How Holiday Gift Waste Impacts the Environment

Whether it’s a hideous sweater, a book you’ve read before, or some weird little trinket, you’ve probably received at least one holiday gift that you just didn’t want. You can try donating these items, but there’s a good chance you’ll end up throwing them away.

Americans spent an estimated $ 15.2 billion on unwanted holiday gifts in 2019, and 4% of them ended up in the trash, according to one survey conducted by and Pureprofile. This year, even more giveaways could end up in a landfill this year, like the National Retail Federation predicted Record-breaking holiday shopping season: Sales could increase 8.5-10% from last year and potentially bring in $ 859 billion. Not only is this trend bad for our bank accounts, but the environment is also worse.

“We definitely see an influx of trash throughout the vacation,” says Jeremy Walters, community relations manager for the recycling and waste disposal company Republic Services. Between Thanksgiving and New Years, household waste typically increases by about 25% and equates to about 1,000 pounds of additional waste, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It’s safe to assume that much of this waste is gift waste.

“Usually people give gifts and they are unwanted, and people don’t think about the more sustainable option, which is to donate these items,” he says. “They might not want it, but keeping things out of the waste stream is still the most sustainable thing you can do.”

The environmental impact of unwanted gifts

Everything you buy affects the surrounding ecosystems: to make products you need energy, natural resources, including water and chemicals, and raw materials such as trees or fossil fuels, explains Darby Hoover, Senior Resource Specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“If you’re wasting something, you’re wasting all the built-in resources that come with it,” she says. Instead of throwing away unwanted goods, try to re-gift, reuse, or donate what you can. Try to give gifts using local groups without buying – there you can post articles on social networks and someone in your neighborhood can claim them for free.

It’s best to keep items in their original form for as long as possible – and out of landfills, Hoover adds.

Once in a landfill, organic matter such as paper or food emits greenhouse gas methane as they break down. Plastics can take generations to biodegrade and can release dangerous chemicals. Textile waste Also emits harmful greenhouse gases and can leach toxins and dyes into surrounding soil or groundwater.

Can you recycle the gift wrapping?

There aren’t many typical gift components that you can recycle through traditional methods, Walters says. Take the example of packaging: shipping boxes or product packaging are recyclable, unlike plastic packaging.

“You buy a kid’s toy and it’s in a cardboard box, but then it has some kind of tight-fitting plastic shell – it’s not recyclable,” he explains. Instead, plastic bottles, jugs, and jars labeled # 1 or 2 are the most widely accepted plastics by recycling companies.

Wrapping paper isn’t always recyclable either, especially if it’s glossy, glittery, laminated, or has an aluminum print. But printed matte wrapping paper is fair game, Walters adds. Bows, ribbons and gift bags are also not viable. When these materials end up in curbside trash cans, they can become entangled in recycling equipment and pose a risk to workers.

To reduce waste, you can reuse or reuse gift wrap. Walters says his family is putting someone on ‘archery duty’ to collect them and keep them in the current trade: “I’m sure some of the bows we have on our gifts have been circulating for the past 15 years. . Hoover says using magazines, newspapers, catalogs, and old calendars as wrapping paper is a creative and sustainable option.

Returns come with a significant carbon footprint

Returning items may seem like a logical way to deal with unwanted vacation offers, but this option comes with significant environmental consequences. This shipping process emits around 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, and e-commerce returns produce 14% more waste than in-store, according to to research by reverse logistics company Porto and Environmental Capital Group. In addition, 5.8 billion pounds of returned inventory ends up in landfill each year.

“You think, ‘I’m returning something to this retailer that I haven’t used, so of course it should just be resold,” says Meagan Knowlton, Director of Sustainability at Porto. “There are a number of reasons why products don’t end up being resold or even given away. ”

Processing returns can be time consuming and labor intensive, she explains. Employees must open the boxes of returned goods, check the condition of the products and decide if they can be restocked. Many products, especially damaged or seasonal items, end up sold in bulk to liquidators or thrown away due to the significant resources required to process them. In addition, certain types of products, such as home health items, cannot be resold for regulatory reasons.

While it’s difficult for consumers to know for sure what happens to a returned item, Knowlton suggests returning the items as quickly as possible or doing the process in-store, which increases the likelihood of them being resold. By consolidating shopping at the store and the post office, you can reduce gas emissions. Plus, consolidated return programs, such as Amazon drop-off points, allow you to return multiple items at once.

Rethinking gifts can reduce waste

Reducing the likelihood of unwanted and junk-related gifts starts with assessing how you redeem them in the first place. You can agree with your family and friends not to give gifts, for example. Other options include donating to the recipient’s favorite charity or giveaway experiences such as dinner parties, concerts, or online classes.

“There is value in experiences because it’s a memory you’ll keep, and you won’t get past a memory, but you can get too big for a shirt,” Walters says.

If you’re exchanging gifts, buy what you’re sure the recipient will actually use and always provide a gift receipt, Knowlton says. When you receive something you don’t like, don’t throw it in the trash – do your best to keep the item used for as long as possible by reframing or donating.

“This is a great way for us to try to reduce our impact on the environment, and everything is in order to leave this planet a better place for our future generations, leaving it safe and resourced for our children and their children. kids, ”Knowlton says.

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