Meet Sierra, the founder of Lovewild Design, a sustainable store and studio in Brooklyn, New York. Sierra left a career in sustainable development to make a small but mighty impact with her line of home, bath and baby goods. Each item is consciously created to have a small footprint from start to finish. We asked her to create a helpful, informative guide to sustainable gifts this holiday season!
Giving a thoughtfully chosen sustainable gift is a great way to connect with family and friends and for many it serves as a love language. Between last minute online ordering, plastic coated wrappings and synthetic ribbons, Americans are contributing an extra 25 million tons of garbage to landfills between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve each year. While it’s fun to celebrate, knowing that these joyful embellishments may pollute our waterways and contribute to a warmer planet isn’t all that jolly.
When buying something for myself or others I go through a little checklist:
- How long will I realistically use it?
- If it breaks, can I easily fix it?
- Can I gift or sell it when it’s no longer needed?
- Where will it end up at the end of its life; recycled, composted or trashed?
It may feel overwhelming at first, so I put together a few simple tips below. Feel free to pick one as a starting point to your journey to living (& gifting!) more sustainably!
Shop Second Hand Sustainable Gifts
Second-hand shopping doesn’t just mean searching your local thrift store, nor does it have to mean used! Many of the items listed on sites like eBay are tagged with “NWT” (new with tags) or “MIB” (mint in box). There is such a wide array of online resources to find the perfect sustainable gift for that hard to shop for aunt.
- For just about everything
- Facebook Marketplace
- Furniture + Home
- Everything But The House
- Revival Rugs
- Apartment Therapy Bazaar
Instead of searching for a sustainable gift to buy, take on a non-consumer approach! Seek out your local Buy Nothing group. They’re popular Facebook groups where neighbors post items they’re looking to give away or something they’re in search of.
Don’t Rely On Returns
More and more people are shopping in excess thanks to free returns which do not always end up back in the warehouse. If the returned items aren’t trashed, they’re often sold in pallets to resellers where you can find the same item you’d find on Amazon, turn up on eBay instead. The trucks hauling returns burn roughly 1.6 billion gallons of diesel fuel, resulting in 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Non-Material Sustainable Gifts
So many of us are in a constant state of spring cleaning, so it can feel silly to load up our loved ones with more material gifts. Skip it! Experience-based presents are a great sustainable gift option that will appeal to a recipient’s interests without cluttering their house. Online classes, memberships or tickets to a performance or exhibit are all super thoughtful sustainable gifts. Gift certificates from local small businesses like their favorite restaurant are great for last minute purchases!
DIY Sustainable Gifts
Keep it simple by making something yourself or offering your time. Even the least crafty of us can work on a handmade sustainable gift. A batch of cookies or homemade jam are simple gestures that will surely be enjoyed. If you’re not up for baking, gift your services! Babysitting or dog walking coupons are always appreciated.
Shop Small for Sustainable Gifts
Buying from big corporations can mean minimal insight into their practices such as environmental responsibility and fair trade practices. One of the many reasons to shop small? Transparency! A small business can generally track their footprint from sourcing to shipping and packaging. If you’re not sure, small businesses are easier to get in touch with to find out directly where their environmental priorities fall.
When buying from sustainable brands, check to see if their ethos really align with their products. Opt for natural and organic fibers in textiles, and fair trade practices if it’s made elsewhere. For bath and skincare, see if the label includes easy to pronounce, locally sourced, wild crafted or organic ingredients.
So you’ve found the perfect sustainable gift… how are you going to wrap it?
The unfortunate bottom line is if it’s glittery, metallic or with a plastic film, it’ll wind up in the already overflowing landfills. Much of the paper you might assume is recyclable is actually lined with a plastic film for durability. A simple way to test recyclability is by scrunching up the paper into a ball. If it stays rolled up, it’s often recyclable. If the ball expands and the folds have trouble staying, it’s most likely plastic-coated.
The 8,000 tons of wrapping paper used during the holiday season equates to a whopping 50,000 trees! If you are set on buying gift wrap, find recycled paper printed with earth friendly vegetable inks. You can even customize your own from NoIssue!
Put aside newspapers and old maps for larger gifts. Embellish with a cotton, silk or hemp ribbon for some added flair or skip the ribbon altogether by drawing it on.
Some retailers like Trader Joe’s take into account reusing their paper bags for wrapping. Their bags around the holidays feature holiday illustrations and gift tags that you can cut out to give their bag a second life. Your brown-paper-bag-wrapped gift never needs to look drab. Dress it up with dried herbs like rosemary or eucalyptus.
Try your hand at furoshiki, or the art of Japanese fabric wrapping. While Furoshiki is traditionally a square piece of cloth meant to gift wrap or transport items, you can put any scrap fabric or handkerchief to use.
As opposed to traditional plastic tape, try washi tape which is typically made of bamboo or hemp and a compostable adhesive. Water activated paper tape is also a great option. You can easily make your own water activated tape by making wheat paste which is essentially just water and flour. Making your own tape is similar to papier-mâché but one sided instead of dunking the whole strip of paper.
Opt for holiday cards that are made from recycled materials! Try these plantable cards from my shop, Lovewild Design. They’re made from 100% post consumer waste and embedded with wildflower seeds. Cards with glitter or foil cannot be recycled. It’s best to choose recycled paper as it saves energy, saves water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Extra tips for a low waste holiday season
- 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Opt for rechargeable batteries or find a battery recycling program near you.
- Calculate how much food you’ll actually need. Food waste is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases.
- Ask your guests to bring their own food containers so you can send them home with leftovers.
- Choose energy efficient LED lights and put the holiday lights on timers to cut down on their use.
- Reuse the wrapping and shipping materials you receive.
- A tip from the Apoterra team: This year has moved many shoppers away from in-person shopping, and toward online purchasing for many items. While online shopping is certainly the safest bet during a pandemic, the flip slide is that there's an excess of shipping materials & packaging that often goes to waste. Before you purchase online, here are a few things to consider:
- Look for brands that ship orders using sustainable or recycled materials (like Apoterra!)
- Schedule curbside pickup whenever possible
- If ordering multiple items, make sure to consolidate the order into one shipment rather than multiple (sometimes brands prefer the option to send you each item as it becomes available!)