As Christmas is approaching, soon enough we’ll be thinking about what gifts to get for our loved ones and not only. So, for our second part of Santa’s Role in a Circular Economy series, we will be focusing on all things to do with gifts.
Gifts wrapped up in colourful paper might look beautiful piled up under the Christmas tree, but there is an ugly side to its purpose. It gets admired for a short time, then ripped and thrown out. And the worse part is that most wrapping paper, is not just paper: it contains microplastics. These can be found in most glossy, metallic or glitter encrusted papers and although popular, unfortunately cannot be recycled. In the UK alone, it is estimated that in 2018, 108 million rolls of wrapping paper were thrown away after Christmas.
Alternative gift wrap ideas
Luckily, it’s easy enough to use alternatives that make the bottom of your tree look nice and cosier.
A more obvious option is to choose recyclable paper, or paper with a high recycled content. You can find many nice options nowadays with beautiful designs or even use craft paper and old newspaper.
But how about some non-paper alternatives? You can get creative with wrapping your gifts by using something that can perhaps be part of the gift and kept once opened.
An idea can be to use those canvas tote or shopping bags you keep stored, or even buy one you know the person receiving your gift will like and use. Or maybe you can use a scarf or even a towel or pillowcase. Some gifts could be given in a basket or wooden box or you can even use glass jars you may have stored.
Too many gifts
We tend to associate Christmas with excess, so we sometimes go overboard with presents and buy more than needed, especially with the so-called stocking fillers, all the little complementary gifts to somehow make gift giving feel more special. But are these necessary?
Candles, slippers, underwear, socks, pyjamas, cosmetics and novelty items have been found as the least appreciated gifts in surveys in the UK, US and Australia.
A 2019 survey from the UK, found that people receive an average of two unwanted gifts every Christmas. It was also estimated that almost one in five of unwanted gifts would end up in the landfill, a total of approximately 22,7 million gifts. The good news is that around a third was donated to charity, but around 20% of them were simply put away and forgotten in people’s homes.
Buying gifts that matter, last or… break down
A meaningful gift, is one a person actually wants, especially considering the above.
When that is not possible, there are still gifts that can show appreciation to a person without the negative effects on the environment. These can be items made from natural or recycled materials, are repairable, can be composted, recycled or upcycled at the end of their life cycle.
Some examples of such presents can be perhaps a house plant, or items made from wood like frames, or made from recycled materials like clothing, footwear, jewellery or decorative artifacts. Other examples are beauty products that are vegan, cruelty-free and made with zero plastic or even refurbished tech items. Ecological gift options are can also be found for children, such as toys made from recycled plastic, wooden toys, beeswax crayons or eco-dough made from organic materials.
Other alternatives can be gifts that are not physical, such as an experience like a guided tour outdoors, a spa treatment, or museum visit, or maybe a short course. It is also possible to buy products or vouchers that support good causes.
Buy local or Fair Trade
Although it can be tough to avoid the sales made from big brands at this time of the year, shopping from a local business can help the environment by cutting carbon emissions and air pollution while helping your local economy and community.
You can also try to buy Fair Trade Certified products (or equivalent certification in your country): Products with this sustainability label ensure a set of standards are met in the production and supply of a product or ingredient. For farmers and workers, it means workers’ rights, safer working conditions and fairer pay are ensured. For shoppers it means high quality, ethically produced products.
Eco friendly gifting during difficult times
While the above are good practices we can all adopt to help the environment, it is also true that some of these options might be more costly. Items made from organic, eco-friendly or sustainably sourced materials, or found in local shops often come at a price.
So at a time when the cost of living is rising how can we still share gift giving moments while keeping a clear consciousness?
One way as described above, is to make sure gifts offered are things the receiver actually wants and perhaps plan financially a little in advance. Another is to reconsider whether all the little extra gifts are really necessary, as many small purchases add to more spending.
At this time it is also worth remembering that over the years the giving element of Christmas has become more and more associated with the gifting of material things, the more gifts and the more expensive, the more appreciation. But this is not its true spirit and it turns what should be a time to reflect and think about our loved ones into a very stressful gift shopping exercise .
A fun way around this can be to play secret Santa. Among a group of people or a family, each person’s name is put on a piece of paper and all into a bowl. Everyone picks one piece of paper randomly and whosoever name is on that paper, that’s the only person they need to give a gift to.
Playing this game adds mystery, takes away the stress from shopping and one can focus on making a special and truly meaningful present to that one person.
Christmas is meant to be a time of togetherness and celebration. It’s a time of giving and being selfless, forgiving and thinking about others. Nowadays it is important that it becomes a time to also think about the environment.
Check Part 1: The Christmas tree and ornaments and Part 3: Food and cutlery now out, of our series on Santa’s role in a Circular Economy!
The Circular Based Waste Management project is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA and Norway Grants Fund for Regional Cooperation – eeagrants.org.