This article was written 21.06.07, please excuse any reference to the COVID pandemic that no longer applies.
So you’ve decided to go zero waste, or someone you know has decided to go zero waste. Everything was going swimmingly until you realized the holidays were coming fast, and now you’re freaking out because you don’t what you’re gonna do.
First: take a deep breath.
Your loved one didn’t turn into an alien, you can still give them very meaningful gifts without having to create a lot of waste. Your loved one also isn’t going to assume that just because they changed their life, that you are now an expert. As long as you try to give them something that aligns with their new lifestyle, I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
For those who are trying to become zero waste: Your family may get some stuff wrong, or still give you non-zero waste presents – but that’s totally fine! Being zero waste is not about doing everything perfectly, it’s about trying. As long as you’re trying to do better, you’ll be fine.
Though if you’re super anxious about what they may get you, give them a list! Or, send them this article so they can get some zero waste ideas.
Gift Idea #1: Gift Cards
Sure, it’s a little cliché, but gift cards are actually great presents! As long as you know a store the person likes, you’re set. No having to worry about whether you got the right thing, in the right colour, or if they even need the thing – just give them a gift card, and boom! Done. You don’t even have to wrap it! Which is great for the whole don’t-create-waste thing. (Though you may want to at least put it in a card and not like… Frisbee it at their head)
When I was younger (elementary school age), I remember one time I got a gift card from a family member as a gift, and I remember feeling insulted. Every single year, they asked me and my siblings for a list of stuff we wanted, and every single year? They never got us stuff off our lists! This used to drive me crazy! Honestly why would you ask someone what they wanted as a gift and then not buy it?
Anyway, the year I got the gift card, I was upset, because I had given them my list, and they didn’t get me something off it. Again. I felt like they were saying they couldn’t be bothered to actually get me something I wanted (even though I gave them a list).
It wasn’t until later when I went to actually use the gift card that I realized: instead of buying me 1 thing I wanted that I probably wouldn’t like by this time next year, they gave me the freedom to pick whatever I wanted. (As long as it was within the gift card’s price range)
Once I figured that out, I started asking for gift cards every year, and now love to get them! I not only like having the freedom to pick whatever I want, I also think there’s a bit of privacy at play here – yes, they’re family and they might love you, but they don’t need to know every single thing you own.
Gift Idea #2: Dry Mason Jar Mixes
You’ve probably seen these on Instagram, or Pinterest, and though I kind of hate how popular they’ve become (I don’t need 100 almost-identical jars to flood my feed every year), they’re actually a pretty cool idea.
You don’t even have to be a good cook to give out these babies! All you need is the ability to measure and pour, and a container you don’t mind never getting back. You don’t even have to really dress them up – just give them a nice-looking label, and maybe tie a ribbon around the lid and you’re done.
There’s also all kinds of dry mixes you can give people: cookies, brownies, cake, cupcakes, pancakes – whatever baked good their hearts desire! You will need to include a recipe card for these, so they do contain a little waste, but it’s way less than having to buy a product (that’s usually in plastic packaging) and then wrapping that in something just to throw it away.
Also, they (or you!) can reuse the jar!
Gift Idea #3: An Experience
Similar to the gift card idea, this gift can be great, though some people may turn up their nose at it. You could pay for them to have a massage, a cooking class, concert tickets, a subscription to something you think they’d love – whatever you pick, just make sure it’s an ‘experience’ instead of a physical product. You could also go with them and then your gift is a twofer of not only being a cool thing they can talk about later, but it’s also turned into a good bonding experience.
People often look back on the experiences and things they tried with fondness rather than an item. Life is all about experiences, so why not make someone else’s a little cooler and give them the chance to try something they might not otherwise get to?
If you still want to gift the person an actual item, try to make it something you know they’ll use a lot, or something you know they need, like clothing or a kitchen appliance. Also, see if you can skip the wrapping paper by using a gift bag, or see if you can get some recycled paper and/or paper tape. That way, it’s as zero waste as possible.
Or, you could do what my dad used to when I was little: tell the gift receiver to stick out their hands and close their eyes. (He did this because he is terrible at wrapping presents, so he’d often forego wrapping all together and just hide whatever it was behind his back) Can’t get more zero waste for wrapping than using none!
I hope the above ideas have helped to get your zero waste gift-giver ball rolling. It’s really not that hard to make things ‘zero waste’, it just takes a little bit more thought when you’re first getting started. But, once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’ll become as normal as any of your other traditions/lifestyle choices.
Case in point: Even before I ever heard of the words ‘zero waste’, I was trying to think of homemade gifts I could give my family because I was broke. (Want to give a stranger a zero waste present? Sign up for my Patreon! Doing so allows me to continue bringing you the content you love, for as little as $1/month!) I decided to make homemade snacks and handed them out in jars I got from Dollarama.
Everyone loved them! Not only did almost everyone finish their jars before the get together ended, they also marvelled at how ‘unique’ a gift idea it was. I didn’t think they were going to finish them at the party, but it worked out well, because everyone who finished gave me their jars back and said they wanted a refill for next year. So I reused the jars the next year, and again, they were a hit.
I planned on reusing them again, but that’s when the pandemic hit. Not to worry though, I still have them! They’re just waiting to be used whenever we can see each other again. I even left the labels and bows on, so everyone keeps getting their own jars back!
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