Zero Waste Gifting

Pictures of my dogs made by Continued Purpose out of upcycled paint swatches.

Turner C. Bitton, Utah Recycling Alliance

Every year as the holidays approach, I start to get apprehensive about having conversations with my loved ones about not giving me as much stuff. I’m a true believer it what the Utah Recycling Alliance does but putting what I believe into action is difficult, especially when it comes to gift giving. I love to give gifts and I also know that giving a gift is an incredibly simple way of demonstrating love and thoughtfulness to the people we love. 

We’ve all had that gift that defined the holiday season in memories for years to come. As I’ve aged, I’ve had a new experience. This time of year, I often feel trapped between conveying how much I truly love that someone was thinking of me when they bought me that (insert gift) and explaining to them that I really don’t need stuff anymore. As much as I love receiving a gift, the most important thing to me in life now is connecting with the people I love.  

For a long time, I’ve avoided having this conversation with my loved ones and since this time of year is when we also start thinking of New Year’s resolutions, I am determined that I am going to seize the awkward and lean more into difficult conversations. As a prequel, and practice, for my 2020 resolution, I’m writing this post as an invitation for you to join me. As I’ve thought about what to write in this post, I decided that I was going to lay out some strategies to make these critical conversations easier for myself – and for you too, I hope! 

The best way to begin this conversation with loved ones is to model what I want from others. Here are my three goals – with ideas I’ve found – for making my holidays less wasteful. 

Give experiences instead of gifts. Early in our relationship, my husband Chase and I made the decision not to get a bunch of gifts for one another at the holidays or on our birthdays. Instead, we take the money we would spend during the holidays and invest it during the year in experiences together. 

At our first Christmas together, we had a small panic, wondering if it would be weird to not have gifts to open on Christmas Day when the rest of the family was opening gifts. Would we feel less of the spirit of Christmas without giving one another gifts? The truth is in many ways the opposite. Without the worry of gift-giving, we don’t have to stress about transporting gifts for one another to the various homes where we spend the holidays. Our focus is able to be spent in the moment with family and focusing on the time off we have together. 

This year, I am expanding this practice to my broader family. Instead of worrying about gifts for everyone at Christmas, I’m focusing on creating Christmas memories together. My gift to my parents and grandma is going to the Utah Symphony’s Christmas performance together as a family. These small moments in time are a gift that I can treasure for years to come and energize me in a way that nothing else in the world can. 

TIP: Check out for a wealth of ideas to create memories together.

Give meaningful thanks. Truth be told I’ve always been bad about buying people things. I’ve often forgotten gifts until the last moment and then rushed to find something for my loved ones just to prove I was thinking of them. In the end, the goal of conveying thoughtfulness was lost in the chaos of finding something quick to give. 

To break this cycle, I’m exploring new opportunities to give meaningful thanks to the people I love. Chase is a talented painter and we’ve taken to making custom thank you cards out of small paintings he has made. It is incredibly meaningful to me to think about the people I love throughout the year and look for opportunities to capture a moment that can be turned into art for them. Earlier this year we traveled to Mackay, Idaho, a small town with a lot of meaning to my family. While we were there Chase drew a picture of the hotel we have stayed in as a family for years. We framed the picture and gave it to my parents on Thanksgiving and it is a reminder of the years of love and fun we’ve shared in Mackay. 

Saying thank you doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as having family photo albums digitized or home videos put on disc for loved ones to watch together during the holidays as my sister-in-law Rachel did one year for Christmas. There are countless Etsy and Instagram accounts dedicated to repurposing things into fun new gift ideas.    

TIP: Check out Continued Purpose, a local artist who makes everything from furniture to artwork out recycled and upcycled materials.

Go upstream with zero waste gifts. We don’t have to completely cut out gifts, but we can take our gift giving upstream to prevent waste in the future. This year, the gifts that I end up giving are going to be designed to reduce waste for my loved ones in their daily lives. A few years ago, I got a Bubba mug from a friend who swore it was the best mug ever for keeping drinks cold all day. As of my writing this, I have refilled this mug at least 368 times this year based on my credit card statements (that’s $368 worth of refills for those keeping tabs on my Diet Dr. Pepper problem) and each time I used it, I didn’t use a plastic or paper cup. Having the reusable mug has also saved me money because I now participate in both the 7/11 and Maverik rewards programs and my 7th and 10th drinks are free! 

I’m taking the opportunity this holiday season to share my zero waste values with my family and giving them gifts that will save them money throughout the year. I’m putting a new spin on the old gift that keeps on giving. 

TIP: Check out these reusable mugs from Megaplex Theaters that will save your loved one money every time they go to the Megaplex. Other ideas include these awesome beeswax wraps from the Honey Company or you can make a donation in their honor to a deserving nonprofit – like the Utah Recycling Alliance!