As we scramble around gathering up last-minute Christmas gifts, we often worry more about hurting somebody’s feelings if we don’t get them something compared to how much we consider that gift’s impact on the environment. But the societal pressure of all this gift-giving has many bad consequences for the planet.
The top 10 types of Christmas gifts given in the U.K., in order, are: clothes and shoes, food and drink, health and beauty products, toys and games, books, jewelry, vouchers, music, movies and computers. Each of these items has its impact on the environment.
Pajamas are one of the most popular holiday presents. Many gift-givers and recipients would be shocked to find out that those cute cotton pajamas took 20,000 liters of water to produce — enough water to keep a U.K. household of two running for 2.5 months. Then there’s the pesticides. While cotton only represents 2.4% of the world’s croplands, about 24% of the world’s insecticides and 11% of pesticides are used for growing this crop. About half of the usable cotton ends up as waste product.
Then, consider health and beauty products. Half a million animals die every year in makeup and toiletry tests. When it comes to packaging, those little plastic containers can take a millennium to break down.
So what are we to do if we don’t want to be the Grinch around Christmas? Be a little choosier. Think of a gift the recipient will actually use, preferably for a long time. When possible, buy secondhand. Do a little research — at least read the labels or look at the company website — to ensure that ingredients are vegan and sustainably sourced. If this is too much work, shop where somebody else has already done the research for you, such as Shop Like You Give a Damn.
Maybe it’s too late this year, and your presents are already wrapped and under the Christmas tree, or you already exchanged them at Hanukkah or on the solstice. But there’s always next year, and the many holidays, birthdays and other occasions in between. Each gift is a choice; choose wisely.
Image via Kari Shea