Holiday gift giving has changed quite a bit over the last few years, people have less money to spend and consumers are much more aware of the impact their purchases have on both the environment and society. Let’s face it there are a heck of a lot of holidays to consider including Christmas, birthdays, secretary day, anniversaries, and Valentines. Gift giving doesn’t end there – when we are invited to a dinner, for instance, we often feel compelled to bring a long a gift.
The collective impact of these special days and events can be huge. Christmas alone is responsible for 25% more waste being sent to landfills. Halloween is actually responsible for more waste then Christmas. By recognizing the incredible waste that is generated, the urgency to do something becomes apparent. When purchasing gifts look for the most eco-friendly option available to you – such as whether it is made locally, uses recycled materials, the packaging is recyclable, the company uses solar or wind energy, etc. If you choose to purchase electronics, consider those powered by solar or rechargeable batteries.
Conscious shoppers tend to embrace practical, durable, ecological gifts that can provide some form convenience or financial benefit. At the same time, it is nice to find ways to alleviate the guilt felt during special days due to the high consumption, wrapping paper and travel activities. Here is a brief list of frugal and environmentally sound ideas to inspire your gift-giving purchases this year. If some of these seem too small, consider combining some of these items into an eco-gift basket. Most thrift and second-hand stores have piles of beautiful baskets just waiting for the creative shopper.
For the homeowner – A thermostat control that automatically turns the heat down at night, low flow showerhead attachment and tubes of caulking or weather stripping supplies. Dimmer switches, energy efficient lighting (CFL’s or LED’s); yellow bulbs are perfect for exterior lighting because they attract fewer insects. Hot water tank insulation kits and hot water pipe insulation kits are also excellent ideas. Consider tossing in a few electric socket and light switch insulation kits too (little foam inserts that go behind the plug and switch covers that are located on exterior walls).
For the gardener – A subscription to an organic gardening magazine, or save a seed variety from extinction in your friend’s name, or set up a membership to a seed organization. Bird, bat and butterfly houses, baths and feeders – or the patterns to build them – are a wonderful gift. Alternatively consider composting bins, worm bins, gift certificates to a nursery, or a membership with an environmental group.
Give Services – Rather than giving an item that must be wrapped, consider purchasing tickets to a performance, restaurant gift certificates or services such as lawn care, cleaning, music lessons, exercise or dance classes, tune-up or tire rotation services. Don’t forget to look at dog walking, babysitting, and massage, spas or gyms when looking at gift certificates. All of these ideas will help you support local businesses that you believe in while giving something that the recipient can truly benefit from.
Give Food – Home preserves such as dehydrated or canned foods make excellent gifts. There are a lot of people that find cooking cumbersome and they treasure ready-to-cook frozen meals like lasagne, pasta and casseroles. Snack foods and deserts are appreciated by most anyone. Fill reusable mason jars with all the dry ingredients for a recipe such as biscuits or brownies, and include the instructions for them to bake it at their convenience. Keep in mind that purchasing Brazil or cashew nuts supports tropical rainforests. Baskets of healthy foods are another wonderful idea to consider – especially if it contains samples from local producers.
Plants – living plants clean the air and provide a wonderful atmosphere. Perhaps you have plants, or know someone, that you could take slips or divisions from, root and pot up those new plants to share with your friends. Unique pots and containers can be found at most thrift and second hand stores.
Books – Most of us realize the benefits of literacy and supporting local businesses. You can do both by choosing to purchase books as gifts this year by supporting the local bookstore and local authors. However, you can also leave a legacy with your own book. This could be a journal, a collection of poetry, a family tree that you’ve researched or even a family recipe book. Perhaps you might consider including quotes from family members or people you admire and possibly a few favourite family photos.
Alternative gifts – A reusable coffee filter and whole organic coffee beans makes a nice gift for coffee lovers. Consider slippers and sweaters, as the recipient is less likely to turn up their thermostat. Choose toys and games with positive environmental or education values and those that emphasize cooperation, exploration or creative thinking.
Consider purchasing a set of sturdy, square bottomed, reusable, washable shopping bags. There are a lot of varieties to choose from, including those that are created from recycled plastic bottles, coffee sack material, renewable crops such as bamboo or hemp, and many other environmentally friendly options. Just how many bags per recipient? Typically 12 bags will likely cover most of the shopping activities for a family of 2-3, while 6-8 bags is appropriate for an individual.
Go a step further and purchase a set of mesh produce bags – this gift will reduce, or eliminate, the need to use the clear bags offered in the grocery store’s fresh produce department. These are washable, see-through and made of a very fine mesh material, weighing next to nothing, so they will not affect the cost when scaled at the checkout.
Want another option for reducing plastic waste? Consider giving a set of stainless-steel straws. These are dishwasher friendly and will eliminate the need for plastic straws.
The Tree: Give or purchase a living tree, or sponsor a non-profit that will plant one in honor of your friend. If you have purchased a live xmas tree, it can be donated to individuals with space on their land, the city, schools or parks when the season is over. Alternatively, plant it in your own yard for privacy, summer shade or soil and water erosion control. Trees are incredibly beneficial to pollinators and birds, and are very effective at removing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia, ozone and nitrogen oxides from our air.