Environmental Gift Guide: More Thought, Less Waste

Halloween and Bonfire Night have come and gone. The nights are longer and temperatures colder. Shops have turned themselves over to gift wrap and bath sets, coloured lights and chocolate boxes, tinsel and trendy toys. Christmas is definitely on its way. If you’re concerned about reducing waste, how do you avoid adding to the tsunami of brightly coloured paper, plastic, and other bits and bobs that are about to land on our doorstep?

I originally tackled this question in a blog post last year, and while I think my suggestions are still sound—use a bit of creativity to wrap gifts and for the love of all that’s holy don’t use greeting cards or
gift wrap with glitter—I have been pondering what else can be done.

They say it’s the thought that counts when it comes to gift giving, but how much thought has really gone into many of the items that end up under the tree, in a stocking, or given at an office gift exchange? It feels like Christmas has become an excuse for just getting something—anything—that is vaguely appropriate. We have conflated quantity with caring and adopted the attitude that something is better than nothing.

How to combat this while still participating in holiday traditions? I think much of it boils down to shopping mindfully rather than on autopilot. It’s asking the questions, “How long will this gift last? Is it something the recipient actually needs or wants?” It’s looking at the packaging: can it be recycled? It’s even going so far as to think about the disposal: is it the type of item that will break quickly and end up in a landfill before the end of January? Or was it built to last and could have a second life in a charity shop? Does the gift even have to be tangible at all? After all, we are living in an increasingly dematerialised world as films, books, and music shed their physical presence to take up residence in the Cloud.

With all this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of my favourite eco (or eco-ish) gifts, and I hope it helps you find something for everyone on your list:

For the caffeine addict:

  • With 2.5 billion coffee cups disposed of every year in the UK, anything that can make a dent in this number is a big help. I like the cups by eCoffee: made from sustainable bamboo, they come in fun patterns (I’m partial to the William Morris designs), are incredibly lightweight, and are a great size for that morning cuppa. You could also consider getting a personalised mug or something  a bit different through Redbubble (useful if your recipient is a fan of pop culture references).
  • Looking for a bit extra?  Fairtrade tea or coffee is a nice stocking filler, or a voucher to a friend or family member’s favourite café is a great way to reduce waste while letting them get exactly what they want.

For the sporty:

  • There are so many stylish reusable water bottles out there now that you are spoiled for choice when it comes to shopping for the athlete in your life: metal, BPA-free plastic, foldable … helping to avoid single-use plastics is a gift that benefits everyone.

For those with—or without—a green thumb:

  • I love the idea behind Seedball: native wildflower seeds are wrapped up in a bit of clay, chilli powder is used to keep the insects away, and compost to give the seeds a head start. They come packaged in a lovely tin that is perfect for a stocking, or buy one of the sets to give as a main present. Simply sow the seeds on the ground or stick a few balls in a pot to enjoy flowers throughout the year.
  • This next gift suggestion is a bit unusual but bear with me: a compost bin. If your recipient’s garden has the space and it’s something they’ve shown an interest in but haven’t gotten around to getting yet themselves, a basic Dalek-style compost bin could be just the ticket. Bow or ribbon optional.

For the explorer:

For the wildlife lover:

  • Gifts for the garden are the type that keep giving: bee houses, bat houses, bird feeders, and nest boxes help provide wildlife habitat and give the recipient something to watch out for during the year. Bonus points: help them install it!
  • There’s also adopting an animal. Not for real, of course (dogs, cats, and guinea pigs are for life, not just Christmas), but through a charity such as the Wildlife Trusts. Seals, puffins, and red squirrels are all up for grabs, and most wildlife charities will offer something similar.

For the house proud:

  • I was introduced to Weaver Green’s products earlier this year and absolutely love that they have managed to turn recycled plastic bottles into stunning and stylish rugs, cushions, blankets, and
    handbags. The colours and designs are easy on the eyes, and despite being made from plastic the rugs are soft under foot. I can also vouch that the rugs clean up easy so they’re ideal in a kitchen or bathroom, and while I haven’t tried them outside, they are advertised as being versatile.

For children:

  • In addition to my passion for making the environment a better place, I am also a firm believer in gender equality. While culture is slowly (ever so slowly) changing, one place where we have more direct control is the toy box. Please consider the gifts you give your children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and any kids you shop for: do they perpetuate gender stereotypes? Chemistry sets, Legos, superheroes, and dinosaurs are not just for boys. Cooking, kitchens, cuddly toys, and crafts are not just for girls. While it’s important to consider if a gift is age appropriate, the gender of the recipient shouldn’t factor into your decision.
  • When giving gifts to children in particular, a big question to consider is whether the item can easily be handed down or taken to a charity shop once it’s outgrown (in other words, try to avoid the plastic toys that break if you look at them the wrong way). In Chippenham, Hall’s Emporium of Fancy Goods and Clever Minds have a great selection of children’s gifts. Please just consider breaking out of the pink-and-blue prison.

For those who need to relax:

  • Vouchers to a local spa or beauty treatment are always welcome (at least in my household!). If you can support an independent business as well, then so much the better.
  • The traditional bath set can also be used for some good: I discovered Human+Kind this summer and besides liking their tagline (“skincare with a conscience”), their products smell divine and feel great.

For the reader:

  • If you know that your intended recipient has a favourite magazine that they splurge on at the newsstand, consider giving them a 6- or 12-month subscription to it. Even less waste: can it be converted to a subscription that can be read on their tablet or eReader?
  • One of the best gifts I ever received was an eReader and I am never without my Kindle. If you know what type of eReader your recipient has, vouchers for books are always welcome (hint, hint).

For the movie buff:

  • There are so many ways to enjoy television programmes and films today, whether your recipient prefers watching from the comfort of home or wants a night out. You can purchase a gift card for Netflix, or consider a monthly or annual membership to the cinema through something like
    Odeon Limitless, Cineworld Unlimited, or Picturehouse (check which is closest to your friend or family member).

For those who like funky feet:

  • A fashion for brightly coloured socks has swept the nation over the past several years and you don’t have to look far to find fun socks made out of bamboo, silk, or even merino wool.  If you want your gift to go twice as far, consider supporting Stand4Socks: each pattern helps support a different topic such as safe water, homelessness, and gender equality.

For those who have everything:

  • Who Gives a Crap isn’t a company I’ve tried myself, but they produce a range of forest-friendly toilet paper, tissues, and paper towels. One of the most eye-opening books I’ve ever read was Rose George’s The Big Necessity. Quite simply it’s a book about toilets … and how nearly half of the world doesn’t have proper sanitation. The health and social problems this causes cannot be understated, which is why Who Gives a Crap and their promise to use half their profits build loos in developing countries caught my eye.
  • This may be even more unusual than the toilet paper: bees’ wax infused wraps. These pieces of fabric can be used in place of cling film to help cut down on single-use plastic.

Everything else: Still looking for that certain something?

  • Gift Cards:
    Maybe I’m jaded, but I think one of the reasons Christmas has gotten a bit out of hand is because people want the social media friendly image of a tree surrounded by piles of presents. A gift card in an envelope doesn’t make quite the same impression, but it almost completely reduces packaging waste, doesn’t take up space or need to be dusted, and in many cases lets the recipient choose exactly what they want. I understand wanting to give children something to open, but I would hope adults can get a bit of Christmas joy without the wrapping paper and bows.
  • Experiences:
    Besides gifts of annual memberships, there are so many other days out that you can treat friends and family to, from hot air balloon rides to afternoon tea to a day at the races. Virgin and Woodmansterne offer packages, or you can put together your own custom surprise (Jon is very
    good at this!).
  • Learning: Whether blowing glass, sewing, or decorating cakes, there are enough how-to courses out there to tempt even the pickiest of recipients (chocolate making perhaps?). Just visit Google for the nearest class.
  • Charity:
    The musical Avenue Q said it best: “When you help others, you can’t help helping yourself.” There are so many worthwhile charities that you can donate to in the name of your recipient. Besides the Adopt-an-Animal schemes already mentioned, you can have a tree or two planted by the Woodland Trust, purchase a goat (or chicken or school books) through Oxfam Unwrapped, or even subscribe someone to the Big Issue. Check out Guide Star to see how funds are spent.
  • DIY: Don’t overlook making something yourself: if you have a bit of spare time and a favourite recipe, a homemade treat is always welcome. Or consider actual DIY—is there something that a friend or family member needs done around the house that you can help with?

And finally … I admit I’m a big fan of online shopping, but when it comes to gifts I think shopping local as much as possible is a great way to help businesses within the community. And don’t overlook supporting independent artists at seasonal craft fairs. Indeed, if this post has encouraged you to look for something a little different, consider visiting the Cricklade Christmas Fair this Sunday (12 November) at Cricklade Leisure Centre (Stones Lane, Cricklade, SN6 6JW). I’ll be there selling a collection Christmas tags designed to be kept rather than binned—stop by and say hello.

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