It’s the most wonderful time of the year — but it’s also the time when we consume the most and produce the most waste. From turkey and all the trimmings, to trees, unwanted gifts, clothes and plastic toys, Christmas and excess seem to go hand in hand.
Taking a few simple steps such as buying local, recycling, making your own presents and avoiding excess packaging can make a huge difference. Here’s ten ethical, waste-free gifts you can give to spread the festive cheer this year while keeping it eco-friendly.
1. DIY your wrapping paper
The UK alone uses enough wrapping paper each year to wrap 22 times around the earth. Loaded with inks, plastics and sticky tape, much of this isn’t recyclable. A much more planet-friendly (and cheaper) alternative is to use brown paper. Unlike normal wrapping paper, it’s 100% recyclable and stays in place with string or ribbon, so you don’t need to use tape. You could even tuck a sprig of Christmas tree in or paint some patterns on the paper for an arty festive vibe.
2. Buy second hand books from charity shops
It doesn’t really matter if books are new or not and you get to donate to charity at the same time.
3. Buy art
Buying art directly from artists is a good way to give unique, thoughtful and handmade presents while also supporting small businesses. After a quick search on Etsy I found ‘SchadesArtStuff’ (https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/SchadesArtStuff?ref=condensed_trust_header_title_sold), selling framed prints for an affordable £9 each. But there are also lots of other places to buy art, such as markets, fairs or cafes such as Common Ground (Oxford).
4. Farmer’s markets
Buying from farmer’s markets means you’re buying seasonal food direct from the producer, and it’s locally sourced so has consumed much less energy in getting to you. Organic wine, honey, jam, chutney or even cheese all make great presents.
On the subject of food — cooking instead of buying things is one of the best ways to reduce the waste generated by unwanted gifts this year. Here’s a recipe for salted caramels https://www.inspiredtaste.net/8947/salted-caramels-recipe/ and one for candied chocolate orange https://www.giverecipe.com/chocolate-covered-orange/. Put them in a glass jar, tie some paper ribbons round it and you’re good to go.
6. Give plants and seeds
A small tree, houseplants or seeds for flowers and fruit are presents that can last for years and produce zero non-biodegradable waste.
7. Ethical products
If you have to buy things new, look for products whose sales benefit causes. plinth.uk.com is currently selling tote bags made by the eco-friendly Bags of Ethics, with designs by David Shrigley on them. The money raised by sales goes to support worker rights in India and using them instead of plastic bags is a much more eco-friendly way to do your Christmas shopping. Another idea is Lush’s Charity Pot — 100% of the profits from the sales of this cream benefits ecological charities.
8. Handmade beauty products
The good thing about giving handmade beauty products is that they use all-natural ingredients, so you know exactly what’s going in them. They also use much less energy in processing than store-bought ones and you can recycle the packaging.
You can make your own moisturising oil by adding a few drops of essential oil to some organic almond oil and putting it in a small glass bottle. Different oils have different properties — for example lavender is soothing and jasmine is stimulating. They smell good and make your skin really soft (my mum swears by them). It’s also easy to make sugar scrubs, here’s a recipe for a Christmassy gingerbread one — https://www.suburbansimplicity.com/gingerbread-brown-sugar-scrub/.
Instead of buying things — try buying tickets for the theatre, cinema, comedy shows, talks, performances or art shows. Or you could give ‘tokens’ for things, eg. three nights of baby sitting, or a day’s gardening.
10. Make things
If you’re feeling crafty, and can get hold of some recycled materials, there are lots of possibilities. If you can buy some earring hooks you can turn any tiny objects you have lying around such as plastic flowers or small toys into fun earrings. Or you could decorate second hand flower pots, or upgrade used t-shirts by painting on them, or make simple collages on the covers of notebooks using old picture books found in charity shops, or knit scarves, or write songs, or sew a simple tote bag, or use colourful tape to decorate a second hand picture frame and put a photo in it…
This list names just a few of the many ways you could reduce the environmental impact of your gift-giving this Christmas. Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration for thoughtful and unique presents to give this year, and feel extra good knowing you’re also saving resources and saving the planet from excess waste.
OCS Media and Research Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.