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How to make gift-giving more sustainable

Sustainable gifting during the holidays
A lot of waste is generated this time of the year. So Alicia Draus looks into ways to cut back on that waste and have a more sustainable holiday season.

Canadians give a lot of gifts over the holiday seasons and most of them are wrapped with gift wrap. While it may look pretty, most gift wrap is not recyclable.

“Wrapping paper in general is just another item that’s used and then thrown out pretty quickly,” said Kareina D’Souza, sustainability manager for Dalhousie University’s Office of Sustainability.

READ MORE: We toss 540K tonnes of wrapping paper after the holidays — Here’s how to give without the garbage

According to a 2017 study by Zero Waste Canada, 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper — the equivalent of the weight of 100,000 elephants or 4.5 CN Towers — ends up in landfills following the holidays.

“There are lots of options to wrap things in a more sustainable way that are beautiful and fun, but doesn’t have such a large impact on the environment,” said D’Souza, who recommends using alternatives to wrap gifts. She suggests items that are reusable, like tea towels or table clothes.

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And while wrapping paper is important to be mindful of, so too is the gift itself.

“To have a sustainable Christmas it’s really about reviewing what you do and what you’re spending on,” said D’Souza.

“And thinking of ways to do it in a less impactful way on the environment.”

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Kareina D’Souza from Dalhousie’s Office of Sustanability offers alternatives to gift wrap.
Kareina D’Souza from Dalhousie’s Office of Sustanability offers alternatives to gift wrap. Alicia Draus/Global News

That’s exactly what a group of local teens are doing.

The Happy Atmosphere Environmental Society was created by 15-year-old Edie Whittington to run events that raise awareness about ecological issues. On Sunday, the group hosted a sustainable gift giving workshop.

“There are so many ways you can make your own gifts,” said Whittington.

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At the workshop, teens were able to make their own body scrub from all natural ingredients.

“There’s always a lot of packaging that comes with beauty products,” she said.

By making the item themselves, it cuts down on unnecessary materials.

“I really wanted to do my part to help the environment,” said Whittington, “and to really show that there are things we need to work on, but there are also solutions in our everyday life.”

While D’Souza also promotes homemade gifts, she understands that it’s not something everyone will do. So for those who plan to shop instead, she says there are some things to consider before buying something new.

“You want to think about the whole life cycle cost of it,” she said. “How long is it going to be used, what’s its durability? How much purpose is it going to have in that person’s life?”

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D’Souza also says there are a lot of gift options that can help to create a culture of sustainability with friends and family, from silicone sandwich bags to beeswax wrap.