Bad gifts are one of the underestimated downsides of the holiday season. 50% of Americans plan to return holiday gifts. Unfortunately, the majority of returned items cannot be resold as new. Each year, 25% of returned goods end up in US landfills, which contributes an additional 15 million tons of CO2e to our atmosphere, the carbon equivalent of putting 3 million additional cars on the road, or removing over 680,000 trees per year.
COVID-19 has forced us to discover new, lighter ways to gather and celebrate the holidays. Why not reimagine your gift giving, too?
We’ve pulled together 5 simple ways to make your gift-giving behavior a little more eco-friendly and meaningful. Give gifts that shine, even after the holiday lights dim.
1. Give Gifts that Give Back
This year, for those in a position to give, our donations are more important than ever. With pandemic cases rising, consider making a donation to your local food bank or homeless shelter, or local non-profit.
You can also donate to environmental nonprofits in your loved ones’ name. These are a few of our favorites:
350.org: 350.org fights to divest from fossil fuels at colleges and universities. College and universities are a $500B industry; redirecting those investments to clean energy is significant.
World Wildlife Fund: World Wildlife Fund advocates to preserve nature and educate people about biodiversity and endangered species. Donate to WWF to help protect your loved ones’ favorite furry creatures.
The Sunrise Movement:The Sunrise Movement supports grassroots youth activism for systemic change and environmental justice.
EarthJustice: EarthJustice uses law to preserve our natural resources for generations to come. Your donation will help hold corporations and our government accountable.
2. Give Experiences
Experiences create skills and memories that last longer than possessions, and often spark more joy. Virtual classes are a great way to help a loved one experience something new while in quarantine.
For chefs who want to expand their culinary repertoire, Forks Over Knives teaches fundamentals of plant-based cooking. To make your gift more personal, give a one-on-one virtual session with local chefs and instructors. Book a cooking or cocktail class with avital tours, or reach out to your favorite bartender, chef, or restaurant and ask if they offer virtual classes.
For athletes who need a new routine, The Class or Peloton offer on demand classes that will keep them moving. While your gym might be closed, your favorite fitness instructors are still moving. Reach out to see what virtual classes or programs your favorite teachers and gyms offer. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can break a sweat at home.
For the person in your life who wants to be more mindful, Headspace and Insight Timer will help them build their new meditation habit.
3. Give Vintage
Avoid emissions and save products from landfills when you give vintage. A second-hand or vintage gift is no less thoughtful than something new and can result in truly unique treasures. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Vintage Clothing: The fast fashion industry has a larger carbon footprint than international flights and shipping combined. The RealReal and ThredUp offer high-quality, unique vintage pieces at affordable prices.
Used Books: Stories never grow old, no matter how many times they’re read. Review your own bookshelves for reads your friends and family might love, or check out Thrift Books, Better World Books, or your local bookstore.
4. Give Gifts to Live Lighter
Help your loved ones save money and gain peace of mind with thoughtful gifts that lower their carbon footprint.
For the foodie: Plant-based cooking is here in a big way: nearly 25% of Americans have cut back on meat over the last year. At least one person in your life is likely trying to eat more plants: help them with these delicious cookbooks.
East by Meera Sodha: East is a no fuss guide to vegetarian and vegan dishes from Bangalore to Beijing. Sodha’s recipes help you explore plant-based cultures from the comfort of your home.
Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Walters: In Chez Paniesse Vegetables Alice Walters offers endless possibilities for your vegetables. Expect to be pleasantly surprised with dishes you thought were out of your wheelhouse.
Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi: Plenty is chock full of recipes for vibrant vegetables that will make your mouth water. Create restaurant caliber dishes and become the home chef everyone loves.
Impossible: The Cookbook: For the person in your life who loves meat and also loves the planet, check out Impossible Foods’ new cookbook. The book includes recipes from dozens of leading chefs with creative ideas for preparing plant-based proteins.
For the homebody: Home energy use accounts for at least 20% of the United States' overall emissions. Here are a few of our favorite home energy tools.
Smart Thermostats: Help your loved ones seamlessly manage their indoor climate with smart thermostats like the Google Nest or Ecobee.
Smart plugs and power strips: These energy-savers are slightly less expensive options that convert any home into a smart home. Help your family improve their carbon footprint by 2% annually (an impact equal to 18 trees) and save up to $165 per year.
Plants: Home plants brighten any home and help improve air quality. Check your local plant shops or Facebook Marketplace to find the perfect succulent or monstera.
For the jetsetter: If you do have friends or family traveling this holiday, gift flight offset to lighten their carbon footprint. Flight offsets are a great way to compensate for emissions while at the same time, invest in carbon capture technology.
5. Zero Waste DIY and Gift Wrapping
Create DIY gifts and reuse materials you already own to make quarantine more interesting and reduce waste this holiday season.
DIY: DIY creations are an opportunity to infuse love into the gifts you give. A thoughtful gift can be as simple as a handmade card and heartfelt note. Creating eco-friendly candles or chocolate stirring spoons will warm your loved ones’ hearts and homes. You can also try your hand at knitting or baking to send a homemade creation.
Reuse gift wrap: If every family reused 2 feet of ribbon this holiday season, that 38,000 miles of ribbon would be long enough to tie a bow around the planet. Reuse gift wrap, pull out decorative tins, and get creative with newspaper and scrap cloth to avoid waste this year. Use recyclable kraft tape and get fancy with natural decorations like spruce sprigs. Santa will definitely approve.
Since so many of us can’t be with our loved ones in person this year, the majority of our gifts will arrive via mail. Consolidate your gifts into a few packages and mail them out early to avoid rush shipping and improve the carbon efficiency of your gifts.
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