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Students find ways to keep gift giving sustainable, affordable during approaching holidays

February 2, 2024
Photo by Grace Montgomery | The State News

With many important holidays in the rear view and those like Valentine’s Day coming up, gift giving, gift wrapping and celebration is at the top of many priority lists. However, with all of these essential holiday favorites often come a dramatic increase in waste. 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, household waste during the last months of the year can increase by up to 25% with the holiday season.

Social relations and policy junior Ashley Mathews is a Student Eco Representative with the MSU Department of Sustainability. Matthews said sustainability during the holidays can take a lot of different forms. 

"(It) can look like a lot of different things," Mathews said. "It can look like you minimizing your own waste when purchasing or buying gifts through businesses who also prioritize sustainability. Or it could look like you regifting something."

Sustainable gift giving can also go beyond buying something from the store. Mathews, who enjoys making gifts for friends and family, uses MSU Recycling Center Spartan Upcycle events as a resource for that. 

Katherine Deska works at the MSU Recycling Center and Surplus Store and helps to run Spartan Upcycle, an organization that works to reduce waste by reusing and recycling. By using things people already have around their houses, she said, whether trash or recyclable items, it's possible to take a more creative approach to sustainability. 

"When we really look at it, from the whole picture, we want to focus on reusing the things that we already have," Deska said. "So that’s where upcycling and creative reuse comes into play."

Spartan Upcycle uses common materials found in most spaces, from plastic cups and jugs to packaging and cardboard. Deska has made many gifts herself from items found around the house, including button flowers for her mom and collages made of magazine clippings and photos.

"If you make something from what you have at home … then that person’s probably going to be that much more likely to keep that around for a while,” Deska said. 

When shopping, Deska said to consider questions such as, "are you sure you really want this?", "are you sure your friends want to have that around?" and "what are they going to do with it if they have to downsize?" 

In addition to gift giving, gift wrapping and holiday decor can be the cause of increased waste. Mathews tries to take a more intentional approach to wrapping her gifts.

"I personally don't like to use wrapping paper, because that is something that goes right in the trash," Mathews said. "You can do something where you make the wrapping part of the gift."

While Mathews enjoys using reusable bags for her gifts, Deska sometimes wraps her gifts with scarves, old flannels and even grocery bags. 

"If you have any wrapping from gifts in the past, pull those back out and reuse the ribbon," she said.

Reusing items can also save money, which can come in handy during expensive holiday seasons. According to the National Retail Foundation, 52% of consumers participated in Valentine’s Day in 2023, and the average consumer would spend $192.80 on the holiday. 

For college students who budget but feel the pressure to spend large amounts around the holidays, affordable substitutes for gifts and wrapping can take a bit of that weight off.

"I think one of the first things to do is remember that you don’t need to go out and buy things to reuse to live a lower waste lifestyle," Deska said. "A lot of us already have things around the house that would suffice."

MSU Thrift Club secretary and psychology sophomore Leela Grimsby loves to thrift because it is an affordable way to sustainably find fun, long lasting items. 

"Thrifting is a good way to get cheap clothes, but also a way to get clothes that are really good quality," Grimsby said. "Whereas with fast fashion, they usually end up in landfills and for that price it’s just not worth it."

Grimsby noted that finding unique items is another benefit to shopping second hand. There's a chance that pieces at thrift stores are gifts unlike what people have already received, she said. 

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When it comes to tips she has for those who may be new to shopping second hand, Grimsby said to keep an open mind and not have specific expectations. 

"If you're looking for a general aesthetic or image and you have an open mind for what you want to find, you’re gonna find something and it’s going to look super cool," Grimsby said.


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