The Student News Site of Henry M. Gunn High School

Sustainable alternatives to commercial gifts promote healthy environment, holiday spirit during winter season

December 10, 2021

‘Tis the season, and with the start of the festivities comes the shopping frenzy. Every holiday season, shops are filled with eager customers frantically searching for last-minute gifts for their loved ones. Gift-giving is a timeless tradition, and people have been exchanging gifts as a way to show appreciation to each other and spread the holiday spirit for years. Gift-giving demonstrates how much people care about each other and provides a chance to express one’s creativity. However, commercial gifts can often be detrimental to the environment because of the large amount of plastic wrappings left behind, especially from packages ordered online. Online shopping negatively impacts the environment, contributing to climate change, which releases green house gases in the air. To lessen the impact of gift-giving on the planet, people need to look for eco-friendly options when searching for a gift.

Despite popular belief, gifts don’t need to be sophisticated. They can come in many different forms; that is what makes them unique. Often, people feel burdened to find an expensive gift because they believe that spending more will make the recipient happier. This false assumption leads to unnecessary stress. Gifting is about sharing a piece of yourself with another and showing them how much you care about them. There is no price tag on a perfect gift.

A growing issue about commerical gift-giving, however, is that it disproportionately benefits big brands and online stores. This leaves fewer customers for smaller businesses who heavily depend on the holiday season for revenue. The retail industry, especially big department stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s and Target, substantially benefit during the holidays because people tend to buy gifts in retail stores. Recently, online shopping websites such as Amazon, Etsy and Shein have seen an increased numbers in visits and orders from Nov. 2019 through Jan. 2020. According to the Chain Store Age (CSA), during the 2020 holiday season, Amazon beat its previous record and sold more than 1.5 billion toys, house products and electronics worldwide. This sudden increase was in great part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the stores to temporarily close or reduce their occupancy.

Consequently, small businesses saw their revenue decline significantly. The National Bureau of Economic Research stated that in April 2020, the revenue for small businesses declined by nearly 40%. This is detrimental to shop owners who often rely on their businesses for income.

The surge in online holiday shopping also negatively impacted the environment and contributed carbon dioxide emissions to the planet. According to the Imago Foundation, in 2017, the United Service Postal Service (USPS) delivered around 900 million packages in the U.S. between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the months where people buy their holiday gifts. The holiday season accounts for more than 14% of Amazon’s annual deliveries in a time span of one month. The amount of carbon dioxide released into the air from postal service transportation in that short period of time is enormous. The Imago foundation states that in the same year, carbon dioxide accounted for more than 82% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emission, which warms the planet significantly. These severe impacts on the environment have led major organizations and climate activists to call for change in how people buy their gifts during the holiday season. In 2018, Kate Kiely, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defense Council, spoke out against the increase in online shopping. “There is nothing more aligned with the spirit of the season than thinking about what impact our choices will have on the world our children and grandchildren will inherit,” she said. Online shopping is not beneficial for future generations, since the amount of waste from packaging and the carbon dioxide released by the transportation of packages will leave a less healthy environment.

Being responsible during the holiday season is essential in to protect the environment. In order to do so, people should consider transitioning to handmade gifts. There are many options for handmade gifts, such as jewelry, which is both easy to make and sustainable. Handmaking gifts reduces your carbon footprint, which is a step in the right direction.

With a little more time and effort, it is possible to buy an environmentally friendly gift. Shopping at local businesses is a great way to start, since many local businesses produce what they sell locally. Small businesses also create unique gifts as opposed to the mass-produced practices large retail stores engage in. These gifts are valuable because they are one of a kind. Being mindful when gift-giving is a great way to honor the holidays, your family and the planet while creating plenty of memories.

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