The holidays are approaching quickly, and if you’re like many Americans, you’re dreading long lines at department stores and spending wads of cash on stuff you’re not even sure will be as much as glanced at after Christmas morning. With a recession in full swing and another year of inaction on climate change behind us, employing practical, environmentally conscious shopping techniques can keep more money in your wallet while also taking action on a serious problem—and it’ll be good for your blood pressure, too.
Americans generate tons of trash during the holidays. Waste stream volume increases by 25 percent during the season, much of which is recyclable packaging and wrapping paper. It’s the time of the year when overconsumption is acceptable and encouraged, but in these economic times it seems that everyone is looking for ways to cut back on spending without cutting down on joy.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled 10 easy ways to simplify, reduce, reuse, and delight gift recipients without breaking the bank.
1. Bake, cook, or give a consumable gift. Cookies, sweets, preserves, or jams that you make come packaged with an extra dose of love. If you’re not the domestic type, find a special fair trade coffee, make your own tea kit, get a gift subscription—slightly pricier—to a food of the month club (bacon, wine, or popcorn), or even find some organic booze. Beer, wine, and even liquor come in recyclable containers and can make for priceless memories.
2. Buy gifts they will use. A gift that never gets used is a waste of materials and money. If you’re buying a material gift for someone, make sure you know them well enough to know it’s something they will use. Have people you’re shopping for prioritize their lists so you have a better idea of what they really want, or look for things they own that are wearing out and need to be replaced.
3. Gifts that encourage green living. Material goods aren’t always to be avoided. Gadget-loving family members may get years of use out of a portable solar charger for their cell phone. Nudge the casual biker in your life toward bike commuting with a set of LED lights and a reflective windbreaker for biking at night. Many nifty gifts are made with recycled goods, or sustainable materials like bamboo.
4. Regift: We all have that gift in our closet that we never opened or just used once: the obscure kitchen gadget, the book you never read, the shirt that didn’t fit. Regift it to someone who will appreciate it and make better use of it. Just don’t let the person who gave it to you originally find out.
5. Unleash your inner creativity. Create an online digital photo album and send it out to all your family to upload, download, and share. Or craft your own Christmas ornaments and paint them. Knit scarves, sweaters, or hats, instead of buying them. Save money and resources by cutting out the middle man and doing it yourself.
6. Give time, not goods. Avoid material gifts altogether and offer to spend quality time with someone instead. Whether it’s getting them concert tickets for a favorite band that’s coming to town, a coupon book for household chores that you’ll take on, offering to babysit while your friends enjoy a child-free night, or teaching a skill, your time will be priceless to that special someone.
7. Think charitably. Making a donation to a cause that’s important to the giftee requires just a few clicks on a website, and the memory of your thoughtfulness will last a lot longer than the novelty of a new item.
8. Give a gift where it’s needed. At Heifer International, you can buy a family in a developing country a goat that will provide both food and income for $120. A gift certificate from microfinance organization Kiva lets the giftee choose where to lend money. Search the gift database at Changing the Present to give a gift of everything from literacy classes for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to disaster assistance for elderly victims of Hurricane Katrina.
9. Consider reused gifts. Buying used gifts puts them to use and keeps them out of landfills. It will save you money, since you will still be able to find quality items for your giftee at lower prices. By shopping at vintage clothing stores and used books stores, for example, you’ll also avoid large and agitated crowds at the mall.
10. Wrap it up. Pay attention to how you wrap. Use brightly colored textiles that are on sale to wrap your gifts up. Give newspapers and paper grocery bags a second life as gift-wrapping material. Newspapers are also a great way of passively informing people about current events. What else can they do but read while they’re waiting to open a gift? And almost everyone remembers at least one of Julie Andrews’s favorite things: a brown paper package…tied up with strings.
Other ways to reduce your impact this holiday season include combining errands to save gas or shopping online to save even more. Bring reusable bags to the mall, instead of relying on the plastic or paper ones the shops hand out. Look for a way to recycle your tree instead of sending it to a landfill after the holidays—some solid waste departments will mulch the trees for use on local trails and parks.
More resources for green gifts: