The why behind reducing our wasteline at Christmas is pretty clear: an already struggling waste system gets 30% more added to it. However, simply putting a bit more thought into our shopping practices—both the where to buy and the what to get—can help cut back on unnecessary waste. Keep reading for environmentally friendly wrapping and gift ideas for those already on the green side.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
I have a confession to make: I love a nicely wrapped present. I love little details, like matching ribbons and gift tags. But there are so many ways of getting that same attention to detail without costing the earth.
Newspapers and magazines
This is an old standby, and one that can be can help greatly reduce your Christmas budget as you may already have some around the house.
Old atlas pages are my favourite way of wrapping gifts. The paper quality is good enough to look quite smart, and you can even use cities or locations that are meaningful to the recipient (I told you I liked details!). These sheets are especially good for wrapping DVDs and books.
Sheet music / books
Charity shops are a great source for both of these: old books of music and large tomes like dictionaries can be sacrificed for the greater good to wrap smaller packages.
Rolls of brown parcel paper can be purchased far cheaper than normal gift wrap and decorated however you wish: personalised for the recipient with some of their favourite things, a whole roll with a seasonal focus, or let the kids go wild with decorating on a rainy autumn day.
Scarf / tea towel
Wrapping something in a scarf or a tea towel allows you to give two presents in one. Cousin Norman’s in Chippenham does sari wraps that can double as a scarf (and sells gift wrap without plastic). On the High Street, Lush offers knot wraps, but any fabric can be pressed into service.
Standard cardboard gift bags make it easy to wrap awkward presents and, if you know the person well enough, you can ask to have the bag back afterwards and reuse it until it wears out. My preferred option is to give gifts in reusable bags that the recipient can then use themselves; Oxfam’s I was a Sari foldaway bags are lovely, one-of-a-kind practical gifts that are perfect for this.
I have to admit that I tend to re-use biscuit tins for office supplies because they fit perfectly in my desk drawers, but you can also use them to put gifts in. Or perhaps refill with homemade biscuits?
This is a suggestion that I came across recently at an environmental event. Maybe a wine bottle with a printed certificate for a wine-tasting experience rolled up inside? Or something that can double as a vase when it’s done? Interesting jars and other containers can also be used to house gifts; use a bit of tissue paper and twine to turn it into a Christmas cracker.
Regardless of what you decide to wrap with, it is always worth considering how packaging will be disposed of, and please keep in mind that gift wrap and greeting cards with foil and glitter usually can’t be recycled (and some of us loath glitter with the fiery hatred of a thousand suns. You’ve been duly warned).
Wondering if something can be recycled? Give paper (or foil) the scrunch test: if it can be crumpled into a ball and doesn’t bounce back, it’s most likely paper (or foil) and can be recycled accordingly. If it springs open, it is probably made with plastic and has to go with general rubbish to landfill.
FOR THOSE AIMING TO PALL (Plastic A Lot Less)
I see nothing wrong with using Christmas (or birthdays, anniversaries, or any gift-giving occasion) to promote a more sustainable lifestyle to family and friends. If you want to help your friends and family start down the path to less waste, then these gifts say “I’ve thought about you AND the planet.”
Blue Planet II highlighted the problem with plastics in the ocean, and the recent BBC documentaries Drowning in Plastic and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani’s War on Plastic has driven the point home even further. If you know someone who has expressed interest in reducing their own “wasteline”, there are a number of books now available to help them get started.
- Martin Dorey’s More. Plastic. What You Can Do to Make a Difference is good for those who are just starting to consider how to reduce plastic consumption, and his #2minutesolutions make it easy for anyone to participate. For children, Martin has recently published Kids Fight Plastic, which would make an excellent stocking stuffer for your favourite young person.
- There is also How to Give Up Plastic by Will McCallum and Beth Terry’s Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too.
- For those who have already started down the path of waste reduction, there are a number of books that share the steps the author took to go zero waste, such as Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. Tara Button’s A Life Less Throwaway is on my reading list!
With 2.5 billion coffee cups disposed of every year in the UK, anything that can make a dent in this number is a big help. I like the cups by eCoffee: made from sustainable bamboo*, they come in fun patterns (I’m partial to the William Morris designs), are incredibly lightweight, and are a great size for that morning cuppa. You could also consider getting a personalised mug or something a bit different through Redbubble (useful if your recipient is a fan of pop culture references).
Looking for a bit extra? Fairtrade tea or coffee is a nice stocking filler, or a voucher to a friend or family member’s favourite café is a great way to reduce waste while letting them get exactly what they want.
There are so many stylish reusable water bottles out there now that you are spoiled for choice: metal, BPA-free plastic, foldable … Chilly’s tends to get excellent reviews, and I love my Refill Chippenham water bottle from Jerry.† Regardless of the type you get, helping to avoid single-use plastics is a gift that benefits everyone.
If you have a friend or family member who enjoys baking, cooking, or eating, there are a number of ways to cut down on plastic waste in the kitchen: reusable cutlery or straws, veggie bags, and beeswax wraps are just a few of the options available. Have a virtual peek in my own kitchen to see what’s available.
If you know a smoker, this could be a great stocking gift. Cigarette filters are made from plastic and can take up to 10 years to degrade, leaching chemicals the entire time. Butts should be disposed of properly, not left on the ground, and these ashtrays can help.
Bamboo cups were in the news earlier this year for negative reasons. Having read through the current research, I am happy to continue using them myself at present while waiting to see what additional research reveals. Care instructions should be followed for all bamboo products: they should not be used in the microwave.
If you’re a Chippenham resident, you still have time to enter the giveaway for a Refill Chippenham bottle: simply leave a comment on the pinned Facebook post, send a tweet to OffTheGroundOrg, or email me with what you’re planning to do to reduce waste this Christmas. The contest ends 15 November and we’ll be picking five people at random to win a bottle!
Read the entire 2019 More Thought, Less Waste gift guide:
- Part 1: Why it’s so important to cut back on waste, especially at Christmas (in the UK, there’s a 30% increase in rubbish compared to the rest of the year).
- Part 2: How to plan ahead to avoid waste and where you can shop; let me know if you have any favourites that should be included next year.
- Part 3: Reduced waste wrapping and green gifts for those who are interested in the environment (or wouldn’t mind a gentle, plastic-free nudge). Don’t forget to give paper and foil the scrunch test! If it stays scrunched it’s paper or foil and can be recycled accordingly; if it bounces back, it’s made with plastic and likely has to go to landfill.
- Part 4: Whether you’re catering for readers or film buffs, foodies or explorers, there is something for everyone and it doesn’t necessarily require packaging.
- Part 5: Gift suggestions for around the house and garden (and if you’re into helping bees, make sure to check out the details for safe bee houses—they’re not all created equal).
- Part 6: Wrapping things up with suggestions ranging from stuff with a story to lessons and experiences. If you think there’s something missing, please drop me a line!
If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do to reduce your wasteline throughout the year, check out related posts:
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Bathroom
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Wardrobe
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Out and About
- Reduce Your Wasteline: The Kitchen
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Everything Else
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Get Social
- Reduce Your Wasteline: Gift Giving
- Greenwashing and Unintended Consequences
- Meeting in the Middle on Waste Reduction
- How I Lost 20 Pounds in One Year
- Tip of the Iceberg