Shopping is an ubiquitous part of American culture that peaks during the holiday season in spurts of deal-hunting and gift-giving. Anyone who has made efforts to go zero-waste or plastic-free knows how difficult it can be to maintain those goals while finding meaningful presents for loved ones. So when Black Friday and Cyber Monday roll around, you might experience the internal conflict of responsibility to the planet with the desire to give gifts. We love that you love the planet, so we’ve put together some ideas of ways to enjoy the season without leaving behind a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint.
When it comes to gifting, watch out for extra packaging, especially plastic foam and molded, unrecyclable plastic. Consider buying items in bulk, as long as they have less packaging and won’t go to waste. You can also bring your own containers for bulk products like bath salts, pet treats and food. As always, bring your own reusable shopping bags, and decline the offer of plastic bags from the store.
Support sustainable companies
More and more companies are working to source natural materials and manufacture products in a sustainable way. Reward their efforts by supporting them as your first choice in gift-giving. For example, select bracelets made from ocean plastic, shoes or sunglasses made from coffee grounds or indoor gardens sourced from recycled plastic. Look for companies that ship using recyclable materials, too.
While smaller, sustainably minded companies may not have a flashy ads online or on the TV, they are out there and will often offer discounts on Black Friday and Cyber Monday just like the giant box retailers. You just have to do a little bit of searching.
Make your own gifts
The most sustainable way to enjoy Black Friday is to be in complete control of the materials used in your gifts. Instead of heading out for pre-packaged and wasteful options, take a trip into the local pottery studio and make some plates, a popcorn bowl or a mug to give as a gift. Upcycle by gathering up special T-shirts and other clothing to have a company make them into a memory quilt (if you have sewing skills, you can also DIY!).
Set another date on the calendar for a craft party, and invite friends, family and neighbors to gather and make gifts. Use the Black Friday and Cyber Monday discounts to score some deals at the craft store. Just be sure to look for products that don’t include plastic and emphasize natural materials like hemp, grapevine and organic fabrics.
Choose green technology
A quick glance through most holiday catalogs will highlight deals on electronics. If TVs and other modern gadgets are on your list, research models that consume less energy and purchase solar-powered items when they are an option.
Go for durability
While it is likely that not every item you purchase throughout the season will fully fit the sustainability bill, one way you can help the planet is in waste reduction. To meet this goal, keep in mind that a long-lasting product will create less waste than one that is quickly disposed of. Research your purchases and go for items made with real wood instead of pressboard, strong metals instead of flimsy ones and natural materials instead of plastic (think wooden picnic tables and rocking horses for toddlers). The same goes for jewelry, clothing, furniture, kitchen items and decor. Quality counts, both for the gift recipient and for the planet.
Look for eco-friendly materials
Especially when it comes to textiles, the materials used in production can make a huge difference in the amount of pollutants that end up in waterways and landfills. Select natural fibers for sheets, towels, blankets and clothing. The most obvious example is organic cotton, which eliminates the toxic chemicals such as insecticides, pesticides and fungicides used in traditional cotton production.
Minimize driving and stops
Stop-and-go city traffic is guilty for contributing to air pollution, so do your part by limiting the number of stores at which you shop. Pick one store for your purchases, or select stores near each other. Even better than driving is to take public transit, bike or walk from shop to shop.
Depending on where you live, shopping local is likely the best thing you can do for the environment. You get bonus points if you can shop at a nearby craft mall or import store with a focus on eco-friendly and/or locally made products. If you do hit up the online deals for Cyber Monday, follow the suggestions above in regards to buying from sustainably minded companies and observing packaging and shipping practices.
Gift wrap naturally
Once you’ve made or purchased your gifts, continue the eco-friendly trend with thoughtful gift wrapping. Use natural fabric or paper, and accessorize with leaves, flowers, small branches, nuts or fruit. Alternately, recycle greeting cards into gift tags, upcycle tablecloths and pillow cases, put gifts inside gorgeous reusable bags or organize a gift basket with no wrap at all.
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