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Zero Waste Gift-Giving

November 9, 2019

Eliminating, substituting, and/or reducing our waste from giving gifts to our loved ones.



Aaah, the joy of receiving and unwrapping gifts! We love it so much that a whole new business has popped up: subscription boxes, in which we buy ourselves (or other people) gifts that get mailed in a nice box every month or every quarter.


While I have my reservations about the wastefulness of such subscriptions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to give ourselves or each other gifts! In fact, I previously wrote a piece on gift-giving for minimalists, but I did not talk about how to give gifts waste-free. This is me trying to make-up for that oversight.


The thing is, gifts do not need to come in a box swaddled with ten thousand layers of wrapping paper, tissue paper and plastic pellets. There are much better ways to give gifts that are meaningful and yet produces no waste.


Below are some principles of zero-waste gift-giving and some suggestions to get you going.








Give the Gift of Experience


The best way to give a zero waste gift is to present people with the gift of experience.


Rather than a pretty little thing wrapped in a bow, take the person out for a movie, or a game of laser tag, or cook them a lovely dinner. Honestly, the options are endless: go boating on the lake, attend a weekend class, ride a rollercoaster, watch a musical …etc.


The best part is: you too get to share in the fun, not just your giftee!





Give for utility


If material gifts are still your go-to option, take a second to ask yourself if this item you’re about to get for them is something your giftee actually wants or will use. Did they mention needing it or wanting it at some point? Is it something they can easily incorporate into their lives? Or is this something that has a high risk of being put at the back of the closet or under the bed, merely collecting dust?


While gifts should be beautiful and meaningful, there’s also no harm in them being utilitarian. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should only buy your mother pots and pans, and your father different colours of the same tie. It does however mean that you should give it some careful thought. Ensure you’re not just giving others more clutter. If at a loss, refer back to the tip above on giving experiences instead of things!



Give for life


If you’ve got the perfect idea for a gift that your giftee will for sure love and use, then look into buying a high quality version of that gift. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive one out there, but it should be well-designed and last a while. 


As much as possible, buy from companies that take care to provide warranties and repair services. Even better if the companies have designed the product for proper reuse or recycling, and have take-back programs (like Patagonia!).


Alternatively, use as a guide on which brands and products to pick up



Avoid companies that design for disposability and for obsolescence, where your products are intentionally made useless or nonfunctional within a few years (*cough*Apple*cough*).




Give naked


No, not you, but the gift. Where possible, give your gift without excessive packaging. The gift shouldn’t look horrible, but neither does it need three layers of gauzy paper and a bow that will only get ripped within the first few minutes. 


Take a cue from Lush - go without packaging or wrapping



Some products can be given as is, while some may need to be covered for the element of surprise or for aesthetics. In that case, opt for easily recyclable materials (like paper) or reusable materials (like fabric). Even better if your giftee can reuse those materials when he or she is giving gifts to others! (In fact, my cousin and I basically use the exact same paper bag when we exchange gifts with each other, and this always gets a laugh out of us)




Give items from zero waste stores or secondhand stores


If at a loss still, metaphorically kill multiple birds with one stone by shopping for gifts at a zero waste store. You will typically get quality goods (because they’re meant to last a long time), you will not have excessive packaging or no packaging at all and you will be encouraging your giftee to adopt excellent waste-free habits!


Click here for a list of zero-waste stores in Klang Valley - hopefully one is near you!