Gifts are not one of my love languages.
I’ve taken the quiz, and I know this for a fact. It’s dead last.
I’m not sure to what extent this is nurture, or if it’s written into my astrological or actual DNA, but I do know that most of my friends who are non-Christians or didn’t celebrate Christmas, are similarly ambivalent about holiday shopping.
Growing up Jewish, we lit the candles every night of Hanukah, but there was not one gift per night. My parents valued experiences over stuff, and were luckily very into the homemade “coupons” for back massages, breakfasts in bed, and hugs that I would give them every holiday.
Perhaps out of rebellion for never getting to enjoy the festiveness of the holiday season with horrifying sweaters or twinkle lights on our backyard’s evergreens, I’ve carried a bit of bitterness around holiday gifting into adulthood. While I can continue to psychoanalyze the origins, I know that a big source of my current bias has to do with waste.
As a contrast to my family, Charlie’s mother takes gifts very seriously. It is definitely her primary love language, and even if I had never been the recipient of her Easter bunny baskets or birthday knitted slippers, I would know that she has a lot of love to give.
Every year, Charlie comes home from Christmas with about double the nights of Hanukah in gifts. And for every fabulous and needed item, there’s one stocking stuffer whose only purpose was to give the 30-year-old child inside one more thing to unwrap. These tchotchkes (as my people would call them), spend about a month hanging out in a gift bag on the hall bench, before getting added to a donation bag, before likely ending up in landfill.
Even as only a witness, it makes me feel wasteful and sad.
A big lesson from my no waste experiment was that you can buy organic and recycle until the cows come home, but until you start buying less stuff, it can all feel a little futile.
One little stocking stuffer equals a lot of landfill. There’s the tremendous amount of bubble mailers and packaging that goes into last minute Amazon purchases, the plastic-coated gift bags, wrap and ribbon (none of which is recyclable), and then, often, the gift itself.
I’m not trying to be a Scrooge here, though I’m sure I’ve driven many of you into the other room to furiously thread cranberries onto dental floss. What I am trying to say in a nutshell is that the holiday season is one of the highest periods of waste around, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
You can indulge your love of gifts, use it as your language of love, and show Mother Nature some love in the process. Read on for some of my strategies for reducing waste this holiday season, including sustainable wrapping options, ways to up your recycling game, and stocking stuffers that can help you be greener year round.
With health and hedonism,
LOW WASTE HOLIDAY GIFTING STRATEGIES
- Shop locally. This requires you to get organized now and start getting your errands out of the way. Another option is to order online from stores that are committed to waste-free shipping. Package Free not only sells products that are sustainably made, everything ships zero waste. So you can rest assured that you won’t be dealing with packing peanuts or unnecessary foam.
- Use recyclable wrapping options. It may not have the pizzazz of a pack of elves, but newspaper, kraft paper, or butcher paper (so long as it’s biodegradable) and biodegradable twine does have an attractive DIY look. You can even string some pinecones, dried flowers or cranberries onto the name tag for added festiveness, then compost the entirety of your wrapping waste. You can also buy recyclable traditional gift wrap from the company Wrappily.
- Up your recycling game. Even if you have to order your gifts online, or shroud them in your favorite tartan gift wrap, there are still plenty of other ways you can reduce waste by recycling properly. Soft plastic recycling is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to cut down on the number of garbage bags you generate. I’ve giving you a play by play below.
- Choose experiences over things. You can still make cool cards or hand-drawn coupons that give the recipient something else to unwrap. Maybe it won’t look as robust under the tree, but it’s never too late to start teaching people that good things come in small packages, even on Christmas. I’ve listed some ideas below.
- Gift for good: donate, donate, donate. Instead of a material gift, donate in your loved ones names to a cause that matters to them. Micro-lending websites like Kiva allow your family to support small business owners across the world and take part in someone else’s success. Better yet, use a donation as an opportunity to offset your holiday waste by choosing an eco-minded charity. Consider it part of your “carbon tax.” I have some suggestions, via my friend Sasha Swerdloff below. If you go this route, spread the good cheer and use the hashtag #giftforgood on instagram!
- If a thing, make it something reusable, useful and sturdy. OR something that will help you live a greener life in the first place. For this category, I have a whole handful of suggestions below.
- Re-gift. I know this sounds like the cheapo way to go. But there’s no shame in passing on something gently used that you know a family member would love. Books are a great example, and something I am constantly regifting anyway.
THE BEST RECYCLABLE, REUSABLE OR BIODEGRADABLE GIFT WRAP OPTIONS
- Botanical PaperWorks makes all sorts of biodegradable wrapping and cards.
- Of the Earth custom paper has incredibly luxurious options if you’re looking for something extra special, if not necessarily Christmas festive.
- JAM Paper offers recycled paper matte colored rolls.
- Wrappily has recycling paper, ribbon and pretty accessories if the natural aesthetic is not your bag.
- Ecocult has some great ideas for DIY-ing your wrap and making it look pretty.
- Bag-All which has a brick and mortar in NYC sells all sorts of reusable bags that make for great options.
SOFT AND FILM PLASTIC RECYCLING 101
Online shopping or not, there can still be a tremendous amount of waste that comes from buying new items. And many of them fall into the category of soft and film plastic. Here are some examples:
- Plastic sleeves on various components of new appliances
- Bubble mailers (without paper exterior) and bubble wrap used for fragile items
- Plastic film on the outside of holiday cards
- Plastic shrink-wrap on the outside of new boxes
- Plastic bag that houses new clothing bought online
- Plastic bags used to bring home gifts from the store
If you were unaware that these things could not be put in your regular plastic recycling bin, please take note! Most curb-side programs do not accept this type of plastic because its flimsiness gets caught in the machines. BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t recyclable. You just need to do a little extra due diligence and collect soft and film plastics in a separate bag, then take them to a local retailer that accepts them. Luckily, they don’t take up much space once crumpled into a little ball and you can store for several months at a time since clean plastic also doesn’t smell.
In New York State (and many others), large retailers are required by law to recycle soft plastic bags and film plastic. You can save your plastic grocery bags, mailer sleeves, non-food soiled plastic cling wrap, and sleeves and bring them into a location here.
This also includes newspaper bags, dry cleaning plastic, and thin plastic film from notecards, tea boxes, pre-packaged cheese, household items, pet food, and juice packs.
CLICK HERE to find a drop-off location near you.
MY FAVORITE EXPERIENCES TO GIFT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
Online Courses: Obviously I’m a little biased about giving the gift of online education, but there are so many fabulous options now. If you’re not sure what your loved one will like, you can go through one of the larger sites that cover a variety of lifestyle topics like Bluprint, Skillshare, and General Assembly. Here are some of my favorites in the health, food and wellness space:
- 4 Weeks to Wellness: Okay, I couldn’t not! 400 people have been through the course and the glowing reviews of long-term sustainable changes keep on pouring in. It’s perfect for anyone who wants to revamp their commitment to cooking with easy, delicious meal plans, or just needs a helping hand making healthier habits stick. Our next session starts Jan 20th, just in time for a New Year reboot, but our gift certificate option allows recipients to use it anytime in the next calendar year. They will also get a cute e-card that can be scheduled for whenever you like. Is that low waste or what? Find out more here. From now until December 3rd, enrollment is opening early and you can take $40 off with the code TDAY40! The next session starts January 20th. After the 3rd, carts will close again until 2020.
- WTF Am I Doing With My Life?: Do you wish you could buy certain friends or family members a life coaching session to figure out their shit and pursue their dreams? Well, this gift is a little less awkward. Superstar life coach Megan Hellerer is a powerhouse for getting people through career shifts, personal ruts, and creative depression.
- SIBO Recovery Road Map: I keep getting asked whether I am going to start a course for SIBO. We shall see! Right now, 4W2W has a low FODMAP meal plan that is perfect for people just getting started with SIBO recovery. But for tough cases and people who feel they can’t eat anything without reacting, I highly recommend Dr. Allison Siebecker’s roadmap.
In-Person Cooking Classes: I may be biased here too, but there’s nothing more fun for an in-person activity that to give someone some important cooking skills and make something together that you may not have ordinarily tried. If you’re looking for an extra special experience, I also am available for private in-person classes in your home!
Subscription Services: There are some great resources out there that help reduce waste and expand your horizons in the process.
- Rent The Runway Unlimited: Towards the end of book tour I became addicted to this monthly service that lets you swap out pieces of your wardrobe at your leisure. It cut down on mindless spending on clothes, and a lot of donation bags in the process. The best part is that RTR uses eco-friendly garment bags that produce no extra waste during shipping. You can gift someone a one month trial and see how they like it!
- Sunday New York Times: We love getting the paper on Sunday and curling up on the couch. Sure, it’s still creating some waste, but you could do worse than newsprint. Especially when you can use it as gift wrap!
- Imperfect Produce : Give the gift of an organic produce delivery service and fight food waste at the same time!
- Audible: This is a great way to give people books without the waste!
THE BEST ECO-MINDED CHARITIES TO DONATE TO
This fabulous list comes by way of Tending the Table. Make sure to check out Sasha’s other suggestions here and keep spreading the #GiftForGood love!
- Urban Gleaners: Working to reduce food waste and end hunger in Oregon.
- Food Chain Workers Alliance: Working to build a more sustainable food system that respects workers’ rights, based on the principles of social, environmental and racial justice.
- World Wildlife Fund: Building sustainable food systems by improving efficiency, reducing waste, and shifting consumer patterns.
- Food Corps: Connecting kids to healthy food in school through hands on learning, healthier school meals, and a culture of health.
- Ecotrust: Building a world where people and nature thrive together through school food programs, skills training for farmers and producers, and an innovative food hub.
MY FAVORITE LOW WASTE STOCKING STUFFERS + BIG TICKET GIFTS
Terracycle Zero Waste Box. These efficient cardboard boxes are an easy way to live a lower waste lifestyle without too much added effort. You simply toss all those hard to recycle items and let Terracycle do all the work for you. The only catch is that they are a little on the pricey side. But what a better gift to give someone who aspires to do better for the environment but isn’t sure where to start. Use code NOVEMBER20 for a discount through the end of the month (or TGIM if you’re catching this on cyber Monday)!
Countertop Compost Bin + Bags. For the slightly more sophisticated waste warrior, or someone with a great backyard, these countertop bins couldn’t be easier to integrate into your routine. It’s been something that has cut our waste in half now that the city offers Food Waste Bins on the street in our neighborhood. This model with a charcoal filter is remarkable good at blocking odor.
The Inspiralizer: I know it might be surprising to have a new appliance on a low waste gift guide, but here me out. One of the best thing you can do for the environment is eat more veggies and less meat or packaged foods. If there’s one instrument in the kitchen that has made this easier for me it’s the inspiralizer, which not only blows every other spiralizing tool out of the water, but also helps me make veggie noodles in minutes.
Striped Tea Towels/Rags. We’ve almost completely swapped paper towels for these handsome rags. Though not necessarily made sustainably, they are affordable to buy in bulk and attractive enough to double as rustic dinner napkins, which has meant a whole lot less staining of the good stuff. When they get sullied beyond use, we cycle into full rag mode under the kitchen sink.
Bamboo Toothbrush + Refillable, Biodegradable Floss. Tossing toothbrushes and flossing according to your dentist’s recommended schedule can produce a lot of landfill. Luckily, there are a lot of good eco options these days, including this numbered bamboo toothbrush system. Perhaps even a great option to have on hand for holiday guests who don’t arrive prepared! For flossing, there is dental lace, made from silk, and a few other good options here.
Natural Skincare + Makeup + Reusable Cosmetic Poufs. For those looking to make some swaps with personal care products, there’s no better gift than a super nourishing, natural face oil, refillable blush compact, and a washable cotton pouf to apply or remove it with. Some of my favorite brands to shop from that are natural AND sustainable in their packaging are: Follain and Anne Marie Skincare.
Gua Sha Kit. As I mentioned in this post, gua sha has been a huge game changer for the health of my skin and my thyroid. I absolutely love the Wildling beauty tool which gets every nook and cranny. It’s a stone, so can’t get more green than that.
Modsprout Garen Jars. I was gifted one of these mason jar hydroponic systems for a basil plant and it’s been a game changer. I use so many fewer bunches of herbs (that inevitably wilt in the fridge) and am able to just pluck a few leaves of basil every now and then for pastas and pizzas. The mod sprout system makes it super easy to care for your herbs indoors–you wanted once every few weeks and leave it alone!
Beeswax Food Wrap Reuseable Bowl Covers. This is by far the best alternative to plastic wrap. The beeswax softens when pressed lightly and warmed by your hands, creating a tight seal on veggies or bowls. Plus, the bee’s Wrap lasts for up to a year with proper care and regular usage!
Terra Ties Hair Bands. Do you ever wonder where all those lost forgotten hair ties go? My guess is their are still languishing in a flower bed on whatever city street they flew off on. With terra ties, your loss is the environment’s gain. Or, at least, not its downfall. These 100 percent biodegradable hair ties are a great low waste stocking stuffer since they are bound to end up in landfill one way or another.
A Beautiful Bar of Soap. One of the simplest changes you can make to your lifestyle is switching from body wash or hand soap in a plastic bottle, to an old fashioned bar. This article breaks it down for you and has some great suggestions on brands. I love Osmia face soap and Schmidt’s or this Follain bar for the shower.
Charcoal Sticks, Go Pure Pod, or Soma. As you know, I’ve been a big fan of natural charcoal sticks for filtering my water ever since The Wellness Project. The Go Pure pod is a great addition to the portable filter scene and is a lot less noisy. Soma Water Filters are not biodegradable though they are made from plant-based materials and certainly better than a plastic water bottle!
Non-Toxic Nonstick Skillets. Not only are cheap teflon skillets bad for your health, their easily flake-able surface means a relatively short shelf life. I’ve done a round-up before on better options, but that was before learning about these multi-purpose nonstick pans that can rock a 500 degree oven!
Stainless Steel Food Containers. While glass tupperware is also a great sustainable option (especially simple mason jars), it doesn’t ensure as much wear, tear and longevity as stainless steel. All it takes is one chip in the dishwasher to start to literally chip away at the shelf life. These metal containers are air tight and fabulous.
Reusable Water Bottles. S’well bottles hold temperature, are BPA-free, non-toxic, and non-leeching and they have committed $800,000 to clean water efforts since 2015. BKR glass bottles are tres chic and donate a portion of their proceeds to clean water and cancer prevention movements worldwide.
Tushy Bidet Attachment. Okay, maybe not a gift for everyone. But these affordable easily adaptable attachments have been cutting down on TP big time, and making people proud members of the clean butt club.
Dropps sustainable home cleaning pods. These dishwasher and laundry pods arrive in a cardboard box, making them virtually waste-free. We love the unscented ones and are so happy to have discovered the company!
French Press Coffee Maker. No pods, no filters, no problem. French presses are where it’s at for for no waste enjoyment of coffee or loose leaf tea.
The Nutramilk: This appliance helps you easily make your own nut butters and nut milks. These are fridge items we go through very quickly in my house and generate a lot of waste in the process. The Nutrimilk has been a GAME CHANGER. I make batches of almond milk for the month in less than 10 minutes. Plus, it tastes amazing. No additives or junk. And plenty of fun ways to create your own new flavors!
Boob Pots. Nothing is greener than a house plant, which have been known to improve air quality in confined spaces, and generally improve the energy of your room. My friend Katie Dalebout recently gifted me this boob pop and I’ve never been more excited by a container for a new plant friend.
Avocado Mattress and Sheets. Bedding is one of the places where people often forget to go green, and yet we spend the majority of our life under the sheets and atop a mattress–far more than we do in any one article of clothing. If you’re looking to upgrade one part of your lifestyle this holiday season and want to ask for a bigger gift, consider Avocado’s sustainable bedding and mattresses.
Sauna blanket. Ok this might not be low waste in theory, but I’m of the mind that anything that can help your body stay at its healthiest is worth investing in, especially if it means fewer supplements and other wellness doodads down the line. This is another big ticket item, but probably the best gift I’ve given this year. Use code SIBO15 to get 15% off site-wide ($89 value off the blanket!)!
p.s. Make sure you don’t get stuck with unwanted catalogs when you shop! Use catalogchoice.org to unsubscribe for any unwanted mailings once the holidays are over.
Thank you soooo much for the sweet shout outs and for spreading the gift for good message! Also love love love all your zero waste gift ideas, recycling info, etc. Was planning on putting together little zero waste home lots this year with cloths, scrubbers, homemade cleaner etc. so will definitely be checking out some of the products you listed. And I didn’t know about Package Free and am excited to check it out. Thank you!
Phoebe Lapine says
ooo they are so up your alley!! thank you for starting this movement and including me!
Valerie Wong says
Love this!! It’s such a good reminder and all the practical solutions and ideas are much appreciated! Thank you!
Phoebe Lapine says
Thanks Valerie! SO glad it was helpful!
I love all of these ideas! Thanks Phoebe! I couldn’t get the reusable swiffer pads link to work though!
Arfa Moore says
Thanks for such amazing tips! It seems so useful and some unique idea that everyone should try at least once. I will surely try these gift ideas as there is no much time for Christmas. Thanks!!!!
these recommendations are A++
The discount codes didn’t work for Terracycle. Just so you know. I got excited because they are soooo expensive but apparently they don’t honor the promotions. Instead they offered another code that was buy-one-get-one-50%-off. Meanwhile am loving your guide – so many new ideas!
Lesley Kernochan says
Yes, yes, yes! I’m so glad you are discussing this. It’s a re-learning curve for all of us, and each little step is a wonderful victory. Thank you Phoebe.