Have you considered buying nothing this Christmas? Here are some tips to reduce, reuse and recycle in gifting
Cutting back waste, saving money, and making lasting memories are some benefits of buying less
When coming up with your list of what to buy your friends and family for Christmas this year, have you considered — nothing?
That's what one Winnipeg woman aims to do during the holidays.
Courtney Worden and her family usually give to charity rather than giving items, but when they want to give something material, she turns to an online community of gift-givers called the Buy Nothing Project.
"Before I spend any money or go to a store or even think about the economy, I will look on Buy Nothing first and see if there's somebody there who might want to share something with me," she said.
The group has local chapters in countries around the world, and Worden is the administrator of her Windsor Park and Southdale chapter. When she needs to make a gift for someone, Worden asks the roughly 200 members of the chapter's Facebook group for materials.
"I've personally received gifts of fabric for sewing, ingredients for baking something," she said.
Other people on the page have shared invitations to holiday dinners, offers of car-seat inspections from a certified technician, and an afternoon of child care from a licensed child-care provider.
If Worden wants clothes or a new toy for her 15-month-old son, she asks the Buy Nothing group.
It's a way for her to practise the three Rs — reduce, reuse, and recycle — while getting to know her neighbours.
"I like meeting the recipient and knowing on a personal level that I'm making a difference for someone in my community. Just because something isn't useful to me, that doesn't mean it belongs in the garbage."
Memorable and durable
By sharing non-material gifts like services, meals or simply spending time, Worden and the Buy Nothing Project are practising many of the sustainable-giving strategies recommended by the Green Action Centre in Winnipeg.
Bethany Daman, the green living co-ordinator at the centre, has experienced first-hand how finding alternatives to buying gifts can make those gifts more meaningful.
Last year, she and her partner decided to give each other handmade wooden gifts. She took an old piece of wood and turned it into a photo calendar, while he made a cribbage board, complete with handmade wooden pegs.
"And so that was a very sustainable gift, and one that has created memories for much longer than just a cheap gift that somebody got at the mall that I would forget about in two years," she said.
Taking pieces of wood and transforming them into treasured gifts is an example of upcylcing — reusing waste or byproducts to make something new, Daman said. It's one of the ways the Green Action Centre suggests people can make holiday gift-giving more sustainable.
One of most important considerations when deciding on what gift to give is to avoid giving people things they don't need, and try to focus on things they will actually use, Daman said.
The same year she and her partner made each other gifts, Daman made her parents freezable meals that they could easily heat up in a slow cooker.
"I have gotten texts from my parents saying, 'Thank you so much for the gift, we're having your supper tonight and it was so helpful,'" she said.
"It just took more time in thinking, 'What kind of items am I going to put into these meals, how am I going to package the meal?' But it ended up being something that made more memories throughout the year."
Making memories instead of buying things is one of the main ways people can reduce the environmental impact of their gifts. Giving someone an experiential gift, like tickets to a concert or a movie, or taking them to a restaurant are ways people can make memories that will last longer than most material items.
"Overall, it ends up being a much more special experience and it's something that you think about for much longer," said Daman.
Occasionally, Worden says she needs to go to the store to buy a gift for someone. When she does, the Green Action Centre recommends she look for products that are made ethically and sustainably.
Sherry Sobey, owner of Generation Green — an Exchange District shop that specializes in eco-friendly products — considers the environmental and social impacts of the items she sells on her shelves. She says consumers also need to do some research into the products they're buying.
"Dig a little bit deeper into that and ask the questions about, is it being made ethically? Is it fair wages? is it a healthy workplace? You do have to care about some of these things," she said.
Sobey recommends customers think about the durability of the products they buy and look for gifts that help people reduce their waste, like stainless steel straws, coffee mugs, or reusable bags. Many of the products she sells come in refillable bottles that can be brought back to the store.
Also, try to find products that come in minimal packaging, and avoid plastic as much as possible.
"I would put that at the top of the list, is that plastic use and minimizing that wherever we can," she said.
Few gifts are more sustainable than hand-crafted ones made from recycled or reused materials — and the Green Action Centre's Daman says in the case of something like the crib board her partner made, they're the ones that leave a more lasting impression.
"It's something that I will remember for the rest of my life."