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Thirteen Great Green Gifts

Christmas can be a tricky time for those trying to be green. On one hand, if we were really serious about saving the earth, we would be buying and consuming less—meaning, no gifts. While this might be great for our recession strapped pocketbooks, if we don’t buy Christmas gifts, our friends and relatives boo, hiss, and call us Scrooge. Do we save some carbon … or our reps?

The solution, I think, is to take the three R approach to gift giving. Ask yourself:

Does this gift help Reduce waste?

Is it Reusable?

Is it made from Recycled materials?

By staying mindful of these criteria, you can help that plastic consuming, oil-guzzling, waste-producing friend or relative take a step toward sustainable living—and keep your green piece of mind intact. And don’t think it’s a sacrifice; there are some seriously great gifts on this list.

Local Farms=Global Goodness
What if you could give the people on your gift list a weekly basket full of seasonal fresh fruit, vegetables, flowers, and other locally grown goodies, all for about fifty dollars per month? A Community Supported Agriculture subscription does just that. Located throughout the country, these subscriptions support local farmers and sustainable growing practices, while greatly reducing the amount of distance food has to travel. A great gift for the foodie.

Fuel is Cruel; I Like to Bike
Reducing our reliance on cars is one of the best ways to curb carbon emissions. Plus, giving a bicycle as a gift will ensure the people you love stay active and healthy—as long as they use it. That’s why they need a novice-friendly bike, like these multi-purpose Breezer bikes, which can be used for running errands, commuting, and plain old fun. If you’re looking to recycle and are handy with a monkey wrench, buy a used bike off Craigslist, refurbish it, and give it as a gift. For the biking aficionado already on your list, these bottle openers, bowls, and clocks, all made from recycled bicycle parts, are awesome gifts.

Garbage to Goodness
When I first started throwing food scraps in my Smith and Hawken composter, made from 60 percent recycled polyethylene, my normal trash got jealous; I neglected it for weeks. Composting seriously reduces the bulk of your trash and turns food scraps into rich soil for gardening and growing; perfect for the gardener on your gift list. For the urbanite with smaller space, the All Food Bokashi Composter would be a great option. If you’re looking to give the gardener something to grow, opt for a native plant, which requires little to no water, no pesticides, and low maintenance.

Recycled Reusable Bags
It’s no surprise that plastic and paper bags are rapidly becoming out of fashion; their production uses up natural resources, billions of them are given out everyday, and most end up in our landfills or polluting oceans. And who wants a plain old white or brown bag, when you could be carrying around a cute, colorful one? This grocery perfect tote, made from recycled grain and rice bags by village women in Cambodia, has reinforced straps, zippered pockets for money, and a unique print. For a younger giftee, check out these fun, colorful totes made from trash (yes, trash!) collected by scavengers in Indonesia. Or, if you’re a little crafty, make your own bag out of old plastic ones. Repurposing rocks!

Stay Hydrated, Without Emissions
Plastic water bottles really get my goat. Not only are Dasani and Aquafina just bottled tap water (can we say rip-off?), thirty million plastic water bottles head to landfills per day. Luckily, we have great alternatives. I love my Sigg stainless steel water bottle, which is sleek, easy to clean, and fits in all of my handbags. Siggs come in a variety of colors, sizes, and designs—everything from flowers to camouflage. Perfect for everyone on the gift list.

Stay Caffeinated, Without Emissions
Getting your java junky friend to eschew the paper cup for the reusable mug can take a little ingenuity; the mug has to be travel-friendly, so he or she can pick up a cup of caffeine whenever the need hits, it has to be small enough to carry around in a purse or briefcase, and above all, it has to look good. Thank goodness for Thermal Stainless Steel Coffee/Tea Mug, available in pastel pink, blue, green, and yellow. Not only does it fit all of the above criteria, it saves tons of paper from ending up in the trash. Best of all, many cafés now give a rebate for bringing your own mug.

Billboards to Bologna
I’ve never really given much thought to what happens to billboards after they’ve said their piece. I certainly never thought they could be made into a reusable sack, perfect for your friend who likes to carry lunch to the office or parents packing sandwiches for the playground. While you’re helping them get rid of brown bags, you might as well throw in a few Wrap-N-Mats (reusable sandwich wrappers), so they can get rid of their plastic sandwich bags, too. For the beer lover on your gift list, try out an insulated cooler that’s made from billboards. Cool? Very cool.

Eco-101
You could put this gift together yourself, but who has time during the holidays? For $45, the Go Green Gift Bag could kick-start someone’s sustainable life. It includes two compact fluorescent light bulbs, a low-flow showerhead, organic Fair Trade coffee and tea, travel-size tubes of herbal shampoo, conditioner, and lip balm, and an EcoGuide, all in a canvas reusable bag.

Read Green
Knowledge is power, and these books could revolutionize the way a friend thinks about mundane things like food, driving, and this little place called earth. An Inconvenient Truth, by Al Gore, looks at the causes and effects of global warming; An Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollen, takes a peek behind the moral, ethical, and environmental issues behind our eating; and for kids, The Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming, by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, makes a complex issue easy to understand. 

Write Green
Journals are always a great gift for those who like to write, but how can you give them a personal green touch? At Recover Your Thoughts, covers from old library books are made into journal covers, and paper that would otherwise be heading to the recycle bin is made into the pages. It’s a perfect gift for the literary friend. For the rockin’ writer, get a journal made from old records so they can pen their lyrics in a recycled notebook. For the computer geek who likes to scribble while programming, check out these colorful diskette notebooks.

Packing Heat?
Voltaic has officially made it easy to harness the power of the sun, while still looking cool. These solar paneled backpacks can be used to recharge iPods, cell phones, and other tech gadgets and are perfect for the on-the-go student or intrepid traveler. Bye-bye outlets, hello outdoors.

To Know Is to Love
Getting outdoors is a wonderful reminder of why it’s so important to try to do our part to reduce, reuse, and recycle. A membership to our National Parks is a great gift for the grandparents with the RV or the active outdoors person. Stewardship organizations like the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society offer memberships that make great gifts for the nature and wildlife lovers.

Wrap It Up!
Don’t miss a chance to be green when you wrap all your Christmas finds. Try using the funny pages, old phone books, and magazines as wrapping paper. If you can’t live without printed paper, check out Fish Lips Paper Design, which has fun, cool, beautiful wrapping paper designs, all made from 100 percent recycled paper, and dyed using a soy-based ink.

In my attempts to try to shop green this year, one thing has become abundantly clear: everything can be recycled into a cool gift. If you’re crafty, your green gift-giving options are limitless. Bet you never thought about turning VCR tape into an evening clutch, or shopping bags into a kids rain coat, or plastic bags into beads … neither did I!

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