With Thanksgiving Break looming, commercials already popping up on my phone advertising a non-traditional Black Friday and my mom asking me what I want for Christmas, I’ve been thinking a lot about Christmas shopping. Trust me — I am not anti-Christmas gift. But as I was brainstorming ideas to give to my mom, all I could think about was the Christmas gifts I’ve received only to lose somewhere in my room, or hang onto for a few years out of guilt before ultimately donating.
A big part of zero waste is anti-consumerism. We need to slow down this constant cycle of buying things only for them to end up in a dump or a landfill or an incinerator. It is a waste of resources and energy, and getting a slew of things we don’t really need every Dec. 25 isn’t helping with that. With this in mind, I tried to give my mom a really focused list of things that I actually need, that will last for a long time. But I also want my values to carry over to what I’m giving to other people.
Instead of looking at something I’ve done this past week, this article will be looking forward, hopefully providing you with some ideas for zero-waste gifting (or at least more sustainable gifting) just in time to start your holiday shopping over Thanksgiving Break.
I’ve always kind of used baked goods as a cop-out Christmas gift. It feels kind of like “I didn’t know what to get you, but everyone likes cookies, so here you go.” And while cookies are a great last-minute gift, and there’s still a pretty good chance at least one of my friends will be on the receiving end of a plate this year, other kinds of consumables can still be a really practical, thoughtful and sustainable gift. For example, if you have a friend who’s really into tea, you could get them a unique flavor, or stock them up with their favorite brand. If you have a friend who loves chocolate-covered almonds, but never buys them because they’re expensive, then you’re giving them something sustainable that’s still a treat.
Perhaps a lot of people our age are used to mooching off our parents, but paying for somebody’s Netflix or Spotify subscription is another really practical gift, and since there’s literally no physical component, there’s no waste! This may seem kind of boring, and like something that can’t really be wrapped, but it’s more useful and sustainable than buying somebody another pair of holiday socks or a gag gift they’ll get rid of in a month.
I put this one in quotations because I think it’s a little cheesy, but if you think your Mom would rather go skiing than receive yet another pair of earrings she secretly doesn’t really like that much, then by all means, take her skiing instead. This one is a little trickier right now, because a trip into the city doesn’t sound like too much fun when all the restaurants come with the threat of COVID-19. You’ll have to keep your mask on at every Instagrammable pit-stop, but if quality time is someone’s love language, then don’t discount this zero waste alternative to gift-giving.
Zero Waste supplies
I shy away a bit from this one, because you don’t want to feel like you’re moralizing your friends by pushing your lifestyle onto them, but lots of zero waste starter items would make great stocking stuffers. I got my first bamboo toothbrush in my stocking from my older sister, and look at me now. Things like shampoo bars, reusable straws or travel utensils can be really cute and handy, and could be fun for your friends to try out. If you do know somebody is already into sustainable living, things like velcro unpaper towels, a safety razor or a kitchen compost bin could make really practical gifts, and help them achieve their own zero waste goals.
This one also feels a little cheesy, cause it feels like a throwback to elementary school when we made macaroni necklaces and seashell ornaments. Obviously only do this if you feel like you can make a gift that really is thoughtful and practical — if you know how to knit, then knitting a scarf or a hat is a great gift from the heart. The most sustainable DIY gifts are those that are practical, so a clothing item might be more useful than something decorative. If you want to be really sustainable, consider a DIY zero waste item, like the reusable cotton rounds I made last week for your friends who wear makeup, or a nice, scented zero waste cleaner for your roommate who hasn’t cleaned their side of the bathroom in months.
Don’t shy away from shopping second hand either. Some people may think this is proof that your gift isn’t as high-quality, but if you know your friends aren’t snobby, finding a fashion piece that really suits them, or a really nice dish set at a thrift store can show them how well you know them, and make them feel like your gift is more unique.
Just consider what they really need
Buying commodities for your friends isn’t a bad thing. Things like home goods — pots and pans, kitchen knives, throw blankets — can work great as gifts. Just be sure when you’re buying these items that first of all, you know your friend will like it, and secondly that the item will be long-lasting and sustainable. For example, cast-iron pans are more sustainable than non-stick pans. Get kitchen knives that can be resharpened. Get a throw blanket with a pattern you really think they’ll like. These gifts only become unsustainable when they break, or when they’re returned the next day, or thrown out a year later because your friend never really wanted it in the first place.
Christmas shopping is always a tricky game of guessing at your friends and family’s wants and needs. Just be careful so that the idea of getting a gift for the sake of giving a gift doesn’t outweigh your values and thoughtfulness this season. Also keep in mind that wrapping paper isn’t recyclable, so try wrapping your gifts in newspaper or brown paper bags. Maybe you have a copy of the Daily Campus floating around?