Tips & Tricks: Sustainable Gifts

Hello! It’s been a minute, huh?

I am finally done with the first semester of my junior year and am very much looking forward to taking a well deserved break. After being apart from family over thanksgiving, I was able to visit my mom and my brother for Christmas. The cat came with as she is moving back in with them now that my mom has moved. She was absolutely fantastic on the plane, which, let’s be honest, was a huge surprise.

Waffles in cat jail on the plane

It’s taken her a little bit to adjust to a new home, and she’s not fully there yet, but she’s doing pretty well. She loves the California sun and warm weather much more than the cloudy Chicago winter we left.

While staying inside, I have been taking time to wrap and decorate my eco-friendly gifts for my friends and family. I love wrapping presents and wanted to find a way to still make them look cute but be sustainable. Through listening to others in the sustainable community, along with my own ideas, I was able to do just that. So, I wanted to share the fun way I was able to make my gifts this year sustainable and cute.

Materials needed:

  • Citrus fruits of your choice
    • I ended up using two oranges as that gave me the perfect number of slices for all of my gifts. If you have a lot of gifts, use more, if not that much, use less.
    • You can use lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, any citrus you like
  • Recyclable brown paper or newspaper
  • Twine
  • Holly or Winterberries
    • If you use winterberries: keep them away from children and pets as they are toxic, but they look great!

(You can always do it differently by using scarfs or other ideas, but this is how I did it)

To dry the oranges:

  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking sheet or two (depending on your needs) with either parchment paper, a silicon baking sheet (which is the sustainable option!) or aluminum foil
  • Cut the fruit of choice into thin slices discarding any seeds
  • Put the slices on the baking sheet about a half inch apart
  • Back at 200 degrees, flipping every 30 minutes, for about 2 to 3 hours
    • Because they will be of varying sizes, take out the slices as they dry
  • (Optional: Sprinkle the oranges with sugar)

Cut the Winterberry or Holly into sizes of your choosing, then get ready to wrap.

Wrap your gifts in brown recycled paper or old newspaper and wrap with twine to give it some extra flare. Then decorate as you feel with the oranges and winterberry/holly.

They turn out really cute! And it is all sustainable! As they sit under the tree, I have received great feedback. People love how they look, and it’s so incredibly easy.

So! Now that you know how to wrap the gifts, what do you put in them?

I know, I know. Christmas is two days away and this is a little late, but everyone is always searching for last minute gift ideas. So here are some that I got for my family.

  • Wine
    • This is a great gift as you can find some great wine from sustainable vineyards. When purchasing, look to see if the vineyard is SIP certified.
    • You can also book a wine tasting at a local vineyard, which a great, low waste experience gift! However, in our current covid era, leaving the house isn’t advisable. So, instead you could buy different wines from the same or different vineyard and do a home wine tasting. Makes the experience come to the home and is a fun change from the usual routine. You can even make tasting sheets to rank the different wines you try!
  • Photos
    • Photos are a great sentimental low waste gift too, especially if you can get them printed on recycled paper.
    • I was able to make a little photo book for my family for the holidays (they already opened it, don’t worry) and they love it.
    • Photos are something that are not that expensive, can be a great sustainable option, have a lot of sentimental value, and are a great last minute gift idea
  • Experience gifts
    • I have talked about this before, and just mentioned it when I talk about wine tastings, but experience gifts are truly one of the most sustainable gifts you can give. They are low waste and just plain fun.
    • Gift cards to restaurants or the movies support local businesses in your area through covid and are a great sustainable idea
    • Tickets to a play or an amusement park which can be used once things open back up are great ideas
    • You can also give sustainable gear for people that spend time outside, like backpacks or sustainable cork yoga mats
  • Second Hand gifts
    • Regifting or gifting second hand items is something that we should normalize. Walk into any thrift or consignment store, or even scroll down eBay and you can find incredible stuff. Things do not always need to be new. Normalize getting things refurbished and second hand. Not only is it more sustainable, but it is often cheaper!
  • Buy a tree or carbon offsets!
    • I, again, have talked about this before, but carbon offsets are a great gift, and can easily be a last minute gift as it is done all online and you print or email the certificate. They supports companies and projects that are working to reduce carbon emissions. I bought one for my mom last Christmas, in fact, and funded the planting of trees, clean water initiatives, and several other projects
    • Gift a Tree! You can also plant a tree (or trees) in dedication to someone for Christmas. This is a great gift and that person is now tied to a sustainable project. This also a great last minute gift idea that is done all online! Treedom Trees is a great company that allows you to plant or dedicate trees. You get to pick your kind of tree, a farmer will plant it and photograph it, and you can follow its journey as it grows and follow the larger project it is apart of.
  • If you must shop, shop small, shop business of color.
    • It is so important to support small businesses and businesses owned by people of color every holiday season, but this holiday season especially. They typically do not operate on the same large scale basis that other corporations do, so it is a sustainable way to shop in its own right. Make sure your favorite business survive this pandemic. Don’t know what to get, buy a gift card. Everything helps.

This is just a short list of great last minute ideas and ideas for the future for the people you care about most in your lives.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season and it is spent with people you love, either in person or virtually.

Stay safe, stay home, stay wearing your mask. We’re not through this yet.

Happy Holidays

Tips & Tricks: A Sustainable Holiday

Listen as you read

The holiday season. It is finally upon us… but it looks a little different this year. Many of us, myself included, are separated from our families. I, for instance, am in Chicago while my family is in much warmer parts of the country. This holiday season feels different than others. I think I’ve been looking forward to it much more than I usually do too.

The time from Thanksgiving to New Years is always filled with so much hope and love. I think we all need a little bit more of that this year. I have even broke my family tradition of only listening to Christmas music post Thanksgiving. I watched Dash & Lily today on Netflix, which omg cheesy but cute teenage romance (also the Jonas Brothers are in it?? and I love Joe so…) and am writing this while listening to Christmas music and sitting next to a candle (kind of like a fireplace right?) while it is completely dark at 5 pm.

Starting to feel like the holidays.

I think I may even try to decorate my small little house this week.

I, like so many others, are not with my family this holiday to protect them and myself and others from the horrors of Coronavirus. This holiday season should really be spent looking out for others and being selfless.

Being selfless also includes putting the planet’s interests above your own. (You knew this was coming right? I gotta input my sustainable knowledge at some point…) I have complied a little list about ways that you can be sustainable this year! Whether it be through Christmas cards, gift wrap, decorations, or holiday meals.

The holiday season is a time to give back to others, a time to show them how much the mean to you, a time to be kind to strangers. Be kind to the planet too.

(As per usual, I am not being paid for recommending any of these companies, products, or ideas. I am sharing them of my own volition and belief in a commitment to a sustainable future)

Sustainable Christmas Cards:

To start off this list, I thought I would share a really cool shop that I was recently introduced to: Paper Culture.

This organization is really cool. For every purchase you make, they plant a tree.

Curtesy of Paper Culture

They’ve planted over 1 MILLION trees. Insane. They have a done of cute designs for the holiday season and beyond. This a great alternative to other Christmas card companies as it actively works to mitigate climate change.

Reduce Food Waste

Food waste is such a large problem in the developed world. And it just sky rockets around holidays. People always make more than what they will eat and often times just toss it, instead of saving it as left overs or making less food.

To make sure you don’t just end up throwing away your left overs, freeze them! They will keep a lot longer and there’s a good chance you’ll come back to it. You can also make sure you eat what you have before getting new food or ordering in. Use what you have before you get more. You can also find new recipes to repurpose your left overs.

Compost the stuff you can’t eat! Composting is such a great way to reduce food waste and give back to the Earth. I got my mom a composter for the holidays last year, and while it wasn’t quite what we needed, she ended up composting in her garden bed. You don’t need your own compost box or garden though. You can store your food scraps in the freezer, and when you are ready to get rid of them, find a local compost collection site near you!

Eat Less Meat

I think we can all agree that Turkey definitely does not live up to the hype. So why eat it?

This year, try eating less meat. Make more vegetable dishes and sides. Eating less meat is such a huge thing that you can do for the environment and to reduce climate change on an individual level.

Travel Better or Not at All

This year might be easier than others to not travel across the country with Corona and all, but emissions from planes and cars around the holidays are so detrimental to the planet.

You really shouldn’t be traveling this year ( I mean Illinois just went under another statewide stay at home order), but if you must, try keeping these ideas in mind.

Travel less often. Instead of driving or fly across country for Christmas and Thanksgiving, pick one. Or stay home every other year. This would help a lot with carbon emissions.

Take a bus or a train instead of flying. This is much less convenient, but convenient rarely means good for the planet.

You can also buy carbon offsets. This supports companies and projects that are working to reduce carbon emissions. I bought one for my mom last Christmas in fact. I funded the planting of trees, clean water initiatives, and several other projects.

Stop the Black Friday Frenzy

Black Friday is a global nightmare. We buy stuff that destroys the planet just because it’s cheap. This year, try to avoid the pull of consumer culture. Buy from sustainable brands if you must, or thrift, or make your own gifts!

You could also chose to give experience gifts. These gifts are very cool and are a great gift for a year when we didn’t get to do anything. You can buy a voucher to many places that the recipient gets to redeem when it is safe to do so. You aren’t contributing to consumer culture and are giving a fun and personal gift. Experience gifts can be anything from wine tastings, to movie tickets, to a coupon for a dinner with you!

Sustainable Gift Wrap? Yes Please!

Wrapping is known to be horrific for the planet. So, what can we do?

Repurpose old newspapers or paper shopping bags. Use plain, brown, recyclable paper instead of the glossy stuff that can’t be recycled. Decorate with twine and pine and berries. Be natural this year. Sustainability is in.

Natural Decorations

In addition to natural wrappings, try natural decorations. If you need to buy new decorations, and can’t reuse what you have from previous years (which is always the best), try being more natural.

Get a real tree, something that can be composted and returned to the earth, instead of a fake tree made from petroleum. If you must have a fake tree, make sure it is one you can use forever.

Reducing waste is incredibly important. If you use natural decorations, like real garland or a wooden reindeer, or you make your own, try to find things that can be reused, if it can’t be composted. This is will not only reduce your holiday costs, but reduce your footprint this holiday season as well.

This list is far from exhaustive, but I hope it will push you in the right direction.

Enjoy this holiday, even if you aren’t with your loved ones. Make do with what you have. Find the joy in this situation. Light your candles, dance around to whatever music you like the most, and eat as many cookies as it takes.

I, for one, am going to go spin around to Step into Christmas by my love Sir Elton John.

Happy Holidays from me and mine to you and yours, wherever you all may be this year.