9 Sustainable Gift Ideas For The Climate Activist in Your Life

A guide to eco-friendly presents and sustainable gift giving.

Source: author via Canva

With Christmas right around the corner, it’s time to talk about gifts.

There is no question that Christmas is one of the busiest and most celebrated holidays worldwide. For many of us, it’s a time to enjoy the company of our loved ones, feast on delicious food and shell out big money on presents for our friends and family.

Yet from wrapping paper to Christmas trees and traditional turkey dinners, Christmas is a big day for pollution. If you’re trying to live low impact, it can also be a tricky time. Personally, I know my friends and family often struggle to find gifts that match up with my ethical stances and beliefs. After all, even after all these years I sometimes struggle buying things for myself!

Between organising dinner parties and last-minute work and family commitments, one thing we can all agree on is that nobody needs any extra stress this Christmas season. For this reason, I have compiled a list of 9 creative, thoughtful and practical gifts for the environmentalist in your life.

But first, a few things to keep in mind.

Wrapping Paper, Packaging and Cards

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Wastage from gift-giving doesn’t just result from the product itself. The packaging and wrapping paper we use and discard is also a significant contributor to environmental degradation during the Christmas season. In fact, Greenpeace suggests that just 1kg of wrapping paper emits 3.5Kg of CO2 during its coal-intensive production process. As of 2016 the UK alone was expected to discard around 227,000 miles of wrapping paper.

Likewise, if all our Christmas cards were placed alongside one another they would go around the world approximately 500 times. This is a shocking figure if we consider how many of those cards are actually thrown away.

Estimates also suggest we purchase over 125,000 tonnes of plastic packaging during the festive season, much of which ends up in our oceans.

Where possible, try to buy gifts with minimal or no packaging. A tote bag instead of a plastic bag can make a big difference in the long run. As an added bonus, it’s also practical. Nowadays, you can also find recycled bags and boxes as well as cloth wraps for an extra touch.

TL;DR — 9 Gifts for the Environmentalist in Your Life

  1. Plants or Seed Kits
  2. Sustainable Chocolates
  3. Reusable Straws/Cups/Cutlery
  4. Reusable Produce and Shopping Bags
  5. Recycled Journals
  6. Grow Your Own Mushrooms Kit
  7. Hemp Clothing
  8. Bamboo Towels or Sheets
  9. An experience!

A guide to sustainable gifts

Plants or Seed Kits

Image by Milada Vigerova from Pixabay

Budget: $10–$40
What it is:
Unlike the seeds you might find at your local supermarket, seed kits are usually beautifully packaged and ready to plant. You can choose from a range of edible and non-edible plants and flowers. For apartment dwellers, opt for a potted plant or succulent.
Why it’s great:
Seed kits are a thoughtful, DIY gift that any green-thumbed friend will love. It’s also beneficial for the environment (bonus points for native species!). Likewise, plants and succulents instantly brighten up a space. As an added note, I’ve never met another environmentalist who isn’t totally obsessed with plants!

Ethical Chocolates

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

Budget: $10–$50
What it is: Chocolate is a classic Christmas present, but it can be so much more than a delicious treat. Still, many chocolate brands engage in human and animal exploitation, relying on child labour or taking advantage of poor workers in developing countries. As such, it’s best to buy from socially conscious, vegan, Fair Trade businesses.
Why it’s great:
Ethically sourced chocolate can be a bit more expensive, but it is still extremely affordable depending on the type and size you get. Nowadays, you find everything from traditional bars to bonbons. This is a safe, delicious gift that will ensure your climate-conscious loved one doesn’t miss out.

Reusable Straws and Cups

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Budget: $8–$20 for straws, $12-$60 for cups
What it is:
Reusable straws are now more popular than ever as restaurants, bars and cafes phase out single-use plastic in light of public concerns. Steel and glass straws are both excellent substitutes. Pair up this gift with a reusable coffee cup, water bottle or tumbler for that special someone this Christmas.
Why it’s great:
One of my favourite gifts ever is a set of reusable bubble tea cups and straws I got for my 20th birthday. Not only are the cups extremely cute, they’re also something I use almost every day!

Shampoo and Conditioner Bars

Image by Mrdidg from Pixabay

Budget: $15–$20
What it is:
Shampoo bars work exactly like liquid shampoo — they lather and clean your hair. They were actually quiet standard before the 1940s, when plastic shampoo bottles became the norm on supermarket shelves.
Why it’s great:
Data suggests that a million plastic bottles are bought every minute worldwide, and shampoo and conditioner bottles only contribute to the problem. Shampoo bars don’t come in plastic packaging and tend to contain more natural ingredients.

Recycled Journals

Image by Jo_FRS from Pixabay

Budget: $10-$40
What it is:
The paper and pulp industry is a big contributor to environmental degradation. Recycled journals provide an eco-friendly alternative as they’re typically made of 100% recycled paper.
Why it’s great:
Most of us need to write for one reason or another, whether it be notes for school, a weekly schedule or daily to-do lists. In addition, there are endless of cute and fun designs to choose from.

Grow Your Own Mushrooms Box

Image by Anja from Pixabay

Budget: $30-$40
What it is:
Grow kits that enable you to harvest your own mushrooms, simply by adding water.
Why it’s great: Some grow kits are prepared from waste coffee grounds that would contribute landfill otherwise. Not only is this a fun gift, it is also edible!

Hemp Clothing

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Budget: $30–$100+
What it is:
Hemp is now regarded as one of the most sustainable materials out there and hemp clothing is increasing in popularity. You can find everything from shirts to formal wear, available in a variety of styles.
Why it’s great:
Hemp clothing in particular is known for being durable, breathable and soft. It’s also a practical gift — if you’re not sure about sizing or designs, simply opt for a gift card to a hemp-based clothing retailer.

Bamboo towels or sheets

Image by sonja_paetow from Pixabay

Budget: $25-$60 for bamboo towels, $100+ for a bamboo sheet set
What it is:
As the name implies, bamboo towels and sheets are made out of 100% bamboo. They have a reputation for being not just eco-friendly but also hypoallergenic, soft and durable.
Why it’s great:
This is definitely a luxurious gift. It’s also one that the receiver is likely to use and appreciate for years to come. I’d highly recommend it as a home-warming/Christmas gift for anyone who has recently moved out.

An experience!

Image by Anja from Pixabay

Budget: It varies!
What it is:
From pottery workshops to jewellery making to photography classes or a voucher to a local restaurant, the possibilities are endless.
Why it’s great:
Experiences don’t come in packaging but they do create memories that your loved one will cherish forever. They’re also probably more eco-friendly than any gift you can wrap up.

If these fail…

If none of the above appeal to you, that’s okay! Here are a few suggestions to make your search for the perfect present a little bit easier.

Scour Pinterest

DIY gifts are usually more environmentally friendly than their store-bought alternatives. In addition, they also tend to be more thoughtful and show effort on your part. Even if you’re not too much into DIY-ing, Pinterest can be a great source of inspiration.

Donate to charity

Donating money on someone’s behalf is great for a range of reasons. Firstly, you’re putting money towards a worthy cause, not a big corporation. Secondly, even if the charity you donate to is not directly involved with the environment a donation is a sustainable gift, there’s no wrapping or plastic packaging involved. Lastly, it’s a heartwarming gift to receive! When you donate on someone’s behalf it’s like saying ‘I admire your values and I want to support you in saving the world’.

That being said, choose the right organisation to donate to. Do your research and choose a charity you think the other person would want to support.

Ask!

Some might find this suggestion uncomfortable, others might think it removes the excitement from opening presents. However, asking ensures you’re getting that person something they will use rather than just throw away or store at the back of the cupboard. If you want to keep that Christmas magic, you could even ask the recipient to give you a few ideas of brands or items they like.

In the Spirit of Christmas…

You may scoff at the idea of sustainable gift giving, calling it entitled or greedy. After all, why can’t we eco-freaks just be grateful for getting a gift in the first place? Trust us, we are!

While we appreciate all of your efforts, it’s not just about the gift itself. For us, it’s about the emissions released into the environment, the carbon footprint a present can have and the waste created in what is meant to be a magical holiday. If we all thought a little bit more about our gift-giving (and receiving) we could make a big difference.

We understand buying eco-friendly presents isn’t always easy. Most of us still deal with the struggles of trying to find ethical and affordable products every time we do our weekly shop. Nevertheless, it’s not about being perfect, as the old saying goes: ‘it’s the thought that counts’.

Artist, environmentalist and social economics student specialising in drinking too much bubble tea, getting no sleep, and crying in libraries. (She/Her)

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