Sustainable Gifting

Friday, November 26, 2021
by Maria Fraser Semenoff

The holiday season is a time when gifts are exchanged by many people. However, with this tradition comes a lot of waste! Shipping gifts, wrapping paper waste, packaging, and even those undesired gifts that we all inevitably get use resources, create emissions, and accumulate in landfills.

One way to reduce the environmental impact of exchanging gifts is to give memorable experiences instead of physical objects. Ideas include:

  • tickets to a sport or cultural event (e.g., hockey game, theater performance)
  • a family activity (e.g., downhill skiing, rock climbing, bowling)
  • a relaxing activity (e.g., a day at the spa)
  • a gift card to a local restaurant

Another good way to reduce your waste and carbon footprint during the holiday season is by repurposing items!

Many household items can be transformed into something amazing and special. This not only gets rid of old, unwanted and maybe even broken items, but also keeps a lot of waste from ending up in the landfill.

My Experience:

I enjoy making my own holiday gifts. Crocheting hats and bags has been a hobby of mine for many years. It has allowed me to try different patterns and create really pretty designs.

crocheted tote bag

I made this tote bag for my friend for our Secret Santa gift exchange last Christmas. It was challenging to start the project because I needed to learn a new stitch. As you may be able to see from the photo, the bottom is tighly crocheted but the sides have a bunch of small holes because I skipped every second stitch. It turned out great and my friend loved it!

crocheted santa hat

I made this Christmas hat for my brother last year. I used the same stitch for this project as I used for the tote bag above. This hat was a lot of fun to make and it is the nicest looking Santa hat I have ever seen!

crocheted figure skate

I also really enjoy making Christmas tree ornaments. It allows me to be extra creative and try new designs. The figure skate (in the photo) was extra fun to make since figure skating is one of my favourite hobbies.

Other Repurposed Gift Ideas

Below are some great ideas for great gifts you can explore. This is only just a short list of what is possible. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

Candles: It is really easy to make colourful tea lights using old bottle caps, a wick and the melted wax from broken crayons. Little candles are a perfect addition when decorating your home for a special occasion. If you want a larger candle, you can use an old mason jar.

Jewelry: Taking apart your old jewelry can give you some great materials with which to create new pieces including fridge magnets, canvas art, door handles and much more. Buttons from clothing can also be transformed into amazing jewelry pieces.

Rugs: Old clothes and sheets can be cut into strips and then braided to make some great rugs.

Wind Chimes: Did you know such a common household object could be created from some broken dishes, silverware and costume jewelry? With some colourful dishes and fancy cutlery you can produce a very unique gift for someone special.

T-shirt Bags: Shopping or reusable gift bags can be made from old t-shirts. All you need to do is cut the collar and sleeves off your shirt, cut strips along the bottom hemmed edge and then braid the strips together as shown.

Pot & Pan Hanging Rack: A broken bicycle wheel with some hardware attached makes the best pot and pan rack for your own kitchen or someone else’s. With some simple instructions, you can modify and hang your pot rack.

Suitcase Table: Adding legs to an old suitcase can create a cute vintage coffee table or bedside table with storage capacity.

Kitchen Utensil Holder: An old rake, without the handle, makes a great set of hooks from which to hand kitchen utensils or outdoor tools. Check out these easy instructions.

Gift Wrapping:

Have you ever thought about how wrapping paper is generally bought just to be ripped and thrown away? What about the tape used to hold the paper together? The waste generated is tremendous! Every year, Canadians generate 545,000 tonnes of garbage from buying and wrapping gifts and use 6 million rolls of tape. This contributes to a 25% increase in the usual amount of household waste during the holidays.

Luckily, there are some sustainable alternatives to traditional wrapping paper. You could wrap you gift in:

  • A cloth/pillowcase/scarf/sweater that is part of the gift
  • A reusable shopping bag
  • Paper grocery bags
  • Newspaper or brown paper
  • Sewn cloth bags
  • A used box
  • Check out Furoshiki, a a Japanese technique of wrapping gifts in cloth.
  • This video also shows how to wrap gifts in paper without tape.
  • Remember to collect wrapping supplies to reuse them next year.

I encourage everyone to try something different, have some fun and try at least one of these projects to gift yourself or someone else. Find your creative side!

Share your creations with @uwsustainable!


Zero Waste Christmas. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2021, from