Household waste increases by 25 percent over the holidays and amounts to five million extra tons in America's landfills, according to San Mateo County's RecycleWorks program. Recycled or repurposed gift-giving not only cuts down on that waste but may present a more exciting option for gift recipients, according to David Greene, owner and operator of Palo Alto eco-gift shop LiveGreene.
"Everyone loves to give a gift that has a story. And every eco-gift tells a story of what it was and how it changed," Greene said.
Four million tons of trash annually comes from gift-wrap and shopping bags, according to RecycleWorks. Recycled or reusable wrappings can be a first step towards "greening up" your holiday season even if your friends and family have their eyes set on gadgets or conventional gifts.
Holiday-themed bags made from recycled materials give a festive yet eco-friendly note to the gift-giving season and can be easily reused by your gift recipient. A range of recycled-materials gift bags can be purchased from LiveGreene.
Affordable wrapping paper is also available from Whole Foods Los Altos, which stocks brands such as Waste Not Paper ($5).
"Most of the wrapping paper that we sell year-round is made from recycled materials, and they're really cute designs, too," buyer Nadia Zep said. "We also have fun cards which have seeds in them, so when someone is done with their card, they can plant it."
These cards are made from 100 percent recycled paper and come embedded with wildflower seeds. After the card is read, it can be planted and watered, letting your message live on in the form of flowers while reducing the number of cards clogging landfills or memento boxes.
Seed-embedded wrapping papers and cards are available on Colorado seed-paper company Bloomin's website, www.bloomin.com.
But it isn't just wrapping paper and cards that can add an eco-friendly flair to your holidays. A wide variety of creative gifts made of recycled, repurposed and sustainably produced materials are available at local businesses. But question the stereotypes about such gifts; they don't need to be "crunchy" or sacrifice on style.
Bracelets and belts made of repurposed rubber tires would be a playful choice for a fashion-forward friend, Greene said. Made in Santa Cruz with an industrial sewing machine, they look much like a traditional braided belt but have an edgier, industrial appeal. An added benefit, the belts are easy on the wallet at $30.
Eco-friendly gifts can be utilitarian as well as playful, Greene said. Stylish bags and wallets made from recycled bike tubes are durable and might brighten up an avid bicyclist's commute.
Or, consider glassware made from recycled glass for a favorite barware enthusiast.
Boston Warehouse's line of cheeky cooking and cleaning utensils may be a good choice for a friend or culinary-inclined family member. The quirky line of potato mashers, bottle openers, graters, pizza cutters and other tools destined for the kitchen-utensil drawer ($10 each) are playfully designed with faces and made of recycled plastic.
"They're a good seller for Secret Santas," Greene said. "They're whimsical and tell a story, but they're practical as well."
As for the children on your holiday shopping list, consider a Green Start puzzle set, $10-$15, made from 98 percent post-recycled materials and soy-based inks. Oversized recycled cardboard castles, complete with non-toxic crayons, indulge kids' imaginative sides and are affordable at $18.
Young children seem ever-fond of plastic toys each winter season, but it's possible to follow their holiday wish lists with environmentally-friendly plastic options, local retailers said. Green Toys, a collection of classic toys, are made of 100 percent high-density polyurethane sourced from recycled milk jugs.
"Kids put everything in their mouths, so these are very clean toys," Greene said.
The Green Toys are also available at Whole Foods Los Altos and Menlo Park toy store Cheeky Monkey, where assistant manager Kimberly Vasquez said that they are popular purchases by parents and gift-givers.
Buying toys made in California has the added benefit of reducing the carbon blueprint of your gifts. "They buy these because they are made locally out of recycled plastic," she said of the California-based company's offerings. They include toys for a variety of ages; stacking cups and building blocks, racecars, dump trucks, school buses, recycling trucks, and even jump ropes made from what might otherwise be destined for landfill.
Whether you give family and friends eco-friendly gifts, gift wrap or cards, you're choosing "gifts that are sure to make the giver and receiver feel good this holiday season," Jennifer Marples, Whole Foods spokesperson, said.
And the reduced environmental impact of recycling and repurposing during the holidays won't feel bad, either.