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By Nira Sheppard, DC EcoWomen board member

The holiday season is upon us and for me, it’s a mixed bag. I love the dazzling lights, Christmas songs, and spending time with family eating delicious comfort food (pass the gravy please). At the same time, the expectation of giving and receiving gifts makes me dizzy and anxious with questions like, who do I give gifts to during the holidays? What should I give them? How much should I spend? What if they give me a gift and I don’t have one for them? The list goes on and on. If you have these questions too, unfortunately, I have no answers, but I can give you some pointers for making gifting eco-friendly and even pocket-friendly.

Be proactive. “A gift desired is a gift used” – Me. Does it make you feel uncomfortable and a bit guilty to get a gift you’re less than thrilled with receiving? Yes, it’s the thought that counts but all you can think about is, what to do with it (hmm, that’s not my style)? You’re not alone. Take control of your gift destiny and be proactive. Make it known what you would like from those who will likely give you a gift. Be specific or give them a category (good chocolate and natural body butters are winners for me). Also ask them what their preferences are, so you know what to get them. Help them out with questions, such as what type of books/clothes/snacks would they like and where can I get them? Once you know what they like, go the extra mile and try to get a version of the item that hits one or more of these categories: ethical, environmentally sustainable, local, and produced or sold by a woman-owned and/or minority-owned business.

Make a list. Not for Santa, unless you want to do that too (a child lives in all of us). You and those in your gift pool can use Giftster or MyRegistry.com to create a gift list to share with each other. Too much work? Cash or consumables, like wine, chocolate, coffee/tea, or candles should do the trick (please see aforementioned categories in the above paragraph). If cash is not your taste and you know this person doesn’t want or need a thing, gift them a charitable donation. I don’t recommend a gift card unless you’re pretty sure the person will use it because $1 billion in gift cards go unused every year.  

Decline extra packaging. After Christmas, the trash is filled with gift packaging – the packaging that comes with the gift and the extra that we add on top to make it pretty. To reduce waste, there are several options. Decline the gift box and wrapping service at the retailer. Reuse a jewelry box or gift bag you already have and then reuse it for next year. Repurpose it if it is no longer suitable for gift giving and then recycle it when no longer usable. If you don’t care, don’t package gifts at all.

Recycle. Say you decided to reduce packaging, but others did not? Collect the wrapping paper and packaging and recycle them yourself or ask the host about recycling what you collected. You can also take unwanted gift boxes and bags for future gift giving (I haven’t bought a gift bag in years).

Embrace gift-wrapping alternatives. Maybe you’re the person who thrills in watching your loved ones open your beautifully, perfectly, and carefully wrapped gifts. No need to deprive yourself. Here are six eco-friendly gift wrap alternatives and 15 more ideas that look chic, not cheap.

Gift experiences. An idea that is becoming more popular is to forego physical gifts for experiences, free or purchased. For example, you can gift someone movie, concert, festival, sporting event or museum tickets, yoga classes, a wine or beer tasting, etc. You can make the experience a shared memory by doing these things with them. You can perform a song or write a poem for them or give them a homemade gift (it may not technically be an experience for them, but they will appreciate your effort). You can also simply spend time together, perhaps while taking a walk or hike, at a cafe, or eating a home-cooked meal or cookies you made. If they trust you around their child(ren), you can gift them time in another way, free babysitting hours (this may be their best gift ever). Here are some more experience gifting options.

I hope these ideas have been helpful to you. Whatever you decide to do regarding the business of giving and receiving gifts, I hope your holiday season is full of love, warmth, and good cheer. Happy holidays!

Nira Sheppard is a member of DC EcoWomen’s professional development committee. She holds a BA from Soka University of America, an MA in Global Environment Policy from American University and a LEED Green Associate credential. Nira is passionate about recycling, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and waste reduction and is seeking opportunities in environmental sustainability and sustainable development. Find her on LinkedIn