plastic-free. 

Digital products such as gift cards, credits subscriptions are great examples of this at play and can be a really useful gift. Meanwhile, experiences such a restaurant set menus, holidays, weekend breaks, theatre tickets, concert tickets, spa treatments and massages (just to name a few) can be the perfect gift. Just be sure to align it with what you know the gift receiver will enjoy. 

6. Ask instead of surprising for sustainable gifts

A little something you should know about me, I loathe surprise presents. I don’t like material clutter, have very particular tastes and am allergic to the majority of things you put on your skin and hair. But I couldn’t even tell you how many bath and skincare gift sets I’ve received in my life; the majority of which left me with rashes and plastic packaging.

This can be a tricky rule to implement across the board because some people love surprise presents and others love to surprise. It really depends on your relationship with this person. If the communication is there, simply ask them what they’d like or for a general idea. It can’t hurt.  

7. Make a no-gift pack 

Let’s be real. The expectation to give gifts is fueled by consumerism, which is destroying our planet. We all have a birthday, Christmas comes around every year and as my Mumma always says, every day should be Mother’s Day. While gifts can be lovely, they certainly don’t define a relationship. It’s just stuff at the end of the day. 

I’m so lucky that the majority of my family and friends don’t give gifts to each other. We see spending time with each other as the best part of holidays and birthdays. Also, I come from a long line of minimalists and people that have consistently told me not to waste money on presents they don’t need. 

If you think that might suit you and your friends and family, try floating the idea a few weeks before to see what they think. If they’re not in agreement, that’s ok. Try to get the most sustainable gift possible. 

Eco Action Step

Your eco action step for this week is to check out the Sustainable Gift guide I’ve put together to cover every gifting need. There are eco-friendly Father’s Day gift ideas, sustainable Christmas gifts, plastic-free kids presents and all of the green birthday gift ideas. That’s linked for you below in the episode info. Speak next week, eco friend! 

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Sustainable gifts guide for zero waste, eco-friendly, plastic-free and environmentally-friendly gifts
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