The holiday season marks the peak of consumerism in the West. This Christmas, the frenzy of spending will not be dampened by the COVID-19 recession.
A consumer sentiment study revealed that about 12% of respondents expect to spend more on Christmas this year than they did in the past, and around one-third of people expected to spend less this Christmas – the same as in previous years. Retailers are also feeling optimistic: more than 1 in 3 expects Christmas sales to surpass 2019 by over 5%.
This spending generates a lot of waste – especially in the form of unwanted gifts.
Before you complete your Christmas shopping this year, consider why we are so compelled to buy expensive gifts during the silly season and whether there is a better, more eco-friendly alternative.
Donation stores and landfills can be a dumping ground for unwanted Christmas gifts. MAP
You shouldn’t really have
ING’s research found that Christmas 2018 saw a total of A$400,000,000 worth of unwanted gifts being given away, comprising approximately 10 million items.
The top items on the list are novelty products (51%), candles (40%), pampering products (40%), slippers or pajamas (35%), or underwear (32%).
After Christmas, charity groups are flooded with unwanted items. Charity groups send around 60,000 tonnes worth of unwanted goods to landfills each year.
The cost of this waste is not just on household budgets but also on the environment. Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute have conducted some recent research, but it isn’t easy to find. In 2007, they examined the consumption during the holiday season and found that 80 kg of carbon dioxide could be saved per person if unwanted presents were not purchased.
Some people dislike receiving candles for Christmas. Shutterstock
Why do we feel compelled to buy?
Gift-giving can be a complicated emotional experience. It’s also not always a pleasant experience. A 2016 study revealed that 43% of Australian shoppers feel forced to spend at Christmas.
According to research, Christmas gift-giving is becoming less about altruism and more about the social pressure to return, which is the expectation that we will reciprocate when we are given a gift. Reciprocity does not always bring happiness. In a study from 1990, those who made an obligation to provide a gift felt bad about it afterward.
Some respondents said that their ability to choose a present was restricted by the perceived obligation to give a similar gift, regardless of price, type, or brand. This led to a psychological “reaction,” an unpleasant arousal that people feel when their freedom is threatened.
Read more: How to choose the right Christmas gift: tips from psychological research.
Gift-giving can be a way of showing appreciation, but you don’t necessarily need to spend big. Research shows while gift-givers might expect a gift to be appreciated more if it was expensive, recipients reported no such association.
You could also spend no money at all by regifting an unwanted gift. Regifting has become frowned upon in some circles. One study respondent described regifters in such a way as to call them lazy, careless, and disrespectful.
Regifting, however, is normal in certain cultures. In a 1922 ethnographic report, the Massim archipelago people in Papua New Guinea described a ritual. It is called Kula and involves people traveling to an island nearby and giving residents shells and necklaces. The gifts were given to the recipients, who kept them for a while and then passed them on to other people.
Regifting is the only way to maintain the value that was created by giving the gift.
Regifting unwanted gifts is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of them. Shutterstock
Green Christmas: 5 ideas
You can give gifts without harming the environment in many ways. Since the COVID-19 epidemic forced many activities to be done online, there are more options. Here are five possible options:
1. Digital and virtual gifts include subscriptions to streaming services and audiobooks, as well as electronic gift vouchers, which allow the recipient to purchase what they want.
Virtual travel may be here to stay, thanks to COVID. You could also gift virtual events such as cocktail-making classes, cooking classes, and virtual craft workshops.
2. Give an experience. Experiences can be concerts, jet-boating, spa treatments, or romantic evening cruises. According to research, experiential gifts are more likely to make consumers happy than material gifts.
Givers and receivers can strengthen their social ties by giving experiential gifts.
Read more: Virtual reality has been boosted by coronavirus – here’s how to avoid it leading us to dystopia.
3. Regift: Regifting, if done thoughtfully, can be a great way to avoid unwanted presents ending up in landfill.
This practice is quite common. One survey found that 25% of people who receive unwanted gifts give them away to others. On websites like Gumtree, you can buy other people’s unwanted gifts. The products available for sale at the time of this writing included an unworn Maurice Lacroix watch, a new Samsung Smart TV, and an electric drum set.
A green gift idea is to give a virtual cocktail-making class, like those offered by Melbourne’s Laylow bar. Laylow
4. Handmade gifts can be unique and create a bond between the giver of the present and the recipient. Even if you buy the handmade gift instead of making it yourself, the research shows that recipients often perceive the present as symbolically containing “Love.”
Etsy is the world’s largest marketplace for vintage and handmade treasures. If you are ordering a handmade item from another country, the carbon emissions generated by transporting the gift will be high.
5. Upcycle: By creatively reshaping old objects into new products, upcycling extends their life. An old jar could be transformed into a hanging pot for plants, or an old door could be used as the top of a table.
According to research, when people learn about the “story” or past identity of a product that has been upcycled, they feel “special,” and the demand for it increases.