At some point during our relationships with friends and family, we have all got stuck on what to give someone as a present whether it is for their birthday, for Christmas or another special occasion.

For those of us who are attempting to reduce waste the idea of not giving a gift may cross our minds. But popular culture and tradition tends to sway us back into wanting to get something for that special person, not to mention the worry that others would see us as ungrateful.

The tradition of gift giving goes back thousands of years, linked into giving gifts to the gods, and to each other as a way of lifting spirits during dark winters, and strengthening relationships by providing to others within our clan something they need or want.

The difference nowadays is that many people give gifts to the excess that boosts their own sense of wellbeing more than that of the person receiving the items. If the giver and receiver have very different views this can cause conflict. This is becoming more common as environmental issues are becoming better known and some individuals are looking at changes to their lifestyle choices, whilst their friends and families are not.

Someone who has become eco aware and trying to reduce waste may have a loving family member who wants to lavish the latest technology, toys or luxury items on them, without realising it is causing an internal conflict.

So how can we help reduce this worry over the upcoming Christmas period without upsetting our important friendships and family relationships?

Suggest Alternatives

If you are trying to reduce waste and have decided there are specific things in your lifestyle you are trying to cut out, make sure your friends and family are aware in plenty of time! There is nothing worse than dropping into conversation your dislike for something when they have already bought you that present and wrapped in ready for the special day.

If there are things you would love to have as presents whether this is a particular soap bar, metal water bottle or a whole supply of reusable nappies, make sure they get dropped into conversation early on.

It can be really difficult to find a present for someone sometimes, so appropriate hints and tips are often welcomed. If your family likes to work from wish lists then make sure you include cheap items as well as the bigger ticket items you may long for so there is something for all budgets.

Use a fun message in your Christmas Card

If you send Christmas cards still, then use it as an opportunity to say you are grateful to see friends and family over Christmas and you are more than happy to not receive presents. This can be a blessing for someone who has a small budget and struggles at this time of year. Do it in a fun way to keep it light hearted.

‘Your presence is the greatest present of all’.

Suggest experiences and quality time

Often we end up with items as presents, when actually we would love to spend more time with someone special. Suggestions of an ‘experience’ or specific time with someone can be a much more rewarding present than anything that can be unwrapped.

Compromises can help a positive outlook on eco gifts

It’s not all about what you are receiving. Just because you believe we need to be less wasteful and we should be living a certain lifestyle, doesn’t mean something you would love as a gift would be gratefully received.

Think about what they would like and see if there is a compromise. If they really want a new set of coffee mugs that is fine – see if you can source some that are locally made. They can be unique, beautiful, not wrapped in plastic or shipped across the world. If they would like some bath time smellies that is fine – you can choose sustainably made vegan versions that are just as pretty and beautifully crafted as many of the shop bought bath salts in plastic jars. This is a chance to showcase the amazing eco products out there to a whole new audience.

But don’t go to the extreme. Second hand cloth nappies are amazing, but gifting a set that have already been pooed on by someone elses child, would not be a positive experience to new parents who have never heard of them before.

Be Grateful

If you open a gift that you think is wasteful or you don’t need, don’t give them a lecture. They have sourced something for you they think you will love. Be grateful they have taken the time and money to get you this gift. It may be more useful than you think so look and see if you can reuse or repurpose it into something more useful for your lifestyle. Alternatively donate it to someone who would love it, reducing the need for them to buy another new one in the future.

Give to others

If you have items that you have no need for, give them away as a gift to others less fortunate. Councils and children’s charities often organise drop off points for gifts to be given to individuals in care, hospices or under long term medical treatment.


Whatever you give or are given, keep smiling and enjoy the fact you have family and friends who care. If you are in this position you are better off than many around the world.

Wanting to look after the environment is a fantastic thing, but you can only help the world if you look after yourself too. Understand that you can’t change the world on your own, but everything you do makes a difference. Look after yourself and your mental health. Allowing yourself to become worked up about environmental issues to the detriment of your health won’t help you or the world.

Smile, laugh and enjoy both the ups and downs in living a greener Christmas.

Caroline Talbot
Author: Caroline Talbot