It’s that time of year again – big box stores are advertising their cheaply made toys, sparkly decor, blinking lights and mountains of treats, so that everyone may have a holiday season filled with sugar, glitter and of course, plastic! It’s a time of consumerism, and buying and receiving gifts that nobody truly needs – random household gadgets, cheap figurines, funny mugs, corny calendars. To be fair, it can be hard to come up with new ideas for several family members year after year, and the holidays are already a stressful time for many. But this is terrible not only for anyone receiving gifts, but also for the planet. Studies show that 4% of gifts end up in the landfill, and that gift wraps, bags and bows amount to an astonishing 540,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste in Canada each year. To help combat this, we have assembled a list of alternative gifts that support local businesses instead of chains and dollar stores, and protect the environment as well.

1) Homemade Foods

Who doesn’t love a homemade treat? Instead of buying a box of chocolates, consider baking cookies or making truffles for your family! It doesn’t have to be something sweet either – there are a myriad of awesome recipes online ranging from infused oils, to pickled veggies and fresh bread. Not only will you receive extra points for effort, but you will also help your loved ones be more healthy. Instead of more sugar and palm oil, you can use healthier and more sustainable alternatives when you make food at home. Not to mention the reduced packaging waste! 

2) Homemade Crafts & Upcycling

If you are a creative person, this one’s for you! If you can knit, this is your chance to gift a toque or scarf made from thrifted wool. If you’re a potter, you could give some unique plates or mugs. A photographer can give prints of their best photos. Or maybe you have a workshop and can create cutting boards or small furniture items from scrap wood? The opportunities are truly endless! However, always think about whether the recipient will actually be able to use the items you are giving.

3) Gift Cards for Sustainable Businesses & Restaurants

Have you ever been to the zero waste store or refillery in your town? How about that nearby farm-to-table restaurant? Do some research on which sustainable businesses are in your area, and give them a call to see if they sell gift cards. This way, you can redirect your funds away from the big box stores, and support small and sustainable businesses in your community instead. In addition, the recipient will have a unique and novel experience when they go to redeem their gift card.

Examples:  Plentifill in Duncan, Cow-Op, reFRESH Marketplace

4) Gifts from Social Enterprises and Small Businesses

Do you know which non-profits in your area are selling goodies as a fundraising activity? Have you checked out the farm stands and makers in your area? This is a great time to do some research on local charities, farms and businesses. Instead of heading to a big chain store, tour craft markets and local shops to find unique and sustainable gifts. This is a great way to support your local economy, too.

Examples:  Small businesses in Downtown Duncan, reFRESH Marketplace, Mindful Mouthful

5) Donations to a Good Cause

A real feel-good gift for everyone involved is a donation to a good cause in someone else’s name. Many charities and non-profit organizations do amazing work in their communities, but are notoriously underfunded. The holiday season can put an extra strain on these organizations. Instead of spending money on mediocre gifts, consider making a donation to a local charity in your loved one’s name! Many even offer to supply you with a personalized donation certificate as a Thank You. 

Examples:  Cowichan Green Community and all other non-profits in Cowichan

6) Experiences

In a time of rising costs of living, all of us are a little strapped for money. This can sometimes mean that we have to cut back on experiences like attending concerts, taking a workshop, or even getting treatments like massages or pedicures. See if there is something great on offer in your area, and give an adventure rather than a product!

Better yet – if you can join your loved one on the experience, you also get to spend more time and make memories together!

7) Plants & Seeds

Any plant and garden lover will appreciate the gift of seeds for the upcoming season, a new house plant, or even gardening tools and supplies. You can even consider gifting a voucher for some fresh soil in the spring, a fruit tree, or wood to make a garden box. These all make great gifts because they keep on giving: Maybe you will be rewarded with some fresh veggies from your family member for years to come.

Examples:  Cowichan Farm & Food Hub, Dinter Nursery, and so many Cowichan farms!

8) Acts of Service

Want to save money, but still give your loved ones something meaningful? Instead of an item, consider giving them vouchers for acts of service. This can be anything from making dinner, fixing up a furniture item, gardening help, bike repair, to whatever else they may need help with. Your time is valuable, so it will be much appreciated that you want to support them for a few hours. As an extra bonus, this also saves the recipient money!

9) A Family Photo Session

Find out which local photographers offer family sessions, and book one for your family! This is another gift that will bring a lot of joy to everyone – not only now, but also in the future: Sessions like this can make for fun memories, and you can display, view, and use the photos for many months and years.

10) Subscriptions and Memberships

Let’s be honest – we all have too many subscriptions and memberships, and they tend to slowly drain our bank accounts. Instead of buying something new, consider covering the cost of a membership or subscription for your loved one for a set amount of time. There are so many options – from  gym membership, to streaming service subscriptions, or even memberships for a local museum or charity.

These are only some sustainable gift ideas – we encourage you to do some research on more fantastic options in your region. 

Of course there are also many ways to reduce other holiday waste: Instead of buying new, consider thrifting and buying preloved items. Use cloth or recycled paper instead of gift wrap, biodegradable twine instead of bows, and always reuse gift bags and packaging as much as you can. Try to buy sustainable ingredients for your holiday dinner, buy in bulk, steer away from single use plastics, and, as always, support local. 

If everybody changes their habits just a little bit each year, we can collectively make the holidays a more sustainable time. Wishing everyone a healthy and joyous season!

Seeds from the Cowichan Farm & Food Hub are available at reFRESH Marketplace.

reFRESH carries homemade goodies as stocking stuffers, as well as gift cards.

We also carry locally made gift items from artisans such as Muriel Peter.