Give the gift of green.

It’s a lovely thing, giving a gift. Whatever the tradition or religion, whatever the source of the custom, there’s no arguing that it’s a lovely thing. However, that lovely thing has been corrupted by our out-of-whack consumer society. No longer is sentiment enough — that sentiment must be expressed through sheer size and shininess.

But hark! There’s another way. Greener items abound, and greener ways of giving do too. And say what you will about our challenging economic times, they may mean we buy less — and, in the process, give more.

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Want to green your gift-giving habits? Here’s how to start.

The Baby Steps

Buy greener stuff. Ideally, a greener holiday is one that involves less wanton consumption. But if there are certain people on your list you absolutely must bestow with stuff, at least make it greener stuff. Check out Grist’s gift guides past and present for ideas on eco-versions of clothes, sports equipment, pet accessories, and more. Prowl the aisles of your local stores — or even big-boxes like Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot — for planet-friendlier versions of wanted items.

Shop online. If you’re debating where to spend your $431 this year, consider doing it online. Such shopping, which 30 percent of Americans report doing, reduces emissions — assuming you don’t wait until the last minute and then pay some crazy fee for overnight shipping, that is.

The Next Steps

Bundle your errands. Whether you’re heading out for eggnog or electronics, give some thought to how you get there. If possible, walk, bike, or take public transportation to the store. If a car is the only way to get there, drive with a neighbor or friend (or Friend!). At the very least, if you do end up driving alone, plan accordingly so that you make one trip instead of, say, 37. According to Use Less Stuff, reducing holiday gasoline consumption by a single gallon adds up to big greenhouse-gas savings. We know those last-minute needs crop up (“I’ve got to have a purple polka-dotted bow! Stat!”), but this year, try to plan ahead or find creative solutions at home.

Regift. It tends to get a bad rap, but regifting is on the rise — and if done well, it can be a perfectly acceptable way to show you care while showing that you also care about reducing consumption and shipping. Go ahead and do it — we won’t tell.

Reduce, reuse, regift.

Wrap with care. Eschew the acres of virgin paper and the 4 million annual tons of waste (not to mention purple polka-dotted bows) when it comes time to make your presents presentable. Use newspaper, maps, paper grocery bags, or scrap paper. Get creative with cloth bags — either specially made ones like Wrapsack or something you already have, like a reusable grocery or rice bag. Make the present be the wrapping, using a scarf or blanket or dishtowel. Or dude, don’t wrap. Are those three seconds of anticipation really worth it?

Offer end notes. When you give a gift, enclose information on how to recycle it when it’s no longer wanted. Especially useful for electronics, this could also come in handy for clothes, batteries, and other items. When it comes to recycling, good intentions can be stymied by lack of information — so make it easy.

The Big Step

Just say no-ël. The best way to green your giving may be not to give at all. Consider stuff-free alternatives. Or make a donation in someone’s name — perhaps even a donation to Grist! Or take a cue from anti-stuff crusaders like Annie Leonard and Bill McKibben and dial down all the excesses of your holiday, giftiness included. Sometimes, spending time together is the best gift of all. (And sometimes the best gift is a Wii — we totally get that.)

Resources

General advice for low-impact holidays
EPA’s guide to reducing holiday waste
Earth911’s Green Your Holidays
New American Dream’s Simplify the Holidays

Eco-wrapping advice
Ask Umbra on wrapping creatively
Ask Umbra on recycled gift wrap
Gaiam’s green gift wrap ideas

Recycling and reusing electronics
Earth911
EPA eCycling
Consumer Electronics Association
myGreenElectronics