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Buy Green Christmas Gifts This Year

Updated on December 10, 2014
Sustainable Sue profile image

Susette comes from a big family, where she learned early on about good health maintenance. She eats, works, and lives as "green" as she can.

Christmas is the biggest buying period of the year, where we are encouraged to let go of controls and go hogwild - buying, eating, spending way more than we normally do. This can hurt budgets and the earth both. Why not cut down on throwaway spending this year, and purchase wisely to reduce waste later? Here are some ideas for buying frugally and going green with your holidays.

Carpooling to Family Gathering
Carpooling to Family Gathering | Source

Taking care with the gifts we give is one of the best ways to resist the costly impetuousness that goes with Christmas buying.

Decorate Green for the Holidays

Every holiday or celebration has its own type of décor to enhance the excitement. For a green celebration this year, try these tips:

  • Spruce up your decorations by exchanging those you're tired of with a friend. Get rid of those that use excess electricity or take too long to put up. Use candles or LED lights to minimize electricity.
  • Make decorations, food, or gifts instead of buying them, and use natural and/or organic ingredients or components when you do.
  • Celebrate close to home or carpool to parties, rather than driving long distances alone.

Go Green with your gifts too. Making things takes time, so if you've already run out of time, here is what to watch for when you go shopping for gifts.

"From a commercial point of view, if Christmas did not exist it would be necessary to invent it." - Katherine Whitehorn, Roundabout

Rolodex Mesh Collection Oval Supply Caddy, Black (1746466)
Rolodex Mesh Collection Oval Supply Caddy, Black (1746466)

Choose products made of long lasting materials like metal, rather than plastics that come from fossil fuels.


What are Eco-Friendly Gifts?

Most people are aware of the benefits of purchasing products with recycled content, but there are many additional characteristics you can look for too. Try picking one to focus on this year and adding another one next year:

  • Minimal use of plastics (which come from oil and natural gas) - like nylon, acrylic, silicone, synthetic rubber, petrolatum, poly-anything

  • Reused or refurbished goods (also applies to do-it-yourself projects)

  • Fair Trade standards

  • Recycled content

  • Something to replace what would otherwise contribute to global warming

  • Minimal packaging

  • WaterSense or Energy Star labels

  • Lifetime or long-lasting warranty

  • Donation to a great cause, rather than a physical product

Green Gift Examples

Sometimes it's hard to remember to look for these characteristics when you just read about them, so here are actual examples and some photos of the types of qualities that make a product "green."

Vintage Jeans
Vintage Jeans | Source
Refurbished Furniture
Refurbished Furniture | Source

Minimal Use of Plastics

Plastics are derived from oil and natural gas, which industry is one of the biggest contributors to the greenhouse gases that are making our weather patterns wacky. The more plastic used, the less "green" the product is considered to be.

Many plastic toys have counterparts made of wood, cloth, or bamboo and this is true of other products as well. In cases where it is difficult to find products made without plastic, compare what you can find and choose the one with less.

Reused or Refurbished Gifts

  • I have two friends who shop at used vintage clothing stores and always find attractive clothes. If your gift recipient likes the more avant guarde look, you can buy interesting clothes at shops that sell used clothing and other items from movie productions or actors of both genders.
  • Your church or nonprofit group, your local time bank, or your circle of friends, all may have items in their cupboards they haven't used much that someone you love might adore. Check it out.
  • Old furniture fixed up with new finish and additional décor like carving, painted scenes, or decoupage can make a great gift. These often end up looking much nicer than the original.
  • Barely used electronic equipment, discarded for minor anomalies and repaired by technicians, can often be purchased at a substantial discount.

International Fair Trade Symbol
International Fair Trade Symbol | Source

Fair Trade Products

There is a growing international movement to make sure that producers of foods and crafts from third world countries receive a fair wage for the work they do. In addition to other qualifications, producers must honor the environments in which they work and live. Fair Trade products include foods, beverages, spices, jewelry from artisans, and organic clothing. Look for one of three Fair Trade labels: International Fair Trade (on right), Fair for Life, and Fair Trade USA.

Lungta Hobo Hippie Gypsy Recycled Razor Cut Patch Sling Crossbody Bag Purse Nepal
Lungta Hobo Hippie Gypsy Recycled Razor Cut Patch Sling Crossbody Bag Purse Nepal

This item is most likely a recycled content and a Free Trade good.


Recycled Content

More and more products are being made with recycled materials: Purses from old plastic billboards, photo frames from old keyboards, candle holders from old wine barrels, and many things from recycled paper and cardboard.

Great green gifts for family members and friends who are writers or home business owners are 3-ring binders made of cardboard, a printer accompanied by printer paper with 100% recycled content, or a new portfolio with replacement tablets containing recycled paper. See links section below for more interesting recycled products.

Eco-Friendly Replacements

This green concept provides a gift that will minimize the degree or eliminate the use altogether of an environmentally harmful product. Examples of such harmful products are gas-driven vehicles, single use plastics, toxic chemicals, etc. Examples of replacement type gifts are:

  • Nice-looking leather or cloth backpack, colorful set of shopping bags, a metal cart with wheels, or a two-sided rear-wheel bike rack to eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags.

  • Good walking shoes, an annual public transportation pass, a bicycle, motorcycle, or electric car (depending on how much money you have) to reduce the need to drive a gas-driven car.

  • A raised-bed gardening kit or collection of native plants, for those you love who are gardeners, to replace their water-guzzling grass or outdoor tropical plants.

  • An indoor window garden kit to grow food locally year round, reducing the cost of buying produce transported cross-country or internationally.

Parker Frontier Translucent Green Ball Point Pen & Mechanical Pencil Set
Parker Frontier Translucent Green Ball Point Pen & Mechanical Pencil Set

Choose gifts wrapped in recyclable materials, like cardboard, rather than plastic.


Minimal Packaging

Some manufacturers secure their products so tightly with hard plastic that one needs an Exacto knife to cut them loose. The same product by a different manufacturer might use hardly any plastic in their packaging at all. If the product quality is similar, get the one with less packaging.

This is another green action that helps to reduce the amount of plastics we use, hence the amount of oil needed to fuel the plastics industry. It also sends a message to manufacturers that consumers are paying attention to packaging, especially if you accompany your purchase with an email thanking your manufacturer of choice for their minimal packaging style.

WaterSense or Energy Star Labelling

Some people like to buy functional "gifts" to improve their homes at Christmas, instead of (or in addition to) buying individual gifts for the family. If you are thinking of getting one that uses water or electricity, pay attention to their certifications.

  • WaterSense labelling currently includes devices or fixtures that use water, but not electricity, and that have been certified as at least 20% more water efficient than other such products on the market: Showerheads, toilets, bathroom sink faucets and accessories.

  • Energy Star labelling includes devices that use gas or electricity, and which may or may not use water. These devices save energy and often conserve water too. They can include washers and dryers, televisions, air conditioners, furnaces, water heaters, refrigerators, and dishwashers.

Lifetime Warranty

Yes, they do still exist. Lifetime or long term warranties are a boon to manufacturers who care about quality. It helps the manufacturer know what needs improvement in their product, so they can make a better one. It also builds loyalty in customers. I once had an umbrella with a lifetime warranty that I replaced twice, sending the old one back to the manufacturer each time, so they chould check it out.

Research carefully when you see a lifetime warranty offered. Some manufacturers can be tricky. They will manufacture a product with a built-in death - like five years instead of a possible twenty - then offer a "lifetime warranty" for the product.

If you can find a product that offers a real lifetime warranty, it's something to take advantage of. Good gift products I found on the Internet just now with lifetime warranties are garage cabinets/workbenches, travel bags (lifetime, but limited to repairs of functional damage), headphones, and wedding rings. This was just a cursory search, so I'm sure there are many more.


Donations Are Eco-Friendly

There comes a time in every family's life when the feeling of dread about credit card expenditures begins to overwhelm the joy of giving. One of the best ways to counteract this is to give to charities or other non-profits in the name of the recipient. In addition to cutting expenditures it helps you fulfill the true purpose of the holiday - uplifting the lives of others and/or making the world a better place.

There are several considerations to take into account when choosing this type of gift:

  • Does your recipient normally donate to causes? If so, they might even prefer this kind of gift. If not, you'd better ask them first.

  • Does your recipient volunteer their time to a cause? A donation to that organization could be perfect.

  • What kinds of causes does your recipient otherwise support? I am a strong environmentalist, so if you gave a donation in my name to plant a tree in Costa Rica to help grow back their forests, I would love it. But if you gave one to help support drug research, I would be unhappy.

  • Would they be happier being part of a larger donation that came from the whole family? If so, you could include them in choosing which cause the family will donate to.

Sources for Eco-Friendly Gifts has recently set up a Green Products section to include goods with recycled content, goods that reduce energy and water consumption, and other types of goods considered green. Click on any of the Amazon links above, then enter into the search box "Amazon Green" to find that section. Any other suggestions? Feel free to add them in the comments section below.


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    • Sustainable Sue profile image

      Sustainable Sue 5 years ago from Altadena CA, USA

      Thanks Sunshine. It can seem like a lot of work, going green, but taken one step at a time, you'd be surprised how quickly you start catching on and really thinking about and noticing the excess in our buying and packaging and utilization of materials that don't break down.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Hi posted a lot of useful information in this article! Thank you!:)