The holidays don’t have to trash the planet.
With all of the celebrations fast approaching, it is important to consider gift giving options that don’t have such a negative impact on our environment. E-Waste is a classic culprit in the Christmas-waste scene; people are constantly ‘upgrading’ to new tech models due to perceived obsolescence and purely aesthetic reasons. This technology consumption causes significant social and environmental issues in the local and global community. It’s worth taking a step back for a moment to be more conscious of your consumption patterns so not to add to this wasteful cycle.

Here are a few great ideas to help you keep the holidays as eco-conscious as possible.

1) The Homemade Gift

Things that are hand-made for the recipient have a special significance. Along with the item you create having inherent joy or usefulness, the homemade gift also carries a message of thoughtfulness and care, which is what gift-giving is really all about. Some suggestions:

  • Recipe Book: Gather favourite recipes from your friends and family, and put them together into a recipe book. By adding photos, drawings or a line or two about each contributor, you can make the book even more personal. Binding can be as simple as a three-ring binder. Or you can use heavier card stock to make front and back covers, and finish the book(s) with cerlox or coil binding available at a print shop or quick copy centre.
  • Edibles: Baking will always be appreciated, especially if it contains chocolate! Home-baked holiday goodies are a tasty gift. Cookies, fudge, jam, relish, pasta sauce – things that are edible are well received any time of year. And who wouldn’t appreciate a pan of lasagna, a pot of stew or a favourite casserole? One thing – if you are doing munchable gifts, make sure you know the tastes (and allergies, if any) of the recipients… A glistening honey-baked ham would not be particularly appropriate for a vegetarian household.
  • Plant Cuttings: Cuttings from plants that you have around your home make for a great personal gift. Look in second-hand stores for unique containers like teapots, mugs and bowls to use as planters. Alternatively, a package of seeds will be a pleasant reminder of friendship during next year’s gardening season.
  • Arts and Crafts: Use your time and skills to make something unique! Here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing: Make a wooden toy, paint a watercolour picture, personalize a towel/handkerchief, decorate photo frames, T-shirts, candles or a container for pens. Knit a scarf, crochet a hat, sew potholders. Make book ends, a storage box or letter holder. Make an ornament, a sock monkey, a hemp necklace, table centerpiece or wreath.

2) The Previously Enjoyed Gift

Re-gifting or re-purposing a previously loved item helps to reduce resource consumption in gift-giving because you’re not using new materials to create it. As any bargain-hunter or antique-dealer will tell you, browsing through vintage shops, consignment stores and goodwill outlets looking for treasures can be a lot of fun!

  • Books, Music and Movies: Find newer releases at a fraction of the cost, or go for time-tested and familiar classics.
  • Clothing: Comfy sweaters, flashy silk scarves, or a funky hat or bag … with a bit of effort, you’re bound to find a new favourite.
  • Jewellery: Lots of energy (and toxic chemicals) are used in the extraction and processing of gold, diamonds and other minerals to make new jewellery. Many second-hand and antique stores have a great selection of vintage jewellery, and at great prices too! (Hint – Do be wary of pieces that may contain lead.)
  • Housewares and More: Thrift shops can be an ideal place to find a wide range of unique items in very serviceable condition — vases, platters, trays, fancy cups, candleholders, and much else. Or you might run across a musical instrument, garden tools, cross-country skis, binoculars, art supplies or retro-style furniture.

3) The Non-Material Gift

Giving a gift of service requires the use of little or no natural resources. Whether you buy a gift certificate from a professional, or give a coupon offering your own time, it will be a welcome treat.

  • Time: Instead of giving a physical thing, invite family and neighbours to a seasonal-themed party. Have a pot luck dinner. Sing songs, play games, tell stories. Make people the focus of your holiday time.
  • Services: You can offer anything like a home-cooked dinner, snow shoveling/yard care, an evening of childcare or a dog walk for instance! It can be presented as a note in a card, or more like a voucher like we make when we were kids! I remember making several “good for one clean room” vouchers that were redeemed by my parents.
  • Tickets: To a concert, the theatre, a movie or special event. Consider the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Manitoba Theatre Centre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and other performing arts organizations.
  • Skill-sharing/Lessons: Music, cooking, languages, pottery, knitting, sewing, yoga, home-repair, car or bike maintenance.

4) The Gift of Charity

What to get for the person who has everything? Make a donation to an organization that is important to that person, and write a note in a card explaining your action. To donate to a Canadian charity (including Green Action Centre) on-line, visit CanadaHelps.

Another option, if you need a physical item to give, is to buy from a gift shop shop run by a non-profit organization or charity — such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba Museum, or Ten Thousand Villages.

5) The Waste Reducing Gift

Consider giving a gift that will keep on giving… to the environment! Check out some of these items which will save energy, resources and money. Your friends and the environment will thank you.

  • Low-Flow Showerheads: Older showerheads can use up to three times the amount of water as newer, high-efficiency versions.
  • LED Night Lights: They provide the right amount of light, run cool, and use a fraction of the electricity that conventional incandescent bulbs use.
  • Reusable Grocery Bags: Heavy-duty cloth or nylon cost only a few dollars, and save a plastic or paper bag every time that they are used.
  • Stapleless Stapler: It’s a small piece of office equipment that attaches pages to each other without using any staples.
  • Wind-Up Radio or Flashlight: You never need to replace the battery! A hand crank provides the power.
  • Solar-Powered Battery Charger: Uses freely available sunlight to re-charge batteries.
  • Eco-Friendly Personal Care Items: Look for soaps, shampoo and conditioners that are biodegradable, non-toxic and not tested on animals.

6) The Ecological/Ethical Gift

Here are a few final things to consider for the other items on your gift list.

  • DoneGood makes it really easy to find companies that are doing better for the planet and society.
  • Look for items that have recycled content and minimal packaging.
  • Choose items that are produced locally. By purchasing locally you reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during transportation of the product, and you support your local economy.
  • Look for organic items. When you choose organic, you help to reduce the impact on the environment from artificial fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the potential health effects to the grower and consumer of the product.
  • If you want to avoid giving something that won’t ever be used, consider a gift card. That way, the recipient can pick a item that will be needed and wanted.
  • Buy items that have a certified Fair Trade logo, which assures decent working conditions and fair wages for artisans and farmers. For more information, visit Fair Trade Manitoba.

Gifts Not to Buy

Planet Friendly also have an excellent section on Green Gifts, in addition to info about some of the worst gifts to buy. Their five least environmental gifts:

Still Stuck for Ideas?

Fabulous Elephant toy made out of an old sweater! Photo and toy by Jessie Klassen.

Take another look at the non-material suggestions above. Can you offer an experience instead of a thing? If you still feel a need to give a physical item, here are some more options.

  • Recycled paper pad or note cards
  • Recycled fibre T-shirt, scarf or tuque
  • Gardening book and a package of seeds
  • Vegetarian cookbook
  • Calendar from a social justice group
  • Fair trade organic chocolate, juice, wine or coffee
  • Organic cotton towels
  • Locally produced honey, jam or relish
  • Co-operative games
  • Take a look at our suggested gifts for kids
  • Inhabit Green Gift Guide is a New York based weblog on design, technology, and architecture for a more sustainable
  • The Lazy Environmentalist discusses guilt-free gift giving.


Other Resources to Check Out