Choosing a Present the Zero Waste Way

Written by
Iryna Komazova
December 11, 2022

The holiday season brings us joy, happiness, and… heaps of waste along with it. During the festive season, 25% more waste than usual is created. Presents are among the top contributors to the increasing volume of holiday waste. We’ll look at the topic of present-wrapping waste in our next article—but today let’s focus on the gifts themselves, and find ways to give joy, not waste, during the holidays.

How Many Presents Go To Waste

Over 21 million Brits get an unwanted present at Christmas, and around 6% of gifts are thrown away as a result. Another study says that 19% of gifts end up in the waste bin. Each of these discarded presents are made up of precious materials, not to mention all the energy, water, labour and machines that went into manufacturing, packaging, transporting and selling it. With every unwanted gift, we waste the valuable resources that went into its production.

Even when presents aren’t chucked, around 20% of them are left lying forgotten somewhere around the home—meaning they’re simply waiting around to become waste in future. Another 30% of gifts have a brighter destiny: they are donated to charity. If you end up with a gift you’re not happy with, then donation, regifting, or selling it on are the best things you can do.

One more finding shows that 26% of parents recycle the unwanted presents their children receive. Granted, it’s better than sending them to landfill or incineration, but recycling shouldn’t be the first option for dealing with new items in perfect condition. Even if you don’t like a present yourself, it doesn’t mean it’s totally useless—try to find a new owner for it instead.

No one is safe from unwanted presents

How to Choose Presents for Children

Children, more than anyone else, are excited about getting presents—especially during the festive season. Unfortunately though, 34% of parents say the average gift lasts just one month or less. Here are a few tips to extend the lifetime of childrens’ presents and save them from landfill:

Firstly, try to buy something that the little person will like. We realise this is easier said than done—as children are known for changing their minds at lightning speed—but these ideas are worth trying:

  • Take into account what the child is most fond of, what their favourite toys and cartoon characters are, etc. You can find out by asking them directly (or their parents if it’s for someone else’s kiddo), encouraging them to write a wishlist or draw a picture with things they’d like, or by looking around a shop together;
  • Choose a gift according to the child’s developmental level: the toy must challenge the kid’s desire to learn, but not be too difficult or too easy for them;
  • Make sure the little one doesn’t have something the same or similar already.

Secondly, ensure the gift is durable enough not to break easily:

  • Choose strong materials, such as metal or wooden toys, books with hard covers, etc.;
  • Consider the age. For example, transformer toys with small, easily detachable parts will be neither safe nor long-lasting in a toddler’s hands;
  • Buy one high-quality gift instead of several cheap ones. You can try to share the cost of a present with other relatives, to take some pressure off your wallet.

Finally, think about how the present will end its life:

  • Try to choose presents that can be reused after their lifespan, and help the child apply his or her imagination to repurposing them;
  • Consider recyclability. Avoid fragile unmarked plastic, and don’t get duped by “compostable” or “biodegradable” plastic. (Here’s a quick reminder of why these plastics aren’t always eco-friendly).
Avoid over-consuming when trying to please your children

How to Choose Presents for Adults

Choosing gifts for adults can be easier—as they can clearly explain what they would like to receive if you ask them. But if you prefer your presents to be a surprise, the tips in the previous section work perfectly for grown-ups as well. 

However, you can make your present footprint even smaller with this list of low-waste gift options:

  • Experiences, e.g. an escape room visit, mini vacation or day trip, or a local guided tour;
  • Gift cards for their favourite shops;
  • A service, e.g. house cleaning, a photography session, or beauty treatment;
  • Access to a course, lesson, or webinar;
  • A craft workshop;
  • A subscription to a favourite application;
  • A donation to charity made on the gift receiver’s behalf;
  • Money, so they can buy what they really want.
Surprises shouldn’t create more waste


Summing up, we’d like to say that if you don’t want your present to go to waste, put aside society’s norms for presents and keep in mind the person you want to make happy: girls may like to play with robots, and men may be thrilled to get an exotic pot plant. The more thought you put into finding the right gift for your loved one, the more likely they are to treasure it forever!  

Do you want to give presents that are cherished rather than wasted? For inspiration, check out our tips on how to choose a gift—whether for a child or an adult.
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