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How to avoid wasteful gifting this Christmas

Christmas is a time for excess – but if you’re trying to live more sustainably, this doesn’t have to fall to the wayside just because it’s the festive season. Here are some tips to help you avoid wasteful gifting and be kinder to the planet.
Woman holding a pile of wrapped presents in front her face
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We all know Christmas is an expensive time. Just think about the decorations, the food, the gifts, and everything else you typically need to buy each year – when you add it up, your head may start spinning.

And with this year’s celebrations hopefully being close to normality, you’re going to want to pull out all the stops to find the perfect gifts for the loved ones you’ve so greatly missed – and maybe even a fabulous outfit for your work’s Christmas party too!

But it can be easy to forget that Christmas doesn’t just impact your wallet. All that shiny wrapping paper and plastic packaging has a big environmental impact. Shockingly, in 2017 alone, it was estimated that 114,000 tonnes of plastic packaging would be thrown away and not recycled that Christmas.

To give you a visual, that’s the weight of 3.3 million Emperor penguins – more than there are left in the wild.1

While they may be small, that’s an awful lot of penguins we’re talking about here! And as many of us will be making up for lost time after having a more pared-backed Christmas last year, the amount we chuck away this festive season could be even higher.

So, how can you reduce your environmental impact?

One thing you may want to consider is waste free Christmas gifts. Zero waste gifts can be created in a variety of ways, such as recycling or reusing items to make new presents, and moving away from gifting physical items that will end up in landfill in a few years’ time.

Why give zero waste gifts this Christmas?

The festive season may be associated with bright lights and glittery decorations, but there’s a not-so-pretty side to the holiday too. Here are some additional statistics about the environmental impact of Christmas that might shock you:

  • DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) estimates that around 50,000 trees are cut down each year to make enough paper for us to wrap our gifts2
  • The UK sends and receives more than 1 billion Christmas cards each year – and because each of these weigh an average of 30g, they produce approx. 30,000 tonnes of waste annually3
  • Britons receive a total of 81 million unwanted Christmas gifts each year, and 1 in 10 of these are expected to end up in landfill4

And these facts don’t even touch on the festive food waste generated each year.

Not only that, but unwanted gifts (whether they are given due to the fact that you didn’t know what to buy or you grabbed them in a last-minute panic on Christmas Eve!) can be a waste in more ways in one. Just think about it; you might be splashing the cash on presents that will just sit in the back of a cupboard for just a few months before being thrown away.

By choosing zero waste gifts you’ll need to put a little more thought into what your loved ones actually want to receive. This hopefully means your actions aren’t just helping the planet by avoiding wasteful gifting – but you’ll also be giving better gifts too!

Want this year to be different? Why not avoid wasteful gifting by investing in presents that will keep on giving long after you’ve taken down your tree?

Waste free Christmas gift ideas

We get it. It can be hard to find 100% zero waste gifts – especially if you’re on a tight budget or you don’t have much time to shop around for them. But just remember, we all need to start somewhere, and if everyone made just one small change to be more environmentally conscious, this could make a big difference.

Even if a zero-waste lifestyle isn’t sustainable for you, even just reducing the amount of unrecyclable rubbish you produce can help.

Here are some ideas you may want to consider for waste free (or almost waste free) Christmas gifts.

Ask people what they need

There are many expensive events in a person’s life – going to university, buying a property or having a child are just a few examples. And with the cost of living creeping up faster than wages for many of us, your loved ones will probably appreciate you gifting them something that will help them out with these expenses.

For example, if your friend has recently moved out for the first time, it’s worth asking them if there’s anything they need for their home that you could get them as a present – such as a cutlery set or bedding. Or if they’re expecting a baby, you could even offer to contribute to the cost of pricey items that they’ll need to buy, such as a cot or pram.

So, although it may ruin the surprise element (and let’s face it, cutlery is nowhere near as exciting as a new pair of trainers), giving a gift that’s needed will bring far more value, and it won’t sit gathering dust in a few months when something else is in fashion.

Buy second-hand

We mentioned earlier that 1 in 10 gifts are likely to end up landfill each year from the festive season alone4, but just how many presents end up being unwanted in the first place? According to a Finder survey of over 2,000 people in 20215, it’s estimated that over 21 million of us Brits receive at least one gift we don’t want each Christmas. So, just think of how many unwanted gifts are also generated from other occasions that could be going to waste – such as birthdays and weddings, or when you leave a job and your co-workers all chip in to get you a little something to say goodbye.

Fortunately, these presents don’t always get thrown in the bin without a second thought. The Finder survey also revealed that 22.50% of people who receive presents they dislike regift them, 21.87% donate them, and 11.31% sell them. With that in mind, charity shops, markets and car boot sales can all be great places to find gifts that haven’t been used – and sometimes for a cheaper price too, which is ideal if you’re on a tight budget this year. And if you’d rather do your shopping online, then try places like Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Depop to see what treasures you could snap up.

Gift experiences

If you want a waste free Christmas gift for a loved one, remember that you don’t necessarily need to give them a physical item. Why not get a little creative and instead of buying them something that they will like and appreciate (but may not necessarily need) think about giving them an experience that you can enjoy together – such as a spa day, a meal at a fancy restaurant, a theatre trip, or if you want to pull out all the stops, an overnight stay or a weekend break somewhere.

Of course, going down this route does come with the added benefit that you’ll also get to enjoy their present yourself, which is always nice – but don’t let that sway your decision of what to get them as this should be something that they’ll actually enjoy! However, gifting experiences could also help to reduce the amount of waste that will end up in landfill this Christmas – just think of all the wrapping and packaging you could avoid throwing in the bin. Not only that, but this gift could end up being far more meaningful as you’ll remember the experience you shared for many years to come.

We think this famous quote from Jean Chatzky (who is an American finance journalist) sums this up rather nicely: “Buy experiences, not things. Spending on experiences makes people happier than spending on things. Things get broken and go out of style. Experiences get better every time you talk about them.”

Give the gift of money

It’s the number one question that most parents dread getting from their family members each year: “What should I get your little one for Christmas?”.

You may already be struggling to answer this when putting together your own shopping list, so you may just tell them to give them money or buy them something that your little one has shown a fleeting interest in to avoid leaving them hanging. But unfortunately, in many cases this means that they will likely only play with a toy they’ve been gifted for a few months before breaking it or getting bored of it – meaning it either takes up storage space in your home or gets thrown away.

But if you don’t want to take yet another trip to the tip, there is another option: you could ask them to put the money in a Junior ISA (also known as a ‘JISA’) instead (if you wanted to, of course).

So, how does this work?

ISAs (Individual Savings Accounts) are little gifts from the UK government as they allow you to save or invest up to a certain amount tax-efficiently each year (for a Junior ISA, this is £9,000 for 2021/22). So, a Junior ISA is a savings or investment account that enables you to take advantage of this allowance while saving for your child’s future.

The money in this account belongs to your child and can only be accessed by them when they’re 18 – and if you choose a Junior Stocks and Shares ISA, their savings could grow further because they will be invested in the stock market. However, please remember that with all investing your capital is at risk, and your child could get back less than what was invested by yourself or any other contributors to the Junior ISA.

Although a JISA will be set up by a child’s parent or guardian, other people can pay in too. And by asking your friends and family to put money into this account rather than giving your little one cash or buying them plastic toys, you won’t just be reducing your environmental impact; you could also be giving them a gift that makes a big difference to their future.

Just think about it – instead of getting a toy that they will only be interested in for a short time, they could use this money to buy their first car at aged 18, or even keep it invested for a few years longer to put towards a house deposit. What could be a better gift than that?

If you want to avoid wasteful gifting this Christmas, it doesn’t need to be complicated. There are plenty of options for zero waste gifts that don’t break the bank and can be more meaningful than gifting physical presents that will be broken or forgotten about by next Christmas.

And if you and your loved ones pay into a Junior ISA for your child each festive season, you could give them a waste free Christmas gift that will be remembered for years to come as their savings could grow over the years and be used to help them achieve their future dreams. Why not find out more about JISA Friend and Family Contributions and how this works?

The tax treatment depends on your individual circumstances and may be subject to change in the future.

Please remember the value of your investments can go down as well as up, and you could get back less than invested.

  1. https://www.wcl.org.uk/uk-christmas-gift-to-the-environment.asp
  2. https://www.gwp.co.uk/guides/christmas-packaging-facts/
  3. https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/christmas/can-i-recycle-christmas-cards-how-dispose-decorations-and-wrapping-paper-and-what-put-bin-3084931
  4. https://www.recyclingwasteworld.co.uk/news/one-in-10-unwanted-christmas-gifts-ends-up-in-landfill-says-survey/148784/
  5. https://www.finder.com/uk/unwanted-gifts

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