Sustainable Holidays: Gifting Experiences, Services, and Second-Hand Items

Carin Miller

As the holiday season approaches, it’s a good time to focus on the first two Rs of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” especially when it comes to gift-giving. More and more, people are looking to consume less and to remove clutter from their homes. Before you buy someone a gift, consider the environmental impacts and whether the recipient will find the item useful.

Give an Experience Instead of an Item

  • Treat family or friends to dinner at a local restaurant.
  • Gift memberships and/or classes at local museums.
  • Take a class together to learn a new skill like glass blowing, blacksmithing, cooking.
  • Tickets for movie theaters, plays, orchestra, concerts, or sporting events.
  • Gift certificate for spa services, favorite restaurants, coffee or ice cream shops, local plant nurseries.
  • Plan a special day with someone doing what they love.

Give Consumables

  • Bake cookies or other holiday treats and package them in reusable containers which become part of the gift.
  • If you don’t like to bake, gift some foods from local companies like chocolates, hot sauce, spices, olive oils and vinegars, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.

Normalize Giving Second-Hand Items

  • Join your local Buy Nothing Group and see if anyone is offering items that would make good gifts.
  • Thrift and vintage stores and Facebook Marketplace are great places to find unique gifts!

Gift your Services

  • Maybe you’re great at sewing, crafting, or fixing things around the house. Offer to help with a project.
  • Offer to babysit for friends who need a night out away from the kids. (Pair with movie tickets or restaurant gift card for a night out).

Consider New Purchases Carefully

  • Look for items made with recycled content. By purchasing goods made with post-consumer recycled content, we help close the loop and support the recycling economy.
  • Help someone become more sustainable by gifting a reusable item that can replace a single use item. Ideas include water bottles, coffee mugs, reusable straws, a reusable fork/knife/spoon set for on-the-go lunches, cloth napkins, reusable shopping bags, and more. Sustainable personal care products like shampoo and conditioner bars, plastic-free toothbrushes, lotion bars and more make great gifts and stocking stuffers.
  • Try to purchase useful items that the person will use every day for a long time. Things like quality cookware and utensils, tools for the home and yard, kitchen appliances, and more.
  • Consider the full life cycle of the item you are purchasing. Is it made from natural materials like wood, wool, cotton, or paper? Can it be reused, recycled, or composted at the end of its lifespan? Is the item durable and will it last a long time? Is there a way to repair the item if it breaks?

By taking the time to think about your purchases this holiday season, you can make your holidays greener by consuming less and reducing clutter. Your thoughtful gift of an experience, service, useful product, or “new to you” item highlights the first two Rs of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and supports a healthier environment.

Looking for other ideas regarding holiday recycling and reuse? Support a healthy environment with these tips.