Americans spent around $15.2 billion on unwanted holiday gifts in 2019, and 4% of them ended up in the trash, according to a survey by and Pureprofile. This year, even more presents might end up in a landfill this year, as the National Retail Federation predicts a record-breaking holiday shopping season: Sales could jump 8.5 to 10% higher than last year and potentially rake in $859 billion. Not only is this trend bad for our bank accounts, but the environment is also worse off. 

“We definitely see an influx of waste throughout the holidays,” says Jeremy Walters, community relations manager for recycling and waste disposal company Republic Services. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, household waste usually increases by about 25% and equates to about 1,000 extra pounds of trash, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s safe to assume a significant chunk of that rubbish is gift waste. “In general, people give gifts and they’re unwanted, and people don’t think about the most sustainable option, which is to donate those items,” he says. “They may not want them but keeping things out of the waste stream is always the most sustainable thing you can do.” 

Everything you buy affects surrounding ecosystems: To manufacture products, it takes energy, natural resources including water and chemicals, and raw materials such as trees or fossil fuels, explains Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “If you waste something, you’re wasting all those embedded resources that go with it,” she says. Instead of tossing out unwanted goods, try to regift, repurpose or donate what you can. Try giving away presents using local buy-nothing groups — there, you can post items on social media and someone in your neighborhood can claim them for free. 

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Author: Erica Sweeney, Discover Magazine
Image: Shutterstock, Discover Magazine