7 Eco-friendly Christmas Gifts your Loved Ones will Actually Want

It’s that time of year where our inboxes are overflowing with messages of SALE! THE BIGGEST DEAL EVER! YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS!

This, of course, is very exciting.

But the truth is, many of these items aren’t things your loved one would want. And what may seem like a good deal at the time is actually not that much better than the true retail price.

This year I saw many green sites join in with ‘Green Fridays’. This still encourages buying but with more sustainable items. I’m on the fence as to whether this is a good thing – Christmas shopping traditions are unlikely to change, so perhaps persuading people to switch the type of things they’re buying is the way forward.

However, their emails aren’t much better than the usual Black Friday spam. Some of my favourite eco retailers filled my inbox with the wonderful gifts of reusable kitchen roll and bamboo toothbrushes.

…Now I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d personally be a bit disappointed with them on Christmas day. Nothing says “I love you” quite like cleaning products…

The consumerist’s idea of Christmas isn’t about gifting items that can help you complete everyday chores. But receiving things you want doesn’t have to be a bad thing either.

Here are some of my favourite Christmas present ideas that not only stick to your eco morals, but that your loved ones will actually want.

1. Homemade treats and liqueurs

You’d be surprised how easy it is to make the items you would usually pay out of the butt for in a hamper. They often taste better too!

Hand making or baking treats is a great way to ensure your loved one loves them. You took the time to make this jam or gin just for them, making them feel extra special. Food and drink are also easily personalised to someone’s taste. Liqueurs, for example, can be infused with basically any flavour and they’re dead simple to make.

Homemade coffee liqueur made from local 200 Degrees coffee.
Our first attempt at coffee liqueur: success!

Most use a vodka base, others use rum or gin. We use Russian Standard as our go-to vodka; it’s one of the smoothest we’ve tried and surprisingly one of the cheapest. Then simply infuse it with your chosen flavourings; vanilla, coffee, caramel, parma violets – you name it, there’s a recipe online for it!

You can buy glass bottles and jars specifically, or just consume your way through shop-bought produce. Kilner jars are a great choice for that hipster vibe – just make sure your container has a tight seal for infusing.

Tip: If making coffee liqueur with ground coffee, make sure to buy some really fine filters. We learned the hard way and spent an hour pouring rum through a ravaged teabag.

2. Soy wax candles

You may not have thought of the damage candles can do to the environment beyond burning them. Many scented candles contain paraffin wax, which in addition to being made from fossil fuels is also harmful to your health and your home. Merry Christmas!

Luckily, there are several eco-friendly candle shops available, such as Ethel and Co, The Naked Candle Co, and more, which use soy wax and cotton wicks to make their candles. They still contain scents, but without the harmful carcinogenic matter.

These boutique candles make for gorgeous presents, and, let’s be real, no Christmas setup is complete without candlelight!

3. Sustainable clothing

If you know your loved one well enough, sustainable clothing can be a great Christmas present. There are more and more shops taking up the eco mantle every week, and with more competition comes greater range and cheaper prices.

A hoodie and T-shirt from Rapanui and the National Wildlife Trust.
Designs by Rapanui and the National Wildlife Trust

Normally this is a bad thing for the environment, but many of these shops, such as Rapanui, make to meet demand rather than creating surplus and ending up in landfill.

You can buy sustainable clothing made from tencel, bamboo, cotton, and recycled or waste material. Quality tends to be excellent, but this can sometimes be reflected in the price tag. There are a variety of shops online, so don’t be deterred by the price of one eco shop.

And if you don’t know the person well enough… well, everyone loves socks!

4. Ethical makeup and pamper products

Everyone could do with some TLC to feel themselves again after this year, and spa and makeup gifts offer a good excuse to focus on you. I feel there’s still a long way to go with eco-friendly makeup, but there are certainly options out there like Zao for viable Christmas presents.

Sustainable health and beauty is slowly gaining traction, with lots of options for natural soaps, face masks, scrubs and haircare. Packaging and palm oil use appear to be the main issues in the industry, but search in the right places and you’ll find some great alternatives to the destructive mainstream brands.

Pamper hampers can often be personalised to suit the recipient’s taste.

Special thanks to The Ethical Copywriter for introducing me to Koti Boxes! These great bespoke or premade boxes can be filled with candles, soaps, chocolate and more – all responsibly and locally made. Not only are we fully confident our loved ones will adore them, we also feel a bit better in ourselves for not ordering all our Christmas shopping from Amazon!

5. Online subscriptions and vouchers

It’s time to think outside the box this Christmas. I’ve reached an age where I prefer being gifted experiences as opposed to physical items, which obviously isn’t easy at the moment.

Scrawlr Box watercolours box
Scrawlr Box: June 2020

But these experiences can still be bought and act as a promise to struggling businesses of future visits, and gives the loved one something to look forward to. Check out five other ways to help your local businesses this year.

With online workshops and classes storming in popularity this year, now is a perfect time to buy your loved one a ticket to learn something they’ve always wanted to, such as painting, cooking, new languages, guitar… there’s a course for literally everything.

Subscription boxes have also become popular, and nowadays you can find one to suit every type of person, from bookworms to beard-obsessed men. As many of these boxes are run by independents, they are likely to have considered the impact of their packaging too. Check individual websites for more info.

A lot of technology has been switching to digital purchasing for items such as books and games. I completely get the need for something tangible to unwrap on the big day, and personally can’t replace the feel of a good paperback, but you can still make these gifts feel special. Many of these items still provide a card or voucher to open too – it’s the same present without the waste.

6. Upcycled gifts

If you’re a dab hand with a sewing machine, paintbrush or some other wonderful artsy craftsy talent, try upcycling items you or someone else no longer wants. It’s incredible how imaginative talented people can get when repurposing supposed junk.

Many will have had a clearout in their home this year. Go through these unwanted items and see if you can make some nice accessories from old materials, refill pretty containers with sweets or dry cake ingredients, personalise trinkets – the limit is literally your imagination.

If you’re not arty, check sites like notonthehighstreet and Etsy to pay other people to be. The livelihoods of these creators often depend on trade from these sites, so asking them to make something unique for your loved one is a win-win.

7. Terrarium kits and plants

I’ve been obsessed with terrariums since I first saw them years back, and still haven’t had one yet (hint hint!). Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they provide a lovely little hobby during lockdowns and general hermiting (I imagine). Terrariums help plants to survive in dry air where they usually wouldn’t, broadening the variety of plants you can have in your home.

Plants are also proven to improve our mental health and our breathing. Let’s be real – who hasn’t looked at a plant and felt a bit better?

What a great gift to give this year: better.

Don’t forget

You should also consider the reusability of your gift wrapping and packaging. Here are some of my top tips for Christmas gifting, this year and forever:

  • The scrunch test: if your wrapping paper can be crushed in your fist and stays crumpled, it’s recyclable.
  • Avoid foil wrapping paper, tags and ribbons. Presents can look genuinely gorgeous with plain brown paper, string and card gift tags.
  • Try to avoid Sellotape where possible. Brown paper tape, although more unsightly, can be recycled. Remove Sellotape from wrapping paper and boxes before recycling.
  • If possible, buy presents in bulk to avoid more transit and packaging. Of course, Christmas 2020 will be almost exclusively ordered online, but we should try and minimise impact where we can.
  • If seeing your loved ones in person, perhaps you could sneak the wrapping back into your bag after they’ve opened your supercool gift. Maybe even play a fun game of ‘how long can we keep giving each other this same piece of wrapping over the years’? Classic Christmas fun.
  • Now more than ever it’s important to support local and independent. See if your local independent favourites have an online presence, or try looking for unique, sustainable gifts on sites like Etsy.

What was the best gift you ever received at Christmas? What was the worst? Were they sustainable? Let me know in the comments below!

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