Holiday shopping has a 'greener' tinge this year

An increasing number of families in Toronto are changing their holiday traditions--that is, choosing to go greener with their gift giving.

More families in Toronto are changing their holiday traditions and choosing to go giftless or upcycle

Green Sunday was hosted earlier this month to give Torontonians greener alternatives for their holiday season. (Submitted by Erika Reyes)

What might have seemed like a lack of holiday spirit several years ago is now one of this year's latest trends.

It's the last weekend before Christmas and many have already purchased their presents. 

But an increasing number of families in Toronto are changing their holiday traditions, choosing to go greener with their gift giving.

"I'm just realizing how much stuff I have," said Elan Schwartz. "I'm trying to be more thoughtful about it and to find alternatives."

Each year, Canadians produce about 545,000 tonnes of waste from just gift wrapping and shopping bags alone, according to the Recycling Council of British Columbia. While that waste is generated mostly during the holiday season, a recent study by environmental consultant, Laurie Giroux, suggests Canada leads in the most garbage production per capita, globally.

To cut down on that waste, more families are opting to go giftless or upcycle — creatively reusing — their presents. The decision is part of a larger movement to make the holidays less wasteful.

More people are opting for greener gift-giving options such as buying upcycled presents or going giftless entirely. (Submitted by Erika Reyes)

This year, Schwartz' family is choosing to go giftless for Hanukkah, a decision she says came after realizing how much stuff they owned.

"It's not like it's even junk, but I do end up donating a lot of it," she said. "I think there are so many occasions to create gifts." 

There have also been more opportunities for Torontontians to learn how they can take part in greener alternatives. 

"People are really opening their eyes to the issues," said Adrianna Couto, founder of Collective Impact Journey, an organization that spreads awareness about the daily choices and climate change. 

Upcycling, digital options

She, too, does a giftless Christmas with her husband, but said she wanted to give people an opportunity to access different ways of holiday shopping. 

She and Erika Reyes, founder of Wisebird, an organization that finds ways to reduce people's carbon footprint, hosted an event called Green Sunday — a market-styled space where vendors showcased their upcycled creations and a place for people to learn how to be more green. 

"We wanted to create the antagonist event to Black Friday," said Couto, referring to the shopping frenzy day as mostly about consumption and finding good deals. 

Some of the event-goers were even inspired to alter their traditions after attending. Mathilde Gourdin's biggest surprise was how wasteful gift wrap is and said she would be changing the way she packages her presents. 

Wrapping paper is one of the most wasteful parts of the holiday season. Greener techniques, such as wrapping presents in scarves or reusable paper, are becoming more popular. (Submitted by Erika Reyes)

"It's sort of an inspiration for people like me who don't know a lot about how to improve their habits," she said.

"I think sometimes we forget our human side and we just consume, consume, and consume," said Reyes, who will be giving upcycled gifts for the first time this year. 

Others, however, are still looking to give and they're doing so electronically. 

"[The] gift-giving and receiving experience has become more about moments and experiences versus accumulation," said Jane Begy, who used an electronic gift giving platform to exchange presents with her family.

They used a program called UnWrapIt, which allowed them to gift things such as wine club memberships, concert tickets, and a cooking class, while also making the unwrapping part of a unique experience too.

Ways to unwrap the electronic gift included answering true or false questions, revealing a photo or picking from multiple choice.

"The reactions were priceless for us," said Begy.

"Overall, [it was] a tremendous gift-giving experience with a green focus that has transformed our perspective and allowed for a lasting memory which can never end up in a landfill." 


Ania Bessonov is a multi-platform journalist at CBC News with a particular interest in international relations. She has a master's degree in security and diplomacy.