Is Regifting No Longer a Social Faux Pas?

It usually goes something like this: you open a beautifully wrapped box only to find one of those tacky holiday sweaters with snowmen on it. Or maybe it's a desk lamp made completely of peanut brittle. Or something super useful, like that battery-operated singing fish that hangs on your wall. Even as you smile and say "thank you," you tell yourself, "This goes in the regifting pile." The problem is—and come on, you know this—regifting is a major faux pas. It makes you look like a complete ingrate should the gift-giver find out. And if the new receiver discovers your thoughtless attempt to pawn off a piece of junk, you'll quickly be in your social circle's proverbial doghouse.

But things could be different this year. Environmentalists are finding inherent value in the idea of regifting. They're removing the tacky connotation and rebranding it as green and earth friendly. "It's a way to turn trash into something useful. That's as green as it gets," says Urvashi Rangan, the editor of Greener Choices, the enviro-focused online hub of Consumer Reports.

For Rangan and a growing group of environmentalists, passing on an unwanted gift is a way to save money and resources, and reduce the amount of waste headed for landfills. "[Regifting] tends to be a really sexy topic when you're in a recession," Rangan says. "It really helps us play into the frugality that people are looking for."

Still unconvinced of a broader trend? Then check out Regiftable.com. The site recently studied the growing regifting scene and found that more than half of American adults were comfortable with the practice and that on average, more than 40 million gifts are regifted each year. The site's chock full of readers' stories highlighting their most successful, and horrifying, regifting stories. In one, brothers who were tired of the tube socks they kept getting for Christmas turned them into a massive holiday wreath that they … gave back to mom. In another less successful exchange, a regifted highchair actually infected the receiver's toddler with a severe rash. "Don't give the gift of scabies!" she warns other would-be regifters.

For all the taboos, and occasional hazards, recycling a gift can still can be done responsibly and with tact. Heck, even the manner-minding Emily Post Institute endorses it, if done correctly. The Discovery Network's Planet Green staff amplified its regifting advocacy this year with a list of pointers, suggesting that regifting falls perfectly within the core tenets of environmentalism: the three R's—reduce, reuse and recycle. For one, there are scruples involved. You can't mindlessly pass on a piece of junk, says Meaghan O'Neill, editor of Planet Green, which also produces the environmental Web site Treehugger.com. "You have to know the person receiving it will like it." It also couldn't hurt to add something to make it personal, like getting initials embroidered on a tacky sweater, or tying a new color ribbon around that enormous basket of shower beads.

There's also the option of what one Planet Green blogger calls the "stealth store credit" type of regifting, wherein you take "unwanted item X," find out where it was purchased, return it for store credit (many stores will accept an exchange with no receipt) and buy a different item for the same amount. That way you maintain the neutrality of manufactured products while putting some thought into it. If that's too much work, there's an even safer option. Embrace the practice all together and throw a full-scale regifting event. Host a holiday gift exchange and ask everyone to bring only a regiftable gift. Or agree with your family to do it with the entire holiday season. "If it's out in the open, there's no tackiness at all," O'Neill says.

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