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  • Writer's pictureMeredith Holland

What to do with Unwanted Holiday Gifts: Alternatives to Returning or Tossing Unwanted Gifts

I hope you all had a lovely holiday season and are gearing up for an exciting New Year! No matter what holiday you celebrated this month, I think it’s important to note the waste that the holidays can leave in their wake. Did you realize that many retailers/companies send returned merchandise straight to the landfill?

It is estimated that 5 billion pounds of waste is generated through returns each year, contributing 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, more items are returned during and after the holiday season than any other time of year.

Chances are you received at least one gift this holiday season. If you received gifts that you don’t intend to use, whether a clothing item in the wrong size or simply something that is unwanted, there are some sustainable alternatives to returning these items back to the original retailer/company or even worsethrowing them away yourself.

With many retailers offering free online returns, it is all the more tempting to buy more than we need and send back what didn't fit or work. We’ve all been there. We order different sizes or colors of clothing online to try on at home, with the plan of returning a partial order. The unintended or often unknown result? A major cost to companies that have to deal with a massive volume of returns. These companies then have to spend vital resources (time and $$) to inspect these returns. Was it damaged? Is it stained? Is it wrinkled? Does it have to be refurbished or repackaged? Often these companies are unable to resell them for full-price. For many companies, it is easier to trash the item than to resell.

And, as e-commerce grows globally in the next several years, the amount of returns will increase substantially, projected to be as much as over a trillion dollars a year.

Here are some alternatives to returning/tossing unwanted goods, whether in the wake of the holiday season or anytime during the year:

  1. Re-gift it: Were you given a gift you think may be better suited to someone else you know? Re-gift it to them at your next gift giving occasion! Along this line, consider a gift swap party with friends where everyone brings a gift to swap.

  2. Repurpose it: Get creative with alternative ways to use the gifted item by adapting or changing its purpose. Perhaps you change the frame on that art print given to be more in keeping with your decor style, or use the intended jewelry dish for storage of cosmetic items in your bathroom.

  3. Sell it: There are many online marketplaces available today where you can resell new or used goods. Consider reselling on Depop, Poshmark, or Ebay, where your identity can be anonymous and you can avoid a potentially awkward situation with the giver from selling on Facebook Marketplace.

  4. Donate it: When in doubt, consider donating or giving away such items. Do this responsibly, however, by asking yourself if you can see someone making use of the item in question. I stress this as some 10 million tons of donated textiles end up in landfills each year. To spur ideas though: If you received beauty products you know you won’t use, keep them in their original packaging and consider donating to a local women’s shelter. If you were gifted clothing/accessories suited for cold weather that you don’t need, consider donating to a local homeless shelter or handing out to someone who may be in need of them this winter.

I hope you consider some of the above alternatives to returning/tossing any unwanted gifts you may have after this holiday season. Wishing everyone a healthy and blessed 2021!

Xx, Mer

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