Christmas is, of course, a time for giving—but it is also unfortunately a time of enormous waste. In fact, an estimated £140 million worth of Christmas presents are returned each year in the UK alone, with many of them eventually ending up in landfill. But how can we approach Christmas gifting anew? From giving the gift of experiences to choosing eco-friendly gifts from sustainable or homemade labels, more and more people are trying to ensure their gifts bring as little harm to the planet as possible.
Given that many of us are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, it makes sense that people are being more thoughtful about the presents they buy. “We really need to start thinking about the deeper impact of the items we choose to gift and the footprint they have on this Earth,” Cora Hilts, founder of sustainable e-tailer Rêve En Vert, tells Vogue. “I am a big believer that there can be positive footprints through meaningful gifting, but also very large negative ones when we shop mindlessly.”
Put some extra thought into it
Instead of panic buying something at the last minute, leave yourself some time to think about what each person might actually want. “It’s tempting to shower our loved ones with gifts during the holiday season, but this often leads us to buy items that are quickly forgotten or tossed out,” Rebecca van Bergen, the founder and executive director of Nest, a non-profit that supports artisans around the world, says.
“Thoughtfulness is more important than cost,” stylist Amy Bannerman adds. “A friend of mine had a classic Ralph Lauren knit that she had saved all her money for as a teen; she wore it until it fell apart. I sourced exactly the same one for her and she burst into tears when she opened it.”
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Go for an experience gift
One way to stop products ending up in landfill is to go for an experience gift—whether that be a voucher for a loved one’s favourite restaurant or a National Trust membership. “These are one of my favourite types of presents and what my husband and I normally commit to,” Hilts explains. “I have always made sure these experiences would be as sustainable as possible. For instance, in London, we used to book a dinner at Spring by Skye Gyngell, which is a seasonal, organic and plastic-free restaurant.”
With second-hand shopping growing in popularity, the stigma around giving preloved presents is also beginning to drop away. “If you feel someone may be more on the fence about something preloved, giving an antique might be a safer place to start, as somehow this seems less stigmatised and more luxury,” Bannerman, a second-hand obsessive, suggests. “For home lovers, you can get amazing pieces on eBay—I just got a ceramic palm tree table lamp for £20 which I am eagerly awaiting.”
Invest in sustainably minded brands
If you are buying new, look for brands that are doing their best to reduce their environmental footprint with their eco-friendly gifts. “It can be so much easier to do conscious gifting by simply supporting small, independent and ethical businesses as these people have so often done all the work for you,” Hilts comments. “Their packaging is already minimal and as sustainable as possible, they are producing items of quality and longevity, and they are deeply considering their impact on the earth.”
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Considering the social impact of your gifts is important, too—the festive season can be a great time to support local businesses and craftspeople. “Handcraft is one of the largest employers of women around the world, often enabling them to work from home and care for their families while earning an income,” says van Bergen. While online marketplaces allow you to access pieces by craftspeople from around the world, you can also look closer to home via local crafts markets and boutiques.
Opt for a donation to charity
Perhaps in the spirit of giving, you could make a donation to your loved one’s favourite charity or local food bank this Christmas—rather than buying something that might end up being thrown out anyway. “I think that a lot of us have lost [the sense of] what Christmas is supposed to be about in the madness of consumption that now swirls around the holidays,” Hilts concludes.