Zero Waste Challenge #20: Refuse Samples and Freebies

Samples and freebies are touch and go. I’ve received a gift bag or three in the past with a collection of the useful, the useless, and the unusual. Regardless of what’s inside, accept it; who knows what will happen to the items if you don’t.

If you can’t use what’s in them, give them to someone who can. I’ve received useful items in gift bags that I still use to this day, like a chopping board, an apron, and a handbag, while brightening a child’s day with the contents of Disney gift bags I could not use.

For event planners who regularly deal with gift bags: ensure you include quality products that won’t break and go to waste after a few uses. Practical, sensible gifts with longevity are a good way to go (aprons, yay; paperweights, nay). If your budget is tight, get creative in putting together a great gift bag that won’t end up in the trash and ultimately make your client look cheap.

And oh my gosh, can people just stop giving calendars as gifts or promotional items; especially when it comes to an office environment where there is a very high chance the staff has calendars on their phones and desktops. People who are really invested in the idea of a hard copy calendar can print one themselves, instead of having cheap varieties handed out to every Tom, Dick, and Sally who just chuck them.

As for food, be wary of free samples especially at those awful food and wine shows brimming with past-their-expiration-date products that are often not even free. Expiration dates are a whole other issue and contribute to food waste, but if you can see a white film on a stack of stale chocolate, you’d be best off avoiding it.

Gift bags can be a useful way of unloading surplus stock, but it needs to be considered more carefully when it comes to food. Restaurants and retailers need to reassess their supply and demand and get creative instead of fobbing off funky goods on the unsuspecting and unaware.

When it comes to freebies and samples in stores and malls, the issue is not so much the waste they create (although that’s a problem too), it’s that it encourages you to buy things you don’t necessarily need. So if you really must sip that juice or spritz that perfume, think twice about whether you actually need to buy it.

Read more about the Earth Hero Zero Waste Challenge here.

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