How to eco-shop for Christmas

Be an environmentally conscious Christmas shopper.

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing. Many decisions will be made about what to purchase but have you considered what your purchase will mean to the environment?

When out shopping, some of your decisions should be based on the affect the purchase will have, both short- and long-term, on the environment. The quality of the product, its value, life expectancy, packaging, convenience and cost are all factors to consider when making your purchase. However in today’s society, considering all these factors as an environmentally conscious buyer can be a challenge. The following are a few suggestions to help you with this task.

When considering a purchase, first think about whom the gift it is for. Will they like it? Do they even want what you are considering? Often, the act of gift giving is just that; an act of exchanging items rather than selecting a meaningful gift for the individual in question. If that is the case, consider donating to a charity or service organization in their name. There are many local organizations seeking donations, including Goodwill and St. Vincent DePaul thrift stores. Both are great at utilizing good, clean items, as well as cash donations. In addition, giving and shopping at resale stores helps twofold; it reuses items that might end up in a landfill and it creates revenue for a worthy causes.

Looking for other options besides local thrift stores? Numerous service agencies allow you to sponsor a child in need, purchase farm animals for families abroad, or provide assistance to get clean water and medical attention. Two of the more well-known organizations in these arenas are Compassion International and Heifer International. Donations can also be made to environmental organizations that promote environmental literacy and education, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club.

If you still plan to buy a gift, the quality of the products is a consideration that should not be ignored. The old saying, “You get what you pay for” usually holds true so higher quality products may cost more but will last longer. This helps to keep the gift out of landfills longer than a cheaper version.

Another thing to consider when shopping is the product packaging. Items wrapped in excessive packaging create a tremendous amount of waste, which can end up in a landfill. In particular, avoid over-packaged items that are bound in plastics and Styrofoam. These packaging materials are not environmentally friendly, as they are difficult to recycle and likely to end up in the garbage. Products packed in cardboard and paper are much friendlier, as this material is easily recycled or even reused. In addition, some of the newer bubble packaging can be recycled so look for the recycle symbol to be sure.

Aside from the packaging the gift comes in, also consider the way your wrap your gift. Gift bags are a great option as these can be reused again and again. Wrapping paper can also be environmentally friendly if you consider recycling, reusing or using it as a fire-starter when you’re done, rather than just throwing it in the garbage. Newspapers, especially colored comics, are a favorable alternative to wrapping paper - add a bow if you’re looking for a little more glamour. If you need help identifying the best way to dispose of your waste, Wikipedia provides a useful hierarchy for waste reduction.

Looking for more ways to be eco-friendly this Christmas? Homemade gifts are an excellent alternative to buying gifts as they can be tailored toward the person they’re intended for and are often viewed as more thoughtful. Popular options include homemade candies, baking mixes, ornaments, sewn products and crafts and Pinterest is filled with creative ideas for homemade gifts. As an added bonus, these types of gifts also make excellent projects for 4-H clubs or families to do together, often contain far less packaging and the container can often be recycled or reused.

This holiday season, Michigan State University Extension encourages you to give a gift to the environment by being a wise shopper and being conscious of the four Rs: reduce, reuse, repair and recycle. Unfortunately, there is no environmentally perfect package that fits all situations, but consumers should consider guidelines such as these to help them make wise decisions. Happy Holidays!

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