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Our Guide To a More Sustainable Holiday – on a Budget

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The holidays are a time when we get to give a gift to those who mean the most to us. The holidays are also a time when we collectively pile up the most garbage and spend the most money. While buying things online is often convenient and sometimes seemingly cheaper, there are several local places where you can score more sustainable gifts or DIY supplies that won’t break the bank.

“The average American produces 5 pounds of trash per day, or 35 pounds each week. During the holidays, that rises to 6.25 pounds per person per day, or 43.75 pounds each week. With a population of 330 million people, that means 2,887,500,000 more pounds of garbage are generated per week during the holidays relative to the rest of the year,” according to this article around holiday waste prevention on Brightly.

Here are some of my favorite sustainable shops, and pro tips on how we can make this holiday more sustainable while also making it more affordable.

First, Here Are Fun Ways to be More Eco-Friendly:

This year, more than any other year, I’ve seen more and more folks encouraging others to be more sustainable this season. I rolled some of my favorite tips into a list below:

  • Gifting consumable items keeps things out of landfills. (such as food or soap)
  • Encourage re-gifting during holiday parties by hosting a White Elephant Gift Party
  • Gift Certificates to experiences rather than larger chain stores.
  • Move your family away from getting everyone a gift. Instead, everyone draws a name out of a hat and only buya a gift for that one person. The price is sometimes capped to keep the gift affordable. Who gets each name is kept secret which also adds to the fun of this gift exchange game.
  • Try and make a gift using only materials you have at home already.
  • Pool money together to get one big gift for your household.
  • Donate to a charity that you know means a lot to your friend or family.
  • Gift a plant! Maybe it’ll die a slow death at a friend’s house who doesn’t have a green thumb but at least if it dies it’ll end up in compost instead of the trash.
  • Use “Sustainable Gifts Only” as a theme for your next gift exchange.
  • If you can’t avoid shopping online, consolidate your deliveries so that there are less trips to your house and less packaging.
  • Repurpose paper bags as gift wrap. One year, I dyed napkins and reusable canvas bags and used them as to wrap gifts.
  • Finding creative ways to wrap your gifts keeps pounds of paper from becoming waste. My grandmother would always carefully unwrap things so she could reuse gift wrap year after year.
  • You can also repurpose yarn for a fun and unexpected bow or make paper flowers if you’re feeling crafty.

Repurpose old yarn for a fun unexpected bow

Finding a sustainable gift is maybe the fun part. You can up-cycle almost anything. I have two ways I get second hand goods – buy nothing groups and a secondhand thrift shop.

Free Finds: Giving With Intention Neighborhood Groups:

Giving With Intention Groups (also known as Buy Nothing Groups) is an amazing resource. I’ve been participating in my neighborhood group for about 2 years now. The purpose of these groups is to keep items out of landfills and create stronger connections between neighbors.

It works two ways, if you’re giving something with intention (giving it for free), you can post on the group what it is you have to give with a photo, and a short description. For example, the other day, I purchased gift wrapping tape and it was cheaper to get a pack of 6 than a pack of 2… so I put the other 4 in my neighborhood group and people scooped up the 4 I didn’t need.

If you’re looking for something specific, you can ask for it in the group before you go out and buy the item. You’d be surprised how often you might find something barely used and for FREE when you just ask if anyone has something they don’t want anymore.

Find Your neighborhood Group Here

SCRAP SF is a great resource for gift wrap, DIY supplies and unique gifts – photo on the left from SCRAP

Find a Gift or Supplies at These Bay Area Up-cyle Shops:

In preparation for this article, I asked artist Brian Enright (an industrial reuse sculptor) where a person might get the best sustainable supplies for gift-making this holiday. We brainstormed a list of the best re-use salvage shops, and unique thrift stores within The Bay Area which have a variety of goods – both gifts and eco-friendly gift-giving DIY supplies.

Places like these help keep things out of landfills:

Urban Ore – Berkeley, CA
SCRAP SF – San Francisco, CA*
Omega Salvage – Berkeley, CA
The Antique Center – Berkeley, CA
The Katz Meow Quality Antiques – Alameda, CA
Cookin’: Recycled Gourmet Appurtenances – San Francisco, CA
The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse  – Oakland, CA
Free Oakland UP – Oakland, CA (FREE Market is open every Sunday, 12-3)
Kelly’s Corner – Oakland, CA
Poor Honey’s Used Furniture – Oakland, CA
Habitat for Humanity ReStore – Oakland, San Jose and Concord, CA
Uhuru Furniture and Collectables – Oakland, CA

Which are some of your favorite shops where you can find sustainable materials or up-cycled gifts? Comment below.

Urban Ore in Berkeley is a massive warehouse with endless amounts of items they have kept from landfills

We can’t always steer away from less sustainable options.
However, I hope some of these ideas I’ve shared have inspired you to be more conscious this holiday season.

What ways do you plan on making your holiday season more sustainable?

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy is a professional smiling machine raised in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.

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