1 in 5 unwanted presents ends in landfill. Ever since I started researching sustainability for work I've had this figure stuck in my head. Sure I love a present just as much as the next person but do I really need most of the things I get for special occasions? I pretty much know I don't. And to think that people throw away some of the things I gift them definitely bothers me as I hate to think I'm creating unnecessary waste.
To add to that, I'm also a sucker for hand written cards. And when I say hand written I mean calligraphy sets and special paper. You know how some people have hobbies with cool names like philately - collecting stamps, or numismatics - collecting coins? My hobby growing up was collecting pens, writing paper and stickers, not quite philately but somewhere in the area? I have thousands of stickers. I'm slowing opening up my magic box to allow my son to use them for his projects but it took me a while to accept I would personally not be using (or collecting) them anymore.
In Britain, it's estimated we buy one billion Christmas cards each year. For a population of just over 66 million people that's roughly 15 cards per person. That doesn't include hand-made ones and if you're a parent you'll get plenty of those from your kids. Not to mention wrapping paper and plastic packaging - the waste there is in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes.
Luckily (or unluckily depending on how you want to look at this) we've finally had a wake-up call from world organisations and key figures fighting waste, pollution and global warming. After decades of shouting about matters most of us swept under the rug, their hoarse voices found a way into our eardrums and left a pretty clear message - act now or suffer the consequences in your lifetime. So the cynical consumer can't really say yolo and leave the mess to future generation. It's happening now and it will get worse fast.
So what gifts can you still make and receive and not feel like the oceans are dying because of you? Although there aren't really plenty of fish left in the sea we do have plenty of sustainable options that we can choose from and allow the world to recover a bit from all the damage we've been doing.
Anything bought in a charity or second hand shop
Everything in charity shops is technically recycled without creating additional waste and you get the bonus of helping a good cause. Not to mention you can grab yourself quite a deal on some things and you don't have to feel guilty about buying things that wouldn't make it on the sustainable things list if bought new.
You can also get second-hand toys for children on ebay. My son is crazy about Brio trains and I'm getting crazy with the price of everything he asks for. My husband decided we couldn't actually keep buying him sets as it was turning into a very expensive habit so he turned to ebay instead. You can often find the items you're after there and just bid on them. If you're serious about it you can even use auction snipers like Gixen so others don't outbid you. We bought this set on ebay for £20 and it brought loads of extra pieces as well.
Anything made from recycled materials
Glass, wood, cotton, steel... the list can go on. By choosing products that use recycled materials you're avoiding the waste and pollution created from using raw materials.
When it comes to your kids, you've pretty much got a blank canvas of educating them early about sustainability and eco friendly living. Whatever they see you purchasing in your day to day will leave a mark on their future shopping habits too. When you shop for them, try to stick with the basics and always pick wooden toys over plastic or organic cotton over synthetic fabrics.
I personally love Melissa and Doug toys and often keep an eye on sales at Frugi, Baby Mori and Zara's Join Life collection. Having said that, I don't really buy that many clothes for my son, he's so lucky to get plenty of hand-me-downs from friends and kids in our local community. I love how he takes pride in wearing things came from the people he knows.
Whatever the gift, you can actually make an even higher impact by ditching the wrapping paper. If you really can't, then choose eco friendly wrapping paper. You want something unbleached, fully recycled and compostable so check out Re-wrapped for some very cool designs. . Definitely skip the shiny, glittery stuff - those are the nasties when it comes to paper, so stick to eco friendly packaging. As for the card, do you really need to include one (the sigh as I write this...)? Can you send a video instead that people will hopefully keep forever?
It doesn't get more waste-free than this. Okay that's not true, you could skip gifts altogether but why do that when you can yolo sustainably? Gifting money can be very a very eco friendly gift as it skips the physical product, the wrapping, the gift bag and so on while also allowing the receiver to either buy something they actually want (and will use instead of chuck away) or invest the money for future wealth. More and more wealth managers are offering ESG investments so you are technically gifting sustainability itself if the money is used in sustainable portfolios or even thematic investments.
How do eco friendly gifts work when it comes to young children? Surely a 2 year old gets more impressed with a shiny toy than with what's in their bank account. For me, the key is balance. I cannot say I've stopped buying presents altogether but I did get into a habit of reducing physical gifts and making sure the things I do buy are eco friendly.
In my case that means buying zero plastic toys, unless they're second hand and there's a strong reason why I have to buy that plastic item to begin with. Instead I just pick one eco friendly gift and compensate for half of the amount with money into the child's account. Maybe a tad awkward at first but parents are getting increasingly more frustrated with piling up useless toys and more drawn towards investing for their kids from an early age. Even £10 or £20 contributions can make a difference in the long term.
All writers' opinions are their own and should not be read as personal financial advice. Individual investors should make their own decisions or seek independent advice. As with any investment, your capital is at risk and may be going up as well as down which means you may be left with less than your initial investment.