Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 ways to a green Christmas

Make it yourself or buy it locally -- just make sure your gifts won't add unnecessarily to the landfill site

Purse made from salvaged material, available at orabags.com

purse made from salvaged material, available at orabags.com

Photograph by: www.orabags.com, www.orabags.com

It seems an increasing number of people are interested in a green holiday season. Numerous books are on the shelves, such as Green Christmas: How to Have a Joyous, Eco-Friendly Holiday Season and A Greener Christmas, if that's any indication. But it's tough to know what's green and what's "green washed," products that masquerade as environmentally friendly, but aren't really. It's an important time of the year to read labels, ask questions and do your research on products you're interested in purchasing.

It's still early enough to put some thought into your gifts. Know why you're getting a gift for the person you're buying it for. There's nothing worse than giving someone a gift they don't want or can't use; those are destined to collect dust on a shelf -- or worse, get tossed.

What else can you do in addition to looking for ethical and sustainable gifts? Recycle your old holiday lights and replace them with low-power LED versions. With a bit of planning, you can take your holiday parties and gatherings toward zero waste: Just set out a few bins for recycling, compost and waste, and direct people appropriately. Take it a step further by removing the trash can entirely, and watch your uncle's hesitation as he tries to determine which bin his used paper plate goes into. That should make for interesting conversation around the dinner table.

A few days ago someone told me that "it takes green to go green." Not so, especially during the holidays. It's the thought that counts, and, in the case of a green and sustainable Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, using your noggin and skills will help you find -- or make -- the perfect gifts while staying true to your ethics and sustainable leanings, all while keeping within your budget.

I've assembled a list of 12 holiday gift ideas to help you have a green holiday season. Hopefully, we'll all be green and still have some snow.

1. Make a card: It's estimated that there are more than 1.9 billion cards sent each holiday season in the United States alone. This year, why not give something more personal: buy some hemp or recycled paper card stock and some art supplies, and add your own creative flair to the business of card-making. Keep the supplies and use them year after year.

2. Bake a gift: Ever wonder why you should save cookie tins? Now you know: It's for the holidays. Sweets such as peanut brittle can be made in advance and store well. Preserves, such as jellies and jams, are always appreciated, as are baked goods, such as cookies. Plus, the tins and jars can be reused. Some people are wary about homemade goods, so for those folks, try another option.

3. Give consumables: A lot of people -- students, retirees, newspaper columnists -- live in the tight confines of condos, apartments, or basement suites and physically don't have enough space for more "stuff." Instead, give those people consumables, such as grocery gift certificates.

4. Buy services: Gifts don't always have to be material. Give gift certificates to local services, such as a trip to a massage therapist or spa, a trial membership at a yoga studio or gym, or a gift certificate to a hair salon. This keeps waste out of landfills and provides worthwhile local employment.

5. Give ethical products: Buying a fair-trade product -- such as organic chocolate -- is another good way to go green for the holidays. Fair-trade products ensure the farmers and craftspeople who produce the product are remunerated fairly. It might not be the right shade of green you're looking for, but it does provide a better quality of life for farmers and craftspeople who may be at risk of being exploited.

6. Buy vintage and second-hand goods: Buying second-hand furniture, books or other used products is another great way to go green for the holidays. Know the tastes of the person you're buying for, though: One person's sweet find is another's old junk. But with all the great second-hand and vintage stores in town, there's a gift available for everyone.

7. Give a gift that gives twice by donating to charity: If there's a group that the person you're buying for really loves, donate some money to it on their behalf. For example, you can adopt a cougar or a grizzly bear through The Land Conservancy (www.conservancy.bc.ca/store). Give to the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre (www.elc.uvic.ca/sponsors). Donate to the Dogwood Initiative, which wants to make British Columbia the global model for sustainable land reform (www.dogwoodinitiative.org). Give to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, which last year assisted more than 2,300 households in need (www.timescolonist.com/christmasfund). Through an organization such as World Vision (http://donate.worldvision.org), you can buy livestock for a family in need or donate school supplies to Canadian families that could use some help.

8. Pick organic for babies: There are so many options for babies, from unpainted, unfinished wood toys to cosy organic cotton jumpers. Local crafter Dress Me Up (www.dressmeup.ca) makes organic cotton stuffed rabbits for teething, while Good Planet Baby Store on Broad Street (www.goodplanet.com) also sells all kinds of green baby products.

9. Buy organic clothing: Clothing is always a popular gift for Christmas. Look for organic cotton, which uses less water and no pesticides, unlike traditional cotton. Ditch your mental image of a pony-tailed hippie wearing an itchy hemp hooded sweater. Nowadays, hemp, which uses less water to grow than cotton and grows faster, can be made into comfortable and nice-looking duds.

10. Look for up-cycled materials. Products made from salvaged materials are becoming increasingly available. Simple Shoes (www.simpleshoes.com) are sneakers soled with old tire treads, while messenger bags made from recycled seatbelts and bicycle tires, such as those from Alchemy Goods (www.alchemygoods.com), are also available. Some local crafters make items out of salvaged fabric, such as handbags sewn from old leather jackets (www.orabags.com).

11. Re-gift: Do you have an item or collectable that your friend or family member has been eyeing for some time? Are you not using it? Are you particularly attached to it? If not, let it go. It might come back to you next year.

12. Buy local: If you can buy something locally made, do it. The environment isn't just about hemp toilet paper and leafy vegetables: it's also about community. Local businesses create industry and employment, and are vital to building healthy communities.

Reprinted from:  http://www.vancouversun.com/life/ways+green+Christmas/2312154/story.html