How To Give More Sustainably This Holiday Season

How To Give More Sustainably This Holiday Season

You know being sustainable is important and you’ve started making changes in your day to day life. You use reusable bags when you shop and feel like you’ve made progress with remembering a travel mug for your morning coffee run (at least most of the time!).

But here come the holidays, a time where we tend to get swept up in the holiday spirit and throw our habits out the window. This often leads to increased consumption, from limited-time seasonal beverages to extra electricity use, to buying presents and all sorts of extra purchases.

The holidays often involve giving gifts to friends, family, colleagues, and sometimes even those people you don’t know all that well, but somehow ended up in a white elephant exchange with. 

You know you want to do the holidays a little differently this year, but you also don’t want to squash all your holiday traditions and end up feeling like a Grinch.

So, how exactly can you give more sustainably?

Probably most important is to be as thoughtful as possible when choosing what to give. No matter how eco-friendly the gift, if you give someone something they won’t use it will likely just end up on a shelf or in the landfill. 

Consider if the person who will be receiving your gift actually needs what you are thinking about giving them and if they will actually use it.

If you are buying for children, think through the lifespan of the gifts you are looking at. Ask yourself if the parents of the child you are buying for have space for more toys, and how long the child will remain interested in the item.


Plan before you shop

Holiday shopping can be an adventure with people everywhere, holiday music setting the mood, everything seemingly on sale, and the stress of finding just the right gift.

With all that it’s easy to shop ‘til you drop, only to get home and realize you’ve majorly overbought.

Make a list of everyone you will be giving gifts to and what you plan to give them. This way, you can stay focused on exactly what you’re after and minimize impulse purchases.

Person writing list

Opt for Secret Santa

If you celebrate Christmas, do a family Secret Santa. Put each family member’s name on a piece of paper along with an idea or two of what you might like as a gift. Have each family member draw a name (making sure you don’t draw your own!).

This saves you from having to figure out gifts for every member of your family and allows you to consolidate your budget into buying one larger present each.

You’re each buying less, and often this means you’ll give things people they actually want and will use.

Woman giving gift to woman with eyes closed

Give experiences

It’s been well documented that experiences are more fulfilling than physical things. The weekend you learned how to surf or the day spent just with Dad is usually remembered far longer than a toy that gets forgotten after a couple of months.

Ideas for kids:

  • Movie theatre gift card
  • Tickets to a sporting event
  • Membership to a museum, science centre, the zoo, or aquarium
  • Swimming or music lessons
  • Dance classes

Ideas for adults:

  • Tickets to a concert, sporting event, workshop, or show
  • Pottery or cooking classes
  • Membership to the gym or an online streaming service for music or movies
  • Massage or spa day
  • Bungee jumping, sky diving, or other adventure thrills

    Woman at the spa

    Buy second hand

    Second hand doesn’t have to mean old and dingy, and the gifts you buy don’t need to be right out of the factory to be appreciated.

    Great gifts can be found at antique shops, vintage stores, gear swap websites, and online marketplaces like Craigslist, Kijiji, Facebook, or eBay. 

    These places are a great option for picking up secondhand books, bicycles, camping gear, board games, costumes, puzzles, clothes, furniture and more!

    Second hand thrift store

    Make gifts

    Just as you would when purchasing a gift, make sure any gifts you make are things that will actually get used.

    Are you great in the kitchen?

    • Make homemade jam, relish, salsa, pickles, pesto, mustard, or hot sauce
    • Combine dry ingredients in a jar to make a ready to cook soup mix
    • Bake a batch of your specialty cookies, muffins, pastries, etc.

    More of a DIY kind of person? 

    • Hand craft something you know the person is missing in their home
    • If you paint or draw, create a piece as a personalized gift
    • Make candles with only a few supplies from the craft store

    Homemade jam


    Upcycling is the process of reusing and transforming useless or unwanted products into new ones. 


    • Refinishing small items like furniture
    • Repurpose old toys
    • Turning adult socks into toddler leggings
    • Transform old eyeshadow into nail polish
    • Use a rake as a rustic tool rack

    Upcycled graduation caps into lights

    Purchase from sustainably-focused companies

    If you choose to purchase gifts this holiday season, do your best to look for companies that are working to be more environmentally sustainable. There are lots out there!

    Where you can, buy organic, plastic-free, fair-trade, living wage, and sustainable product options. Be sure to also consider products are packaged.

    When you purchase products like these you are supporting the sustainability movement and will likely inspire whoever is receiving the gift to do the same.

    life UNpacked products

    You’ve found the perfect gift, now what?

    Whether you’re a planner and have your gifts wrapped weeks in advance of the holidays or a last minute wrapper the day before, chances are you plan to wrap the gifts you’re giving this holiday season. 

    Canadians will throw out 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags each year, along with 6 million rolls of tape, and countless bows, ribbons, and name tags.

    If you’re going to spend the time finding a sustainable gift option, it just makes sense to make sure it’s also wrapped sustainably.

    What’s the problem with wrapping paper?

    Most wrapping paper contains heavy inks, glitter, or foil which makes it unrecyclable.

    Use the scrunch test to determine if a wrapping paper can be recycled. SImply scrunch the wrapping paper into a tight ball in your hand. If the paper stays in the ball form when you open your hand, it can likely be recycled. If it springs apart, it definitely cannot be recycled.

    If you are recycling wrapping paper, be sure to remove any bows, ribbon, and/or tape as these cannot be recycled.

    Gift wrap

    What can you use instead?

    There are many sustainable options that can be used for wrapping holiday gifts.

    • Scarves
    • Holiday kitchen towels
    • Fabric
    • Old maps
    • Newspaper
    • Sheet music
    • Cloth bags
    • Glass jars
    • Brown craft paper
    • Gift boxes

    Old maps

    Other best practices for wrapping holiday gifts.

    Save and reuse

    Bows, ribbon, gift bags, boxes, and tissue paper can be collected and saved to be reused. This not only saves the environment but also keeps money in your pocket!


    Whenever possible, avoid tape. Instead use string, twine, or fabric ribbon to keep your gift wrapped.


    Use pine cones, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, pine leaves, rosemary, ivy leaves, and/or holiday stamps to decorate your presents instead of reaching for the glitter and sparkles.

    If you choose to do this, make sure you purchase or harvest them sustainably.

    Eco-friendly wrapped present

    Thank you for taking the time to learn how to make your holiday season a little bit more eco-friendly. We hope this blog helps make it easier for you to give gifts with sustainability in mind, and we look forward to hearing from you in the comments.


    Want to stuff their stockings without plastic this year?