The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Holiday Shopping

Are you interested in learning more about how you can lower your impact during the shopping filled holiday season? If so, I’m sending you a virtual high five!

We all know by now the gravity of the climate crisis and how it’s going to take each and every one of us doing our part to make a difference. I commend you on taking a stand with your choices and taking the time to research what you can do to accomplish more during a season of excess, consumerism, and waste.

These sort of changes have the potential to have a ripple effect on your family and surrounding community — this time of year more than any. I encourage you to use this holiday season as an opportunity to lead by example.

My intention is to share tips to help you be more eco-friendly with your decisions, but also more sustainable with your personal resources like time, money, and energy. I want to keep this simple and straightforward since the process can be stressful enough as is.

Just before I get into it I want to bring your attention to the other helpful post I wrote to plan for a sustainable holiday: How to be Sustainable During the Winter Holidays which will give you a broader overview of things you can do throughout the entire season.

Here’s my guide to being eco-friendly while shopping this holiday season:

Choosing Gifts

Create a budget

Before thinking of the actual gift ideas for each person, I suggest you create a budget and break it down amongst the people you need to buy for. Whether it be an equal per-person number or a higher number for immediate friends and family and less for others, it will ensure you don’t overspend and can only explore gift options in that price range for each person.

Choose Planet Friendly Gifts

Prioritize gift ideas with things that can really be used or enjoyed in an everyday setting. Gifts that use natural biodegradable materials or are extremely high quality is priority. Check out the eco-friendly gift guides I created for her, him, the kids, and stocking stuffers.

Support Small Businesses and Independent Makers

Many communities host small business markets with local vendors selling their handmade creations. You can find lovely soaps, knitwear, and artwork amongst plenty of other great gifts here. Supporting local enriches your local economy and avoids the shipping pollution and expenses tied to buying imported goods.

Gift an experience instead

Another planet friendly option is to skip the physical gifts all together and purchase an experience based gift instead. Ideas could be a trip to a museum, a festival, or a series of classes pertaining to the recipients interests. Think about how much waste we would be saving if everyone chose to partake in a new experience instead of buy more things!

Planning for in Person Shopping

Do Research

Before planning your trip, do some research to find out if there are any eco-friendly options to the gifts you are looking to buy. Say you have a friend who is a really big candy fan and you want to get them a collection of sweets. Instead of picking out a whole bunch of plastic bags, why not head to your local bulk store and pick out some package free ones? Or what about your sister you want to buy a nice sweater for this year. Instead of heading to the mall, why not explore your local thrift store of a unique vintage one or check out my list of sustainable fashion brands instead.

Make a plan

If you are heading out to shop in person, it is really important to plan ahead of time to make sure you stay within your set budget and avoid overwhelm from the crowded environment. Check out the ideas you’ve made for each person and spend a bit of time looking into the details of how and where you can find each item. Make a list of how you plan to go from one stop to the next in the most efficient way.

Prepare the Car

Don’t be in a situation where you are left without what you need and need to improvise with conveniences that cause a lot of waste. Load your vehicle up with reusable shopping bags, your reusable water bottle, and some snacks from home. If you are going to be making multiple stops, you can put a laundry bin in your trunk and empty out your reusable bag contents after each shop. Then at the end of the trip, all you need to do is carry the basket inside instead of a ton of bags.

Check how sustainable brands are with the Good On You website

This website is so handy. You just type in the name of the brand and see if it is sustainable. Simple as that.

Buying Online

Check shipping options

If you are prepared ahead of time, there is no need for rushed shipping. It’s important to know that often the quicker it gets to you, the more pollution is being created to accommodate that. Choosing standard shipping will have your items sent out by the retailer with a lot of others and allow the shipping company to choose the best route to distribute packages in a systematic way.

Buy all at once

The more you can purchase at one time the better. Not only do a lot of online retailers offer discounted or free shipping when you spend more but it will save multiple packages, shipping materials, and pollution to get those items to you if they are sent in one go.

Research Packaging

Packaging materials matter. Does the retailer you are buying for ship with a lot of plastic bubble wrap, mailers, or peanuts, or do they use brown boxes and recyclable wrap? Oftentimes the businesses that are doing it right will advertise it on their website. You can check out their shipping terms and conditions as well. Bonus points if you can reuse this packaging to wrap the gift or for another use.

Wrapping Gifts

Use what you have

If you are like me, you probably have acquired a small collection of gift bags from receiving gifts in the past. Try your best to use what you have before going out and buying new materials — including the bags or packaging you received when you purchased the items.

Choose biodegradable

If you do choose to buy new wrapping materials, make sure you stick to environmentally friendly options that can break down easily in the compost. Things like brown paper bags, compostable tape, and kraft paper all work well. If you want to add a bow opt for natural fiber rope.

Consider useful, reusable items

Instead of wrapping your gifts up in paper or boxes, why not get creative and choose a practical little bonus insead! You can find containers or wrap alternatives at the thrift store easily.

Here are some of my ideas for eco-friendly gift wrap alternatives:

  • Cotton tea towels

  • Swedish cloths

  • Patterned scarf

  • Pillowcase

  • Tins, jars, or baskets

 
 

Managing Unexpected Waste

Prepare a system

Even if you are careful with your waste production, that doesn’t mean everyone else will. Prepare a garbage bag, recycling bin, and green bin in advance so waste is not left lying around. See what wrapping paper isn’t damaged that can be reused and save bags for future gift giving.

Get to know what goes where

Around the holidays we often come across some obscure materials that don’t have a clear waste path in our mind. Foil filled gift paper for example. Is that recyclable or does it belong in the trash can? These stipulations will look different depending on where you live. Be sure to check out your local municipality’s waste system to determine the options you have.

Use as a learning experience

As you start to accumulate waste as gifts are being given, allow for conversations to happen about why you chose the wrap you did and the impact of waste as a whole. A lot of people don’t choose eco-friendly options because they aren’t really aware of their impact. The holidays is a great time for communities to learn and grow. Use this year as a starting point and discuss with your family how they can do things better next year.

How does you and your community minimize their impact with gift giving around the holiday season? Share with me in the comments below!