The Season of Giving is upon us and while it may seem contrary to the Zero Waste movement, I’m here to assure you a Zero Waste Christmas is possible.

Christmas is chock-full of gifts – advent calendars, presents under the tree, the hanging sock filled with candy. Treats rule the occasion and while I’m not here to rain on anyone’s joy, the waste generated as well as the thought of unwanted just-because gifts piling up end up dimming the happiness of the festivities. 

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Don’t worry. I’m not saying you should Marie Kondo your belongings and start giving away your preloved items. Rather, in the Zero Waste spirit, the focus is on reducing the amount of material thrown away and what can be reused. 

Here’s some tips on how you can choose gifts better and with intention so you can share in the Christmas joy without guilt and have a zero waste Christmas. Want more ideas? Here are some Southeast Asian brands to shop from if you’re looking for a last minute present.

Personalise your gift

The best way to know a gift won’t be thrown out is to ensure that it’ll be put to use. While candles are one of the easiest gifts, it may not be right for the person who has only ever lit birthday candles in their life. 

Here’s a chance to inculcate being more present when it comes to your loved ones. What kind of things have they said they needed in the past? Do they read and if they do, what do they read? What are their favourite brands? Go-to comfort treats? Give them items they will use and they’ll remember you for your thoughtfulness.

Don’t worry about the wrapping

It’s time we start normalising reusing paper to wrap gifts. Buying fancy paper that will eventually be ripped apart has always been nonsensical and one of the most wasteful things in any celebration. 

 

Image:  Sage to Silver

 

Let it be okay to use old wrapping paper, magazine pages, or even paper bags when it comes to packaging gifts. As the saying goes, beauty is skin deep, and that’s something that should apply to the gifting experience as well. 

Tip: Tape a bunch of used A4 paper together that has only been used on one side to make an all-white wrapping paper. Go wild with some colour pencils, paints and Sharpies. Or collage on the unblemished side to create a limited edition personalised wrapping paper! 

Buy experiences, not things

Give experiences.

There’s a saying by Cesare Pavese that goes, “We do not remember days, we remember moments”. Likewise, we rarely remember gifts, rather the experiences shared with friends and family. While a gift may end up collecting dust on a desk, shared experiences end up deepening relationships due to the time and activity spent together. 

One of my favourite gifts is a voucher to watch a horror movie with my horror-hating friend. There’s no price tag on her initial squeamishness and eventual pleasure through the movie.

Be it romantic or platonic, buying experiences shouldn’t break the bank. Since it’s about the time and not money spent, choose a variety of experiences that you know the giftee will enjoy or has always wanted to try. For instance, going on a hike or doing a manicure together. 

When all else fails, get gift cards

All hail the underrated gift of our generation, the gift card. While it may seem very impersonal to give someone what is essentially a voucher, when it is selected with thought and intention, it will be received with gratitude. 

The tip is in, no surprises, being observant and taking active interest.

Don’t get a Kinokuniya gift card for your friend who only reads Wattpad stories or a H&M voucher if they’re anti-fast fashion. Are they political? Gifting an annual subscription to news outlets like the New York Times or Malaysiakini would be surely appreciated. Or perhaps they’ve been saying how they want to improve their fitness? Gifting Classpass credits would go a long way. Even a grocery gift card may be greeted with surprise at first, but smiles later. 

 

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There’s also no shame in asking people outright if they want something specific. Worst case scenario, you don’t get a clear answer. But at least you’ll have the above tips to guide you.  

Have a Merry Zero Waste Christmas, y’all!