Holiday gift-giving can be a major source of stress. Unless your friends and family have jumped on the no-gift holiday bandwagon, there can be so much pressure to give each person the perfect item. How does sustainability fit in? Perhaps better than you think!

Here’s a guide to choosing gifts that are easier on the planet—but that your friends and family will still love. 

  1. Give Less & Better

More is better, right? Maybe not. Instead of giving a loved one a few less-expensive gifts they might not need, pool your dollars to opt for one useful and long-lasting present they’ll treasure. Avoid fad items or gag gifts that will be thrown away a few months down the road.

Research shows that when we buy gifts, we focus on how the giftee will react in the moment of exchange. We want to “wow” them and get an immediate positive reaction. But that moment is just a few seconds! What about how the item will serve the giftee or bring them joy later on? (Think: A basket full of candles, lotions, and wine versus a voucher for a massage. The basket may be a nice gift, but there is much more packaging involved, and the giftee may not even use or like each component.)

You can extend this practice to giving one larger present to families or groups. Rather than gifting to each individual, give the group something they can enjoy together, like a yard game or restaurant gift certificate.

Another way to practice “gifting less” is to hold gift exchanges like Secret Santa or White Elephant with your family, friend group, or coworkers. Instead of everyone gifting to everyone, each person is responsible for one gift and receives one gift. It’s an excellent way to celebrate more sustainably, and it cuts down on holiday shopping stress. 

  1. Opt For Low Footprint

Giving fewer and better gifts is a good start. Go a step further by seeking out ethically- and sustainably-produced items with a small footprint.

Maybe your friend had her eyes on a dress the last time you went shopping—check out secondhand-shopping sites like Poshmark or eBay to see if you can find that item lightly used. Give it a new life while saving money. 

If you can’t find the item that way, look for a similar one made by a responsible company using natural or recycled materials. Some companies go a step further and take on the collection of waste as well as the creation of products from the upcycled materials. Viewing the waste as a resource rather than a burden gives the materials a new purpose and keeps them out of oceans and landfills.

We get it; finding green brands can be time-consuming! You can get a start by looking through the brands that have a national recycling program through TerraCycle®. Feel good giving a gift with an end-of-life plan.

  1. Think Outside the Big Box Store

We know it’s been said time and time again, but shopping small has an undeniable impact. 

Challenge yourself to see if you can do all your shopping at small, independent businesses. (Check for deals on Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year.) You’ll find a much greater selection of delightful, unexpected gift options. Shop locally when you can; it reduces your gift-giving footprint and is also an investment in your community. 

Another way to give one-of-a-kind gifts is to make them yourself. Are you an embroiderer? Painter? Baker? Graphic designer? Leverage your skills to make your gifts! Maybe DIY presents aren’t right for everyone in your life, but you have friends and family members who will appreciate your talent and the time you put into your creations.

You could also thrift your gifts. The idea of giving used items may sound strange at first, but “secondhand” doesn’t have to mean “used up” or “cheap.” Keep an eye out for thoughtful gifts like board games (check that no pieces are missing) for your friend who hosts game nights or books for the family member with the impressive home library. Don’t forget to peruse online marketplaces and auction sites as well as thrift shops, especially if you’re in search of something specific.

  1. Give Classic Green Gifts

For loved ones who have expressed an interest in living more sustainably but haven’t taken the first step, consider gifting classic eco-friendly items. Reusable water bottles or shopping bags will have a low-waste legacy, and they can be found in fun designs that make them personalizable and thoughtful gifts. (Plus, when your loved ones start to use them, they’ll be encouraged to take the next step on their sustainability journey, and the next!)

For those friends who have been using reusable bottles and totes for ages, it can’t hurt to ask what type of green gifts would be helpful. (Consider a TerraCycle All-In-One Zero Waste Box™ so they can keep “unrecyclable” items out of landfills. They’ll be able to send in pesky items and materials they can’t recycle locally to be repurposed.)

  1. Give Experiences & Memories

Don’t want to buy “stuff” at all? Gift concert tickets, a national park pass, a personalized video from a celebrity, or other experiences. Your loved ones will make memories, and you’ll make less waste. 

Giving donations to charity is another popular green gifting suggestion. Americans report spending $852, on average, to do their holiday shopping. Imagine the impact that could be made if more of this money supported worthy causes. For a personalized donation in honor of a friend or family member, choose a non-profit with a cause they’re passionate about.

  1. Wrap It Up Right

When planning ahead for green gifting, keep packaging and wrapping materials in mind.

The tips above will help you avoid encountering too much packaging. When you do need to order something online, don’t worry. You can keep a TerraCycle Shipping Materials – Zero Waste Box™ on hand to recycle e-commerce materials such as stretch and bubble wrap, packing peanuts, air cushions, and tape dispensers (all of which are traditionally unrecyclable through municipal recycling). You can also call your local shipping store to see if they reuse intact plastic air packs and bubble wrap.

But what about wrapping materials?

Earth911 estimates that 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is used in the United States each year. Much of it is not recycled, and some types can’t be recycled because they contain plastic (e.g., shiny or glittery wrapping papers). That’s not to mention all of the ribbons and bows that are thrown out after the celebrations. 

When giving physical gifts, consider green options like Furoshiki (a traditional Japanese wrapping technique), reusable gift wrap, or mason jars (for treats, drink mixes, or small plants). When you unwrap gifts this year, open carefully and save what you can to reuse next year.

We recognize that “gifting green” can be time- and resource-intensive. We’d love to know how you gift sustainably to suit your lifestyle and budget. Tell us in the comments!

8 thoughts on “Green Gifts are Great Gifts! 6 Sustainable Holiday Shopping Tips

  1. I use festive material to wrap presents. I have sewn fabric bags with ribbon for a drawstring for those hard to wrap gifts.

  2. Wrapping gifts: Use ladies scarfs – you can cover the box and turn it to make a bow! They come out quite beautiful. Buy carboard boxes that are already decorated. I like boxes with maps or sayings. If they are left behind, I use them for storage all year and then break them out whenever I need a wrapped gift. Avoid glitter, it does not degrade and it probably looks pretty appetizing to a fish!

  3. Fill pretty reusable glass or plastic containers with homemade candy or cookies. Tie a bow of reusable twine – it gives an appealing rustic look.

  4. Save any Christmas cards and reuse portions for your gift labels. Use pinking shears to cut them, for appeal.

  5. Give membership to local botanical gardens or museums. It is a gift that keeps on giving – all year long. It also supports the arts.

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