Your Sustainable Shopping Guide for Christmas

How thoughtful are Christmas gifts really?

Well, D-day is here! Today is the first day of December which means, Christmas is coming. Ah, Christmas! That magical time where we are encouraged to be frivolous with cash, credit cards and environmental consideration. Wait? No? That’s not right? Last I checked Christmas was about spending quality time with your family but a whole heap of department stores have me convinced that I am wrong. It is not about spending time at all, it is about spending money – and lots of it! On crap that wastes natural resources, is unfairly produced and is wrapped in a whole heap of packaging!

But it doesn’t have to be this way… Why not make a positive change this Christmas and break the capitalism cycle! I have made a pact with my family this year to not prescribe to zombie-like consumerist behaviour and instead give gifts that are positively green. I came up with a (slightly cheesy) slogan that will act as our shopping rule of thumb;

“If it is not a gift to the planet then it is not a gift to me!”

Being the annoying hippy at my family table, I have also drafted up a set of guidelines to consider when aiming for an ethical and sustainable Christmas.

1.       Presents do not have to be new!

Why is a cloned present, wrapped in plastic and sold by the bucket load considered to be a better gift than one that may not be as shiny but has been pre-loved, has its own story and better yet – has a whole heap of character! Scour your vintage stores and op-shops for bespoke presents that will capture the imagination. Think retro phones, antique crockery, delicate jewellery, pre-loved designer clothes, the list goes on…

2.       Buy Fair Trade

Look for this logo!

This is probably the easiest slip-up we make at Christmas. You get stuck for gift ideas and end up getting the cheap plastic toy for a child which (in all likelihood) was produced by a child! Kids in developing countries often work in awful conditions… think sweat shops, debt bonding and slave labour… to produce a toy that may well be in the bin by next year anyway. Look for the Fair Trade logo (pictured) or go to stores that actively promote their support of fair working conditions. My fave local stores are Oxfam Stores (in Fremantle and in Perth) and Fair Go Trading on William Street.

3.       Buy a service or an experience

Budgets are tight nowadays and people are increasingly going without general services that are helpful or just downright good for the soul! Vouchers for a car service, paying for a long-needed haircut, booking someone in for a massage – these are all low impact ways of showing that you care. If that doesn’t float your boat, buy an experience! Most places do vouchers whether it is for hiking, dining or general adventuring. My favourite ‘experience gift’ is whale-watching in Perth it is not overly expensive and is an experience that they will have for life (I recommend Oceanic Cruises).

4.       Give a gift that keeps on giving!

Fruit trees, potted plants, vegetables, Bonsai’s or herbs can be gorgeous mementoes that your loved one can (quite literally) reap the benefits from! I categorise these as ‘Giving Plants’ because not only do they give back to their owner they also give to the planet through a reduced carbon footprint. Home-grown means avoiding transport, packaging, genetic modification as well as time!

5.       Buy gifts that encourage sustainable living (and…)

Whether you are surrounded by greenies or carbon Big Foots – everyone can benefit from an eco-gift. Look for gifts that will make being green seem effortless or better yet, that are even more convenient than wasteful ways. A Bokashi Bin is a great example – it is compact, lives under the sink and is a great introduction to composting and reducing waste.

6.       … Embargo gifts that don’t!

  • Does your gift run on resources? Batteries, power or water.
  • Does your gifts price reflect its true cost?For example, a mass-produced dress is on sale for $15. Do you think $15 covers;
    • The wages for dress makers? Are the wages fair? What conditions do you think the workers will have?
    • Transportation costs? Often Made in China.
    • The cost of resources? Synthetic dresses are made from petrochemicals and drain resources.
    • The amount of pollution? Cotton is predominantly GM (unless otherwise noted) which heavily pollutes waterways and causes huge damage to the local ecosystems. Dying materials uses heavy metals which can damage the environment and affect human and animal health. Dyes are often tested on animals in barbaric experiments.

 7.       Be smart with your wrapping!

Wrapping paper that is higher gloss than Kardashian hair and has a GSM weighting that fells a rainforest for every roll is wasteful on money and resources. It can look pretty but there are plenty of alternatives that don’t end up in landfill;

  • (My favourite) Wrap in newspaper! Newspaper with a brightly coloured ribbon looks absolutely gorgeous and they can keep the ribbon for future use as well. Alternatively old magazines and posters are creatively chic as well.
  • Recycled brown paper looks simple and stylish
  • If it is small, wrap your present in a present. You can bundle up your gifts in a new scarf, tea-towel or green shopping bag. Last year I got gorgeous organic make up put into a cute pair of socks that had been tied the top with a ribbon. I loved it!
  • Give gifts in tins, baskets, jars or hat boxes which can be reused
  • Use environmentally friendly wrapping – handmade paper, vegetable dyes etc.
  • Avoid glossy paper and foil wrapping (they cannot be recycled)
  • RECYCLE! Keep paper and any gift bags for reuse

 8.       Buy locally made products…

This is a great one because it also encourages you to explore your local area! Local farmers markets often have gorgeous handmade goodies and consumable Christmas ideas such as preserved foods or handmade chocolates.  Also look out for craft fairs. Here in Perth we have regular craft fairs and parades with stalls such as the Sustainability Parade in Fremantle or the Subi Farmers Market Christmas Gift and Fair Trade Fair.

9.       … or better yet, make them yourself!

The Organic Collective – http://www.organiccollective.com.au

Recently The Organic Collective posted an ingenious idea on their facebook page. They had a glut of organic ‘seconds strawberries (bruised etc) that they were selling ultra-cheap ($3p/kg) for jamming, saucing or brewing. What a gorgeous gift! – Homemade yumminess that shows genuine effort on your behalf.  Keep an eye out at your local market for specials like these and cook some Christmas cheer. A friend of mine dropped over 4kg of cumquats yesterday… guess what I will be doing with them?

10.   Buy Less

The easiest solution. Make sure you sit down and talk with friends and family beforehand – no one wants an awkward “Well, your present is… NOTHING!” situation on Christmas morning. Decide whether gifts are important to you or if you would prefer spend money on an activity together or a holiday. If gifts are important – that is fine –maybe organise a Secret Santa. That way you can spend a bit more money on one person but get a quality gift that won’t end up in the trash.

I hope this helped and if you have any other creative ideas I have missed out I would love to hear them! Let me know in the comments…

17 thoughts on “Your Sustainable Shopping Guide for Christmas

  1. Blonde Olive, this is a fantastic guide to Christmas! I know that I will be taking note and applying these tips with my Christmas shopping. Thanks Blonde Olive!

  2. I really love this post. It combines a lot of environmental holiday ways to be more environmentally friendly. You should check out my blog environmentalaworldforall.wordpress I have a bunch of blog entries on an environmental christmas. I address Christmas trees, lights, and different ways to wrap gifts. (I think reusable gift bags are what I’m going to try this year, I’m going to go through my fabric I already own and create some gift bags) I think your embargo section is one of the most informative. I hadn’t thought of the fact that Cotton is mainly made from GE, and that is something to keep in mind.

    • Thanks so much Lewis! I had a look at your blog and like it a lot – I have subscribed. Looking forward to reading more posts from you! I see that you are a fan of wrapping in newspaper as well! :)

      I always fell into the same trap with cotton. You get fooled because it is a natural fiber but they have had major issues with GM crops reaping havoc on the local ecosystems, especially in China.

  3. This is such an inspirational article – I’ll have to share it – thank you to Ayana Organics for putting it up on FB where I first saw it. I love Christmas – the flare, the family gatherings, the giving, the sparkle, and special food. I do love the shopping & considering what people I love might want or get pleasure from & this shows how we can bring the spirit of Christmas into the dimension our world needs now, without being bah humbug about it!! Awesome. :0) xxx

    • Thank you so much for the comment. That is exactly right! It is not about going without and seeming like an eco-Nazi – it is just about making the right choices! Enjoy your Christmas!

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  6. Just read this properly as my christmas present ‘shopping’ is getting serious…I didn’t know about the Bokashi.. that’s an option for my parents!

    Thanks for the whole article, and the other one with your list. I have already been shopping at Oxfam the last few years :)

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