It’s December, so for many of us it means that instead of sugar plums, our heads are filled with visions of gift lists for the holidays. This season of giving can be so special, and it’s so fun to see someone you love light up over the perfect gift. Unfortunately, a lot of our gift giving can be really hard on the planet; in America alone, we throw away 25% more trash in the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than during any other time of the year (Stanford University). That translates to 25 MILLION extra pounds of garbage! A lot of this extra waste comes from the packaging on the items we give as gifts, as well as (unfortunately) a lot of the gifts themselves. We often become so stressed making sure to give something to everyone you know that you end up going for the cheap trinket that nobody really wants or needs, and it ultimately finds its way to the trash. So, this holiday season, consider giving some love to Mother Natch’ by giving waste-free gifts that will be loved and used for years to come (and hopefully take some stress off your mind and wallet in the process.)
You may have seen images of the “Buyerarchy of Needs” making the rounds on your socials, so for you this December I’ve organized this gift guide accordingly. If you use what you have or what has already been produced (i.e. second-hand items) before buying new items, you’re already choosing the MOST sustainable and eco-friendly option.
It’s a common misconception that giving eco-friendly gifts means spending way more money, but really, some of the most sustainable options are also the cheapest! One of the most budget friendly options is to make gifts yourself, especially if you can get creative and use materials that you already have on hand. I know I find gifts that someone put love and effort into making so incredibly meaningful, even when it’s as simple as a handmade card. While it does require a bit more time and planning, unleashing your creativity to make gifts is also something really fun to do on your winter vacation days (because let’s be real, you know you don’t need to spend it watching another episode of Riverdale). Maybe you have a shell or rock collection you could turn into jewelry or hanging mobiles, an old broken surfboard you can upcycle into a coffee table or bookshelf, or some well-loved flannels that you can turn into a festive pillow (hello Pinterest inspo). If you’re the creative type, drawings, paintings, ceramics, carvings, knit or woven items, a quirky cross-stitch, or whatever else you like to make never fail to impress on Christmas morning. If you’re not as confident in your artistic abilities, you could simply give a framed picture of a favorite memory with your loved ones. You can even make super cheap wall art just with access to a printer; find a quote, art piece, or photograph online (as long as it’s in the public domain), print it, and throw it in a nice frame. Done!
Give Experiences & Your Time
Remember the gift coupons you made for your parents when you were in elementary school? You know, for things like “free hugs”, “breakfast in bed”, or “doing the dishes”? They still rock as gifts (particularly when you’re on a budget), just update them a little. Nothing is more valuable than your time, especially when we are all so so busy all the time. Doing something to take some of the stress off of someone’s shoulders, like cooking a meal, cleaning or mending services, a home spa day, or even just walking their dog is deeply meaningful.
Giving experiences is also an awesome and low-waste option. Giving tickets to concerts, games, retreats, classes, ski lifts, tours, escape rooms, or whatever else the person you’re gifting enjoys will definitely be cause for excitement. Even a simple gift card to a coffee shop or restaurant will always be appreciated. And hey, maybe they’ll ask you to be their plus one!
We all have that one person on our list that is just. So. Impossible. To. Shop. For. They already have everything they need and won’t give you any ideas of what to get. Instead of getting them another thing, you can give to charitable or nonprofit organizations in their name. This is also a great way to directly benefit conservation efforts by donating to nonprofits working to protect endangered animals and habitats, or that are working to educate people about the environment. Here’s a few favorites from our team:
Everblue *wink wink* https://www.oceaneverblue.org/
One Tree Planted https://onetreeplanted.org/
Balu Blue Foundation https://balubluefoundation.org/
Ocean Conservancy https://oceanconservancy.org/
Gili Eco Trust https://giliecotrust.com/
National Parks Service https://www.nps.gov/index.htm
Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii http://sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org/
The Marine Debris Research Center at Hawaii Pacific University https://www.hpu.edu/cncs/cmdr/index.html
Brave Trails https://www.bravetrails.org/
Coral Restoration Foundation https://www.coralrestoration.org/
Changing Tides Foundation https://www.changingtidesfoundation.org/
International Fund for Animal Welfare https://www.ifaw.org/
Mission Blue https://www.ifaw.org/
Surfrider Foundation https://www.surfrider.org/
Plastic Ocean Project https://www.plasticoceanproject.org/
Plastic Oceans International https://plasticoceans.org/
The Ocean Agency https://theoceanagency.org/
R.E.S.C.U.E. (Reti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants) https://www.retetielephants.org/
Coral Gardeners https://www.coralgardeners.org/
The Environmental Defense Fund https://www.edf.org/
Sea Legacy https://www.sealegacy.org/
Shopping second hand is a super budget-friendly and sustainable option. It may take a little more shopping around than going to the mall, but if you keep an open mind, you’re sure to find something unique. Antique stores are goldmines for beautiful pieces and fodder for upcycling projects. If, like me, you live in a small town and the thrifting options are limited, there are plenty of apps and websites to help out. I’m personally OBSESSED with Poshmark and ThredUP for buying pre-owned clothes, they make it easy to find exactly the type of clothing item you’re looking for, and the clothes are always in great condition! (#notsponsored, just in love). Just be sure to reuse the shipping packaging if you thrift online.
Shop Sustainable Brands & Local Businesses
If you choose to buy new items, put your money towards companies who make their products from sustainable materials, use little or no plastic packaging or components, or give money back to environmental initiatives. While products from these companies do tend to be more expensive, they are also higher quality and will last much longer than items from fast fashion and big box stores. This can also be a great opportunity to introduce people on your list to easy ways to live more sustainably and reduce their plastic consumption with reusable options. Below are a ton of great brands that Everblue team members personally love and support:
~Some questions to ask when buying clothing: Is it made from natural materials (cotton, wool, hemp, flax, silk) or recycled polyester? Is it something that I/the recipient would wear at least 30 times? Would it last for several years?
Vitamin A Swimwear
Shapes in the Sand
Gary McNeill Concepts (surfboards)
Personal Hygiene & Beauty
In addition to all these amazing brands, it’s also a great idea to shop local! Supporting small local businesses, artists, and craftsmen not only reduces your carbon footprint by reducing transportation emissions, it gives back to your local community. Win-win!
Ultimately, no matter what you choose to gift this holiday season, focus on giving less. Now I’m not saying you have to be a Scrooge to help the environment. Rather, instead of trying to get a thing for everyone you know and their dog, give your time, give your energy, do things for people that make them feel loved and cared for. And if you give material things, give one or two high quality gifts that will be cherished and that minimize your environmental impact, rather than a sleigh full of cheap plastic. It will be gentler on your wallet (and your stress level) as well as the environment.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from me and from all of us here at Everblue!
BONUS: Reduce waste from gift wrapping
“If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.” (Stanford University)
Start saving all your wrapping paper, tissue paper, and ribbons and start reusing them! It will keep tons of waste out of landfills and reduce the demand for new paper and plastic products. If you don’t have a stash of old gift wrapping you can use brown kraft paper and colored cotton or hemp string to wrap gifts in a simple, minimalist aesthetic. You can also paint or draw on the kraft paper and add bits of greenery or dried flowers to jazz up the look of your gift. You can also try wrapping gifts in fabric with the beautiful Japanese method of furoshiki (there are lots of tutorials online), just make sure that you get your fabric back or that whomever you’re gifting will continue to use it. With furoshiki you can even make the wrapping part of the gift by using a scarf, bandana, or handkerchief.
By: Erin Parker
Stanford University Land, Buildings, & Real Estate. https://lbre.stanford.edu/pssistanford-recycling/frequently-asked-questions/frequently-asked-questions-holiday-waste-prevention
Buyerarchy of Needs design: @sarahlazarovic