Gift shopping

Toy train and wrapped presents at the foot of a decorated Christmas tree

We have all had the experience of being given something don't want, like or need. And while there are ways to dispose of these items sustainably – such as re-gifting or donating them to charity shops – a great deal of time, energy and resources have gone into the production of these items. Sustainable gifting minimises the amount of unwanted gifts and waste associated with these gifts.

What are sustainable gifts?

Choosing sustainable gifts is about considering the health, environmental and social impact of each item. As with all sustainable shopping, this includes where the product was made, the materials it was made from, how it is packaged and any energy efficiency ratings. Sustainable gifting is an opportunity to take your sustainability a step further, however, in that you can choose to give items that actively support the causes that you feel passionate about.

Types of sustainable gifts

1. Donations

A gift in the form of a donation to a worthy cause, perhaps a charity with a focus on the environment, is the most sustainable gift you can give. Rather than using resources and energy to produce a gift, a donation can protect the environment, promote health, support local businesses and employment, protect workers and promote animal welfare. Some charities have fun with this idea, by allowing you to gift a range of quirky items to your friends and family for communities in developing countries. Gift a goat, a well, or even pig manure with an illustrated gift card (or e-card) adding to the fun.

Another donation option is to take the stress and hassle out of Christmas and other special events – while recognising that others experience these occasions and daily life very differently – by forgetting about presents and having a donation bowl instead. After a lavish family meal, pause to think of others with less than you, and encourage a different family member to choose the recipient charity each time.

2. Experiences rather than 'things'

Do you and your loved ones really need more 'things'? Many of us have far more than we need, and when we really want something we simply buy it for ourselves. Gifting an experience such as a massage, a cooking course, a yoga class, or dinner, is an excellent way to end the cycle of accumulating things, realising that we have more than we need, then culling and donating or disposing of items. It is also an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, encourage them to try something new and even to establish a healthy habit. Gifting experiences has the added benefit of supporting local businesses and boosting employment.

3. Kris Kringle / Secret Santa

If gifts are unavoidable at Christmas, a Kris Kringle or Secret Santa is a fun way to reduce the amount of 'stuff' we all end up with. Rather than buying a gift for each person, buyers are allocated one person to buy for anonymously, and a price limit for all of the gifts is set. Guessing who bought your gift is part of the fun and, if you have never played Dirty Santa – a version of these games where you can steal from and swap with others – you should definitely give it a try. This approach to gifting can also be a good way to re-gift something you don't like that you received previously, and you still have the option to gift a donation or experience rather than a tangible item.

4. Sustainable raw materials and quality products

If a donation or experience is not possible, remember to consider the quality of your gifts including what they are made from. Does the gift come with a guarantee? Is the brand committed to responsible practices? Is it made from biodegradable or recycled materials? Can you return or exchange it if your loved one doesn't like it? Many businesses now offer a creative range of sustainable, upcycled and recycled gifts, such as sunglasses made from discarded skateboards, hats made from recycled water bottles and home gardening kits. Ensure your gift has minimal negative environmental impact, will be enjoyed and will last.

5. Holiday souvenirs

Sustainable gift shopping includes items purchased while you are travelling overseas. Remember to:

  • purchase locally-made rather than imported items
  • avoid souvenirs made from wildlife such as shells (including turtle shell) and coral
  • reconsider purchasing souvenirs and gifts made from wood, unless you are certain they are not made from protected or endangered trees.

How to shop sustainably for gifts – five questions to ask

1. Does your loved one really need it?

Avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle. Does your loved one really need the gift or souvenir you're buying? Would a donation or experience be a more appropriate gift?

2. Was the gift made or grown locally?

Wherever possible, choose gifts that have been made or grown in Victoria or Australia, from raw materials produced or sourced in Victoria or Australia. Buying locally will support the local economy and employment, and minimise energy expenditure and emissions associated with transport. When buying locally we can also be more confident that the conditions and wages of the workers who made the product are fair. The same approach applies when you're travelling – buy locally made gifts and souvenirs rather than imported items, and try to buy directly from the source to ensure your money has the greatest local impact.

3. Is the gift made from biodegradable or recycled materials?

Wherever possible, choose biodegradable gifts, gifts made from materials that can be recycled or gifts made from recycled materials as much as possible. These products will have less negative impact on our waterways, air and soil once you have finished using them. Avoid gifts and souvenirs made from wildlife such as shells and ensure that any wooden products are made from sustainable sources.

4. Does the gift have an energy efficiency rating, guarantee or environmentally-friendly grading?

Does the gift come with a guarantee? Is the brand committed to responsible practices? Does it have an energy rating label? Is the item certified organic or Fairtrade? Look for products that promote sustainable farming and manufacturing.

5. How is the gift packaged?

Does your gift have excess packaging? This can be particularly relevant when purchasing online. Choose products with less packaging and remember to take reusable shopping bags from home rather than use single-use plastic bags. While you're at it, create an e-card rather than use a paper card, and get creative with your gift wrapping.

Other ways to shop sustainably

Every time we purchase a product or service – gifts, food, fashion, a property, appliances, a hot water system and our energy suppliers – we have the option to shop sustainably. Decide on an area that's important to you and start making a difference through your choices.


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