Consider the environment when you buy gifts this holiday season

Many San Francisco parents were grateful for the rain last week and the opportunity to let their kids out to play in the mud and splash in puddles. Keeping children inside to avoid breathing smoky air for so long was difficult, even with boxes of plastic toys to entertain them.

“We all know that our kids might enjoy stuff for seconds, minutes and maybe days, and then their interest wanes,” Dr. Debbie Yi Madhok, a mother of two, told me.

While most parents may know children quickly lose enthusiasm for their toys, it’s easy to forget that during the mad rush of the holidays. In fact, it’s hard to remember how quickly any gift, for a child or adult, becomes obsolete. Buying piles of presents is an annual tradition with a huge environmental price tag, despite holiday deals.

A lot more than meets the eye goes into every silly Christmas tie, musical greeting card and spa gift basket. Polyester fabric is made from petroleum and other chemicals that contribute to air and water pollution and climate change. Singing and talking cards are often powered with lithium batteries from mines in South America, Asia and Australia. Shampoos and scrubs are bottled in petroleum-based plastic and can contain palm oil, which contributes to deforestation.

Plus, many of these products are quickly discarded. If they end up in landfills, they cause more air and water pollution. Improperly disposed coin-size batteries pose choking hazards to small children and raise fire concerns. Plastic that isn’t recycled can accumulate in the ocean. Last week, a dead whale was discovered with over 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach.

Every year this gift-giving cycle is repeated — pulling resources from the Earth and piling them into mountains of trash. Most of the gifts we give to the people we love only make a lasting impression on the planet.

That’s why Madhok and others are thinking outside the gift box. As the zero waste and plastic-free movement grows, new San Francisco Bay-based companies are offering options that can bring more lasting joy. Many of these companies will be featured at The City’s first Zero Waste and Plastic Free Holiday Market, scheduled for Saturday.

“The movement is growingly quickly and it’s really hopeful to see new plastic free tools available,” Carolynn Box, co-founder of Goods Holding Company, said. “In order to address the issue of ocean plastic pollution, we really need to make these tools more accessible to more people and build our community.”

Goods Holiday Company is curating the Market with Both companies are based in San Francisco and aim to make plastic-free shopping simpler. In addition to numerous vendors offering zero waste lifestyle tools and gifts made to last, the Market will also provide workshops, insights from local leaders and holiday craft activities for kids.

As for Madhok, instead of filling her children’s lives with more stuff they do not need, for two years, Madhok has asked friends and family to contribute to her kids’ Littlefund accounts. The giving platform, founded by another San Francisco mother, Mimi Chan, amplifies children’s goals and dreams. Contributions have supported Madhok’s daughter with violin lessons she wanted, and helped both kids’ education funds grow.

Littlefund is just one of numerous San Francisco Bay-based companies reimagining what it means to show people you care during the holidays. The Zero Waste and Plastic Free Holiday Market will be held at the Fort Mason Firehouse this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The event is free.

We don’t have to hurt the planet to celebrate the holidays. While there are many options to put something under the tree that don’t indirectly chop one down, the most treasured presents often can’t be wrapped. For many of us, the gift of rain and clean air has already made the season bright.

Do you have recycling sorting question? Email me at and look for your answer in the Examiner.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. Check her out at

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