Rethink the Way You Give: Ethik’s Guide to Sustainable Gifting

Rethink the Way You Give: Ethik’s Guide to Sustainable Gifting

This is a season of giving in many cultures, traditions, and faiths - a time where family, friends, and communities gather together to share meals, gifts, and love. However, the holidays also accumulate more waste than any other time in the year. 25% more trash is created the weeks between Thanksgiving and the new year, which equates to an additional 25 million tons of garbage during the winter season alone! The majority of that waste comes from food, packing, or unwanted gifts, and most of this waste is totally unnecessary. We can rethink the way we give this - and every - holiday season, so we can still give special mementos to others to show our love without it costing the planet. To help, we have provided some tips to make your season more sustainable.


Before purchasing any gift, it is important to ask why you are making this purchase. Who is this gift for? Is this item on someone’s wishlist, or is it impulsive? Thoughtful questions such as these will help to eliminate waste even before a transaction takes place. Other tips include:

  • Ask people directly what items they would like for the holidays. And directly tell others what you are looking for, too! This ensures that no one receives something they already have, don’t have use or space for, or dislikes. There are few better feelings than being gifted something you actually wanted and needed!
  • Homemade gifts are often a true treasure, as they show a personal touch and highlight the time, care, and dedication that went into creating them. Some items that Ethik team members have made for others have included wreathes, felt ornaments, bath salts, memory books, quilted slippers, and a crocheted harmonica cover!
  • Give gifts that aren’t “stuff.” This could include experiences such as tickets to upcoming shows or concerts; classes to take together like cooking, painting, or pottery; excursions to local attractions; annual passes to a place they love like a yoga studio, rock climbing gym, or even a streaming site or a Costco membership! Gifts like these rarely go to waste because the receiver has actual and continued use for them.
  • Shop and support local brands! This eliminates ample waste in packaging and shipping, as well as invests in your own community. Places like farmers’ markets, flea markets, bazaars, and other pop ups are a great way to get to know local businesses in your area.
  • Gift secondhand! Whether that be from a secondhand or vintage store, or from within your own house. Surely, you’ve bought something in the past that you didn’t quite need, and you’ve hardly (if ever!) used, but would be perfect for someone else. Perhaps the jacket you’ve only worn once, or the book you read that was fine but you someone else in your circle would love. Those make perfect gifts to pass along to someone who would appreciate them more than you currently do.
  • Even when purchasing new, gifts themselves can be more or less sustainable than other like items. If you are buying a gift, ask yourself questions like where is it from? What material is used here? Is this a transparent company? Is the price realistic and fair? Is this a quality product that is built to last? This helps to ensure even new purchases are made with a sustainable mindset.
  • Donations can also be a great gift! If you find you don’t need much this holiday season, you can ask others to take the money they would use to buy you a gift and instead donate to an organization you trust. Additionally, you can gift a donation on behalf of someone else to cause they are passionate about.


Unwrapping is a large part of the fun of gift giving. For receivers, there is a suspense that comes from what is underneath the bows and ribbons, and for gift givers, there is something so special about the look on the receiver’s face when they see their gift for the first time. Unfortunately, from delivery to opening, most wrapping covers a present for mere moments, and after that, it is usually straight to the bin. A survey in 2021 found that 4 of the top 5 holiday waste products are packaging-related, increasing packaging waste over 50% during the holiday season. There are higher ways we can wrap our presents for loved ones that are fun and preserve tradition while considerably lessening the waste we produce during this time of year:

  • Reuse gift wrapping from previous holiday seasons. Save birthday bags or even nice shopping bags. If you are gentle with wrapping paper, tissue paper, or even paper from posted packages, it can be used again and again. Newspapers or magazines can also do the trick, and will have a unique touch. With this in mind, you can save these items throughout the year, in a box or drawer in your house. That way, you will have enough saved up for the holidays.
  • Furoshiki is a Japanese word used to describe wrapping boxes in square pieces of cloth, and is something we could all incorporate into our giving practices. Spare or scrap pieces of cloth, cloth napkins, or even scarves or small blankets can all be used to wrap presents - and can even double as part of the gift itself!
  • Many wrapping paper companies now offer wrapping that has been made from recycled paper or other materials, and is another great way to lessen waste. See what you can save for next year, too! 

Above all this holiday season, remember to “shop your values.” Think deeply about the intrinsic value each purchase will make in your life, or in the lives of others. We all want to live comfortable and vibrant lives, and while purchases can help us towards that goal, unnecessary items can cause us to confuse excess goods for an abundant life. We can still be generous friends and family members without creating unnecessary waste. This season, let’s give gifts that are truly appreciated, both by the receiver and by the earth!