If you're on a journey towards zero waste, you may have run into the conundrum of how to handle gifting. For some of us, family and cultural traditions mean that opting out of gift exchanges might result in less time with people we care about—or worse, arguments that can negatively impact our relationships.
If you're looking to avoid such conflicts while keeping true to your sustainable lifestyle, then read on for some ideas for guilt-free gifts.
Gift local experiences
Experience gifting has become somewhat normalized lately, especially as people crave in-person activities following years of social distancing. Actually finding giftable experiences can be challenging, however—they tend to be local, and it is not always clear if a local business sells gift cards.
To help solve this problem, the folks at Square—the point of sale system that has exploded in popularity among local merchants—have created a searchable database of local gift cards. They call it Give & Get Local.
A couple caveats: make sure the business is still operating! When I entered my address in the location box, I noted many businesses listed that have not been operational for years. Obviously you wouldn't want to give someone a gift card to a restaurant or salon that no longer exists. Also, this site only lists businesses that use Square's gift card platform. It may be worth also searching Google Maps for local businesses and checking their websites one-by-one.
Gift a service
We live in an age when media consumption is mostly digital – but far from free. Consider giving subscription credit to streaming services like Hulu, Netflix, Disney Plus, and Spotify to bring someone joy over several months without producing any waste.
To take it one step further, gift a service that actually reduces waste. I recently gave my brother a subscription to Ridwell so he can easily dispose of plastics, fabrics, and e-waste. There's also Mel, which for just $25 will help your loved one eliminate junk mail.
Also consider transportation-based gift cards, such as Lyft, your local bike share or scooter rental service, and even a transit card. These will help the recipient have more experiences while using their car less.
Gift a tree
Dedicating a tree makes a great gift for any age. While there are options to plant trees cheaply as part of large projects—Arbor Day prices gifted trees at just $2 each—I find it more sentimental to plant a tree where the person lives. In my hometown of New Orleans, a tree is priced at $175 through SOUL.
An alternative approach is to gift offsets. Wren is a tech product that helps people calculate their footprint and then support and track programs to offset their impact. This includes planting trees, among other approaches.
Gift a pre-loved book
Giving someone a gently used book is not only the cheapest option—but can also be the most sentimental. When you gift someone a new book that you haven't read, you are at best matching that book to the recipient based on the cover. However, when you give someone a used book, you are demonstrating that you spent the time reading the book and understanding its concepts or stories, and felt that the recipient would also get value out of it. It's quite a personal gesture.
Gift a charitable donation
Similar to gift trees, many non-profit organizations provide a method of making a donation on behalf of someone else. While these are often made in memory of someone who has passed away, or in celebration of birth, why not expand this practice throughout one's life?
If you are not sure which organization the recipient would like to support, you can give a charity gift card through Charityvest, operator of donor-advised funds (DAFs). The recipient will need to create an account and then they can select which non-profit organization to donate to.
Embracing a zero-waste lifestyle doesn't mean abandoning the joy and tradition of gifting. By exploring thoughtful alternatives like local experiences, services, and sustainable gifts, we can uphold our eco-conscious values without compromising on the warmth of giving.
Whether it's a subscription service that lessens waste or a pre-loved book that carries a personal touch, it's the intent and care behind the gift that truly counts. This festive season, let's redefine gifting in a way that cherishes our loved ones and our planet alike.