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How to Have a More Sustainable Holiday Season

Do your part to preserve the planet by being a more environmentally conscious consumer.
by Michael Benninger | Dec 13 2019

The holidays are upon us and, with the average American set to spend $657 on gifts this year, retailers are hoping to rake in record profits before 2019 ends. Yet at the same time, many people are awakening to the reality that we’re on the cusp of a climate crisis, and holiday consumerism is a major contributor to the problem.

Consider, for instance, that Americans alone throw away more than 38,000 miles of decorative ribbon each year. That’s enough to span the distance from New York to Paris and back more than five times. And then there are the 2.6 billion holiday cards sold in the U.S. annually, about 1 billion of which are mailed. Research shows that between manufacturing and transportation, each of these cards adds roughly 18.5 grams of carbon dioxide to the environment before reaching its recipient. (By comparison, that’s 600 times more CO2 than the amount created by sending an email.) Perhaps worst of all, though, are the consequences of one- and two-day shipping on holiday gifts, which increase the transportation industry’s ecological footprint immensely.

The United States Postal Service estimates that it will deliver 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. During the same period, the amount of trash produced by Americans is expected to increase by an estimated 25%. This isn’t a coincidence. Despite all our gift-giving, our wastefulness is leading us to lose the greatest gift we have — our planet.

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to enjoy the holiday season — and give meaningful gifts — without generating excess waste.

Tips for Sustainable Gift-Giving

If you love to show people in your life you care about them — but you hate to harm Mother Nature — rest assured, there are plenty of environmentally friendly ways to express appreciation and admiration this holiday season. To fuel you with some inspiration, here are a few suggestions for sustainable gift-giving including tips found in Blinkist’s library and beyond.

Shop locally

Although ordering products online can offer many advantages over shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, in many cases, it can also increase your carbon footprint considerably. So rather than purchasing from online retailers headquartered hundreds or thousands of miles away, pick up gifts from local mom-and-pop shops to reduce waste and support nearby small businesses.

Skip products and purchase experiences

In Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton explain how the best gift you can give is a happy memory. Creating such memories doesn’t require purchasing a physical object, rather, these recollections are more often linked to intangible experiences. Consider cooking classes, spa treatments, or escape room adventures when selecting gifts for your loved ones.

Get creative with your wrapping

A majority of the wrapping paper sold in stores today simply isn’t recyclable. This is especially true for reflective wrapping paper and designs decorated with glitter. So instead of wasting money on wrapping that will likely end up in a landfill for years to come, consider using other kinds of materials to conceal your gifts. Standard newspaper, brown paper bags, or even scraps of fabric are all suitable, sustainable substitutes.

Focus on presence, not presents

Sometimes, the best gifts don’t cost a dime. As author Gary Chapman details in his bestselling book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, giving someone your time and attention can mean more to them than thousands of dollars worth of presents. Chapman refers to this method of communication as the love language of “quality time,” and he notes that it’s an excellent way to make people feel happy and heard, rather than stressed out.

Create something from scratch

Nothing says thoughtfulness like devoting the time, energy, and creativity to make a one-of-a-kind gift for a loved one. Painting a watercolor, writing a poem, and even baking a treat for someone can mean much more than a mass-produced item purchased at a big-box store.

Think outside the (gift) box

Another of Chapman’s five love languages is “receiving gifts,” and while the name seems to say it all, people fluent in this dialect don’t necessarily require physical objects in order to experience affection. Thanks to the rise of the subscription economy, there are now countless digital gifts that don’t involve any shipping or gift wrapping. Memberships to music and video streaming services can be excellent choices, as can a subscription to a certain learning app that offers instant access to takeaways from today’s top-selling nonfiction books.

Discover the mottainai spirit

Adopt a more open-minded attitude toward regifting by embracing the Japanese concept of “mottainai.” In broad terms, the word translates to “regret over waste,” but, in practice, it can involve finding value in unwanted or unneeded objects. Couple this with a recent study that found 56% of respondents would appreciate regifted items, and it’s clear the mottainai could be catching on in the Western world.

Opt for slower shipping

Reduce your carbon footprint by selecting slower shipping services when purchasing products online. One- and two-day deliveries are convenient, of course, but the environmental impact of these options is staggering when considered as a whole. Also when shopping online, request that your items be grouped together, rather than sent in multiple shipments. This will reduce the total amount of packaging and lessen CO2 emissions.

Give the gift of a “helper’s high”

In The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People, author Meik Wiking highlights the fact that we’re capable of experiencing as much gratitude and joy by helping others as we can as a result of receiving gifts. This is referred to as a “helper’s high,” and one of the best ways to achieve it is volunteering. So instead of forking over cash for a forgettable holiday gift, ask a loved one to join you for a few hours while you help those who are less fortunate.

As the climate crisis rages on, it’s important to keep sustainability in mind, especially during this, the most wasteful time of year. And if we all do our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle, we’ll hopefully have many more holidays to spend with loved ones.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of the aforementioned books, download the Blinkist app now to explore the main takeaways from each of these titles. And if you’re interested in sharing the gift of Blinkist with curious people in your life, a premium subscription makes it easy to discover new books, authors, and ideas all year long.

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