As the winter holidays approach, many people are scrambling to find gifts for their friends and family. While gift giving is a fun and meaningful way to show appreciation for those in our lives, when done in unsustainable ways, it can be a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the Columbia Climate School, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the US sees an additional one million tonnes heading to landfills each week. Online shopping, the mailing of more than two billion Christmas cards, gift and decorative waste lead to approximately nine billion tonnes of paper waste over the holidays, about half the yearly total in the US. A study from the Stockholm Environmental Institute found that in the UK, about 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 is produced each holiday season from unwanted gifts that people throw away or don’t use—at a cost of £4 billion!
Now, we don’t want to come off as Grinches here. Enjoying the holidays with those in your life isn’t something to feel guilty about. At Zerofy, our whole ethos is that it is possible to make low-carbon switches at home to reduce our household carbon footprint (and our app simplifies this process). The same idea rings true around the holidays. You don’t need to stop giving gifts; you can just choose to make gift choices that either have zero or minimal associated emissions, or gifts that actually have a positive effect on the planet. Below, we’ve compiled 10 of our favourite sustainable gift ideas, covering a range of budgets and interests.
1. A potted plant
A nice potted plant is a great sustainable gift that doesn’t require any wrapping, adds greenery to a home, and can contribute to natural air purification. Once the plant outgrows its pot, the pot can be reused over and over for smaller plants. If the person you are gifting the plant to has a garden, you could consider choosing a native plant based on where they live to give them the option to plant it outside in the spring. If taken care of well, whoever you gift a potted plant to could have it for years to come.
2. An electric composter
Composting is a fantastic way to address food and yard waste by harnessing the natural aerobic process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil. Composting results in a reduction in the amount of food that ends up in landfills, where it releases emissions into the atmosphere. It also can provide you and your community with rich material to enhance your soil and garden.
Some people don’t have the capability to have a traditional outdoor composting set-up, for example if they lack a yard or their shared apartment greenspace doesn’t permit composting. Others who want to compost might not live in areas with municipal green bin pickup. A cool option in these cases is a countertop composter. These are small compost systems that you can keep in your kitchen that accelerate the composting process. The Lomi Composter is a popular model that can fit on a countertop. According to Lomi, their composter uses 60kWh of energy for 100 composting cycles, equal to 220 pounds of diverted landfill food waste. For users who don’t have an outdoor garden, the compost generated can be used along with soil for potted plants, or donated to a community garden.
3. Plantable cards
Plantable cards are a unique alternative to the traditional holiday card that gets tossed in the recycling bin, or worse, the garbage. These cards, from companies like Botanical Paperworks and various small vendors on Etsy, are typically made from recycled paper embedded with seeds. Many of the options are beautiful in their own right, you can write on them like normal paper, and your recipient can plant them. The paper will compost away in the soil, and with normal care, the seeds begin to sprout. It’s a neat way to combine a nice seasonal greeting along with the gift of a plant or flowers.
4. An E-bike
An electric bike, or e-bike, looks a lot like a regular bike, except that it comes equipped with a motor that typically sits on the center frame of the bike or on one of the hubs. This motor can assist you when you are pedaling. The amount of power delivered by the e-bike motor is based on how much effort you are applying to the pedals, plus the degree of assistance you have chosen. They generally have 3-5 different degrees of assistance, so you can choose based on where you are going, your level of fitness, and how you feel that day.
This is certainly on the higher end of the budget for gifts, but if you have someone important in your life who wants to up their sustainable transportation game, this is a great choice. If they’re a commuter, you can look at our recommendations for great commuter e-bikes.
It’s no secret that the current energy crisis is driving major concern about consumption and cost. A thoughtful gift you may not have thought of before are smart home devices that help people track and save on energy usage, and potentially reduce their bills. A WiFi humidity and temperature sensor like the Shelly Plus H&T will measure, display, and track your room temperature and you can even access it remotely from your phone. It also allows people to make sure the temperature and humidity of a room is the most comfortable, easily. Smart plugs fit between your wall socket and an appliance, and allow you to control the appliance they’re plugged into remotely, so they can function in more environmentally efficient and useful ways. The MyStrom Switch and Shelly Plug S are both great choices. The smart plugs and humidity and temperature sensor above are all under €40 and something your gift recipient can use every day.
Lastly, a smart shower head can help save water and energy in the shower. Models like the Amphiro Digital Hand Shower have an integrated LCD display that tells you useful info like the amount of water used, temperature, and energy used. Plus, a LED light changes colour as more energy is used.
6. A solar power bank
If you’re looking for a gift for an outdoorsy person who likes to camp or hike in the summer, a small solar power bank is a great choice. These small devices can be thrown in a backpack (or attached to its exterior) and used to charge small devices like a smartphone, GPS, or emergency spot device. They won’t power anything with significant energy needs, and the solar panel on them is tiny, but they can be thought of as a good tool to help you stay in touch in more remote locations. A popular one is the GoerTek 25,000 mAh Solar Power Bank.
7. Public transit pass
This might not be the flashiest of gifts, but for those who live in urban centres and rely on public transit, this will be a gift they can use every day. Transportation is one of the major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, representing about 11% of the total globally. For people who already take advantage of public transport and rely less on vehicles, a gifted pass is a great way to support their lower-carbon mode of travel. This could be an especially good gift for a student in your life who may spend a decent amount of their budget on transportation costs.
8. Permanent carbon removal
Technologies that permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by sequestering it underground or in products are relatively new, but there are a handful of companies that allow individuals to purchase it. When you purchase permanent carbon removal, it means your funds are being used to make a measurable reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is a special gift that you could purchase on behalf of someone. Since you’ll want to know their approximate carbon footprint to decide on the tonnes of removal you’ll purchase, this might be the best fit for someone close to you, like a partner or child. This gift is on the more expensive end of things, but it’s also quite meaningful as your gift purchase will help permanent carbon removal scale.
We like Charm Industrial’s approach, where they use plants to capture CO₂ from the atmosphere, and then the biomass is converted into a carbon-rich liquid which is sequestered in geological formations. We’re such big fans of Charm Industrial that you can actually purchase carbon removal from them within the Zerofy app.
9. DIY beeswax food wraps
You may have seen these fun patterned beeswax food wraps sold in kitchen and home goods stores. They are cloth or dish towels that are coated in beeswax, and can be used to pliably wrap around containers or food to keep it fresh. You can hand wash them, they’re reusable, durable, and allow for waste-free transport of food. It is actually fairly simple to make them at home. If you use cloth or pieces of clothing that you already have at home, this is essentially a waste free gift both in production and use. This is a good step-by-step guide.
10. Thrift store gift cards
Many thrift stores now offer gift cards, especially around the holidays. For someone in your life who loves vintage clothing, a gift card to a local thrift store is a great choice. They’ll be able to choose what they like, support a local business, and feel good knowing they are helping sustain the life of the clothes they buy.
Fast fashion, the term used to describe quickly and cheaply made and sold clothing, has a real detrimental effect on the environment. The clothing production industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions—as much as the entire Europe Union. When consumers buy secondhand clothing instead of new, they’re prolonging the life of the garments. They’re also making a choice to invest in pieces that already exist, instead of spending their consumer dollars on fast fashion. Plus, buying vintage is fun.