A few weeks back, after booking my place at my cycling club’s Christmas party, we were all asked whether we wanted to take part in the ‘Secret Santa’!
Immediately my heart sank at the idea of another load of cheap presents, bought by people who often don’t know each other very well (certainly in my case as I’d not long joined the club) with a price limit that screams ‘cheap tat’.
In the majority of cases, these ‘fun gifts’ will be unwanted, discarded after the event and then thrown out with a small element of guilt for the person who bought it for you, several months later. It may well make everyone laugh on the evening but it will end up in landfill before you know it.
So what did I do? Politely declined, of course, at the same time suggesting that if I did take part it would be on the basis that I donate the money I’d spend on my recipient to their chosen charity instead.
To my delight, following a flurry of group messages, the suggestion was changed to ‘eco-friendly options’ only. This then developed into an even better idea from one member that we donate all the money to The Woodland Trust to protect an area of trees – the very area that we occasionally cycle around as a club. Now we’re talking! And boy, do we need more trees!
A Secret Santa CAN work; but sadly, in most cases they DON’T. You will rarely pull the name of someone you know well enough out of the hat which leads to a guessing game of what you should buy. And alarmingly, according to a Money Advice Service Christmas Survey, everyone receives an average of £54 of unwanted gifts each year!
So, please do your bit this, and every Christmas, to reduce your impact on the environment and buy gifts that don’t harm the planet or the people on it. And speak out and up! If you’re asked to take part in a Secret Santa, why not suggest it take a more environmentally friendly theme? If they’re going to continue to be a festive tradition, let’s make them worthwhile.
Some initial tips:
- If you’re buying items online be mindful that when seeing the photo of products, it won’t be displayed in plastic, but it will often arrive in it! (unless it’s an online plastic free shop!).
- Avoid cheap clothes shops… they are cheap for a reason. Often made from cheap polyester (plastic!) and made in unethical working conditions. Do your online homework about retailers before you buy.
- Just because something is made from paper doesn’t make it sustainable… check the covers for the magical FSC Certified logo. If it doesn’t have it… don’t buy it!
- Think about buying items that encourage others to be more environmentally friendly too like books, re-usable lunch tins, coffee cups, make-up
- Finally, remember you have to wrap your gift too. Don’t go to all that effort and then wrap it in metallic paper with glitter on… it’s all plastic. Do the scrunch test with your wrapping paper. If you scrunch it up and it pops back up, it’s not recyclable.
Here’s a list of gifts and ideas that won’t cost the earth, literally! And might even help it! (And if you think I’ve missed any out, do let me know! 😉)
- Reusable Water Bottle or Coffee Cup
- Bamboo or metal straws
- Shampoo and soap bars
- Candles in tins
- An educational book on reducing your impact on the environment
- Bamboo socks
- A meal or shop voucher – especially if you’re a sports club; for example for a cycling club a Wiggle voucher will always be appreciated!
- Seed bombs
- Magazine subscriptions
- Upcycled gifts – items made by transforming unwanted products into new materials like plastics, tyres, cork, boat sails etc.
- Protect and dedicate some woodland with The Woodland Trust
- Buy a gift in the Marine Conservation Shop, adopt an animal or join as a member
- Buy a gift in the WWF shop or adopt an endangered animal
- The Other Bar – Power through chocolate! Buy a chocolate bar, scan the token on the packaging and buy a cocoa a tree and support cocoa farmers. Farmers only get 3% of the value of the cocoa used to make the chocolate sold in shops, which leads to the majority of cocoa farmers not earning living incomes. The Other Bar ensures farmers are paid prices that meet real income needs – and they receive it faster.
- Upcircle Beauty – A brand that has caught my eye recently… they make the most amazing scrubs blended with waste coffee grounds in plastic free packaging.
- Toast Ale – this cool award-winning start-up brews all its lager and ale with waste bread and donates all profits to food waste charity, Feedback. Available in most of the major supermarkets or you can buy online. Other beer brands doing good for people and planet include Curious Brew and Brew Dog.
- Something a little stronger? If you want spirits, try to go for small batch brands and try and find a local one.
- Pop into your local plastic-free shop. If you’re not sure where your nearest one is, check out this great website: Zero Waste Near Me.
- Charity Shops – in recent years, many charity shops have become much more like boutiques than 2nd hand shops. You’ll often find new or excellent quality items with triple benefits… you’ll be giving something a 2nd life, supporting a charity and more than likely buying something without packaging!
- Wearth London – an online zero-waste shop packed with UK made, vegan, organic and handmade gifts and everyday essentials.
- Ethical Superstore – a great place for ethical, organic and vegan products but watch out for the plastic as many of their product lines, however ethical are packaged in plastic!
- pebble magazine – this sustainable lifestyle online magazine is an ethical consumers’ dream and a budding environmentalist’s inspiration! It’s full of articles and lists of ethical and sustainable suppliers and brands.
- Protect the Planet – this online shop sells a large range of eco-friendly and recycled gifts.
- Etsy – an app based ‘community’ of people who make pretty much everything handmade. Have a search and see what you can find but watch out as it’s a global network so do avoid shipping stuff from overseas and switch to the correct country.
- Finally, give the gift of time. Christmas is a time to spend quality time with family and friends. Instead of all spending £10 or £20 on a gift, why not spend a day over the festive period going for a walk, stopping off for coffee and cake or booking to see a panto? Special memories that will last forever…
There are lots of other ways you can make your Christmas more sustainable too. Pop over to Sustainable(Ish) for lots of tips on stocking fillers, gifts for kids, nativity costumes, parties and more..
Merry eco-Christmas everyone!
PS If you’re reading this after the festive season and have ended up with some of those unwanted gifts, please don’t leave them in the back of a drawer. Pop them down to your local charity shop. Who knows? You may make someone’s Christmas 2020!