Happy (sustainable) Holidays! A few low-impact gift ideas

Posted by Kathleen Bottriell on

Hello elves,

It’s that time of the year where we all wrap ourselves up warmly, and slog through the dark mornings. The anticipation of the Christmas break glows like a light at the end of the tunnel, getting us through the mad rush to finish an endless to do list before the end of the year.

I have warm childhood memories of getting up at dawn on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought us and tearing through wrapping paper to uncover coveted toys. I remember being so disappointed, one year I really wanted a guitar - but my parents borrowed one and gave me a voucher for lessons as a gift. In retrospect I know what a horrible teenager I was, and how sensible my parents were, as the guitar was soon returned after I lost interest. What a waste it would have been if they had bought me a new one (you can read about Gibson guitar’s troubles with illegal tropical logging).

British journalist George Monbiot has written about the environmental problem with Christmas gifts, and gives a shocking statistic that of all materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale. Seriously. Put down the solar-powered-waving-queen and think about that one for a minute. It is estimated that households in the UK to produce approximately 750,000 tonnes of extra waste at Christmas time, generating 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 in total.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a grinch. I love cheesy Christmas music, I love decorating the Christmas tree, stuffing my face with shortbread cookies and rolling my eyes at the awkward family games. But I do not love Christmas gifts. In fact, my husband and I decided a few years ago not to do Christmas gifts anymore. But, for the rest of the family, we still do, and here are some of our best (low impact) ideas:

  1. Excursions and experiences, like going for dinner, spa vouchers, wine tasting, going for a hike…and for your nearest and dearest, including time spent together with you. It doesn’t have to be an official voucher, or even an activity that you have to pay for. Sole Uno, in Rheinfelden, is my go-to gift voucher, and floating in the darkened salt pool is the perfect post-holiday recovery activity.
  2. Food, especially if you are travelling to visit people for the holidays, bring something unique (for example, my mother asked for Ovalmaltine, even though you can get the same thing in Canada, but it’s called Ovaltine there). Of course, there is some impact still involved with food, but it’ still much better than a novelty gift that is never used.
  3. Drinks, like a local wine or set of their favourite mixed drink (think boutique gin, fancy tonic) – and assemble the set yourself (don’t buy the kits in the box, that just makes more packaging waste). Have a look at Sustainable Spirits, which use eco-Pouches, 2.8L poly-laminate pouches which can be used to refill our beautiful silk-screen printed “bottles-for-life”. You can supplement this with beautiful vintage drink glasses you found in the local thrift store.
  4. Donations to charity. I recieved a virtual family of ducks a few years ago, as part of the Oxfam Unwrapped They also have vouchers to support education, women’s empowerment, inequality, children and so on, so you can match this to your recipient’s interests. Just don’t donate on their behalf to ‘The Human Fund’ please!
  5. Something upcycled. We’ve got a few options in our webshop, like this unique wine holder, or vase (both made from old wine barrels), or these wine bottle glasses / tea light holders. For someone really special on your list, you can combine an experience with upcycling: we recommend the Vintage Letters atelier in Basel (the friendly owner will work with you to create an LED-illuminated word of your choice), or Kyburz made, where you can pick the wood they use to create custom furniture from old pallets.
  6. Second-hand. This could be anything – toys, books, kitchen appliances, bicycles, jewellery – you name it, you can find it second-hand. Use the opportunity to explain why you are giving second-hand gifts and if you got it somewhere interesting (like a vintage store, or an antiques) market, tell them the story of how you found it as part of the gift. And finally, if you know someone who wants second-hand or vintage chairs for Christmas, you know where to find us!

We wish you very happy holidays, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, and we look forward to seeing you in 2019.

Kate and the ecochair.ch team

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