Last-Minute Gifts that are Good for the Environment

December 23rd, 2010 | Posted by tjones in Economics | Environment | Green Products | Living Green

Christmas is almost upon those of us celebrating it this year.  At this point, many of us have already bought our gifts.  Some we’ve bought this year are very environmentally-friendly; others, decidedly less-so.  For many of us, struggling through the post-recession haze, buying gifts this year has been a challenge; for others, we find ourselves worried about how much more waste or carbon we might be producing during the holiday season.

And every year, we always forget to buy gifts for a few folks.  Sudden realizations may lead to midnight rushes to dollar stores or box stores for a last-minute gift.  Having remembered to get something for our loved one relieves our guilt, but having bought something environmentally-damaging might plague our conscience.

A recent New York Times piece details a growing trend in gift-giving this year: bartering.

To many, the idea of bartering may be unthinkable – the idea of buying something on-the-fly, and inexpensively, from a Wal-Mart or Target almost seems preferable to re-gifting something that might be used, or giving a skill instead of something material.

But consider, for a moment, what the environmental impacts of those last-minute, non-green products might be.  According to, the carbon footprint of a brand new gift can be…

30 kg of CO2 for an mp3 player.
70 kg of CO2 or more for an electric kitchen appliance.
20 kg of CO2 or less for a board game.
5-10 kg of CO2 for a book.

So, if a green product isn’t an option this year – either because it’s now too late, or because the recession has us all tightening our budgets – consider that sharing a skill or re-gifting with someone might be a good way to share this holiday.

As the Times notes, the growing phenomenon of bartering – either skills or products – is closely related to the recession – and its practice has been growing in recent years.  According to the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, net sales are up this year from 13% for last year; and according to scientific polls, 26% of Americans said they were bartering products and skills this holiday season, up more than double since 2000, when the question was first posited.

But the practice of sharing a skill or re-gifting a product this year can have an environmental purpose, as well.  It reduces demand for new production, lowering carbon emissions from the manufacturing process, and it keeps less-wanted gifts out of teetering landfills.  (Consider how many of those last-minute, cheap gifts we received either broke quickly, or were generally unwanted, and wound up in the garbage bound for the landfill.  The thought is certainly sobering.)  So this year, instead of rushing out last-minute for a gift that’s probably going to the landfill, considering a barter of skills, or a re-gifting from last year.  Your wallet, the earth, and perhaps most importantly, your friends and family, will thank you.

For items like green products, green books, and green insulation, you can always visit image of books by flickr user nedrichards; image of landfill by flickr user d’arcy norman.

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