Nov 25, 2023

Zero Waste Gifts for an Environmentally Conscious Christmas

Ellen Duggan gives some tips on how to keep your Christmas gift shopping environmentally friendly

Ellen DugganDeputy Magazine Editor

So you’ve been conscripted into one too many Secret Santas and it’s starting to dawn on you that Christmas goes hand-in-hand with waste. During Christmas 2022, Ireland was expected to generate 97,000 tonnes of packaging waste alone. A bit alarming, you might think, but at least I recycle! Everything’s fine! I am afraid you are entirely incorrect, my friend. In 2021 only 28% of plastic packaging waste in Ireland was recycled, most being incinerated. And when we’re so heavily reliant on export markets for recycling, our rubbish essentially amounts to what has been termed ‘waste colonialism’. You shouldn’t be focusing on what to put in the right bin – you should be ensuring that there’s as little as possible to put in the bin in the first place.

So why not try a zero-waste Christmas? Sure, it takes a little more planning, but fortunately, UT Magazine has assembled a handy guide for you. Happy shopping!

Buy less


Does your mother’s cousin’s partner’s fish really need anything? Research carried out by Repak indicates that 93 per cent of Irish buyers receive gifts they don’t use for Christmas. Cut the waste by not buying in the first place. If you fear giving offence by not lumping them with a token gift, mumble something about being a student and write the most gracious Christmas card the world has ever seen.

Skip the wrapping

Yes, it may be gorgeous, and yes, it may be a Christmas tradition, but no one will die if you put it in a bag (which will almost certainly be reused by them, and then again by whomever they gift it to). Or, better yet, wrap it in some old newspaper or scraps of fabric. Everyone will think you’re super retro, honestly.

Ask them what they want

There’s no shame in it! The best way to ensure your gift will be treasured is to know the giftee wants it. If you’re more subtle than I am, gently probe rather than ask outright. Don’t just get the bookworm in your life a set of body washes. They’ve likely mentioned a volume that they’ve had their eye on but are too broke to buy, and they will be touched by how attentive you are to something they said idly. 

Buy tickets, not things

From personal experience, I think more kindly of the cheap tickets to a gig my friend brought us to than she does of the stack of candles I gifted her, bought in a panic because I couldn’t think of something within my budget that she’d like. She probably would’ve preferred a pint (which is probably also a viable gift option at the current cost).

Shop local or handmade…

What better time of year is there to give into mindless consumerism? Direct your urge to buy towards small-business owners rather than big brands this Christmas. Your ma will nod approvingly and say she always encouraged her kids to shop local, and your da will go into a spiel about environmentalism and the economy and how it all comes down to the consumer’s individual choice… yeah, sure Dad.

… or make it yourself.

The most meaningful gift is one with a lot of love, time and effort put into it, and nothing says this like a gift you’ve made yourself. Do you knit? Bake fancy bread? Make jewellery? Put your skills to the test, and try to create something for someone you love, rather than picking it up in a shop.

Help them make the change

Not everyone is waste-conscious, but we all have to make the change at some point. Get your make-up obsessed friend a refillable lipstick from Lush to gently turn them from the environmental disaster that is the beauty industry towards more sustainable options while still keeping their preferences in mind. Or, if you really want to splash out, get them a reusable coffee cup. With many Dublin cafes giving a 10 per cent coffee discount if you bring one along, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

And if all else fails..

You can get a lovely set of package-free soaps from Palm Free Irish Soap for your posh aunt. Pair it with a jar of honeycomb dark chocolate from the Source and you are good to go.


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