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Donate and reuse: how to change your gifting habits this holiday season

Wrapping paper, packaging materials and old items are sources of waste

4 min read
caption When it comes to wrapping presents, sustainability experts urge people to reuse materials, such as newsprint, in order to avoid waste.
Nebal Snan

The holidays are all about celebrating with loved ones, but unsustainable shopping habits can easily  transform the most wonderful time of the year into the most wasteful.

According to a 2017 CIBC online poll, Atlantic Canadians are the country’s top gift buyers. Adults who were randomly selected for the poll said they would be spending about an average of $900 per person in the 2017 holiday season.

But, with gift giving comes a hidden cost: more landfill waste.

Joanna Bull, volunteer co-ordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, says many gifts bought from stores or online come wrapped in packaging that is usually non-recyclable. These materials end up in landfills.

“Anything that we’re landfilling, that’s taking away from habitat,” she says. “There’s lots of great ways of getting gifts for people that don’t come wrapped in three extra pounds of plastic and Styrofoam.”

Bull says people can decrease waste by changing their shopping habits. This includes shopping for local crafts, instead of online, and gifting used books.

“A lot of these things are actually our cultural traditions that have been replaced by, sort of, our consumerist society,” says Bull.

DIY gifts

Rachael Delano, programs administrator at Kind Krafts, suggests making gifts.

Kind Krafts, a non-profit organization based in Halifax, holds free workshops that teach participants how to make crafts from repurposed or sustainable materials, like donated wool for mittens and biodegradable hemp for bracelets. The crafts are usually donated back to the organization, which, in turn, sells them and donates the proceeds for a cause.

Delano, who studied sustainability at Dalhousie University, says making crafts for gifts not only helps the environment, but also makes the gift more “heartfelt.”

“You don’t have to be an artist,” she says. “There are a lot of things that are easy and accessible for people to make.”

caption Rachael Delano poses with some upcycled crafts:  a rice bag, record bowl and shopping bag.
Nebal Snan

Use recyclable packaging

Instead of using non-recyclable wrapping paper and ribbons, Delano suggests using old newspaper and holding it in place with biodegradable twine.

“It relieves a financial burden, because you can use free copies of newspapers instead of buying wrapping paper,” says Delano.

Bull has more ideas for sustainable wrapping gifts:

  • Old calendars or brown recyclable paper,
  • Cloth bags made from sustainable or recycled materials,
  • Reusable gift boxes,
  • Wrapping the present with a scarf.

Repurpose, then recycle

The choices you make when you receive gifts can also reduce waste. If a gift replaces an old item, recycle the item instead of throwing it away.

If the item is made of plastic, it may not get recycled in Canada. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, less than 11 per cent of plastics are recycled in the country.

“It’s really disheartening to find that a lot of that stuff is ending up in the landfill anyway,” says Bull.

Delano says people should repurpose items they don’t need.

“It’s staying in your life in a different way or staying in someone else’s life,” she says.

Old items can also be used to make something new, like turning an old vinyl record into a record bowl. The bowl can be used as a pen holder or a planter.

Items can also be donated. There are several organizations in the Halifax Regional Municipality that accept donations for used items. Bull lists a few:

Bull says thinking carefully about gifting choices will ensure “we’re not unwittingly contributing to the continuing disaster of waste … while we’re trying to have a good time.”

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