Green Gifts? Try Freecycle

If you want to engage in a traditional Christmas, but you are concerned about the environment, what gifts should you give, to whom should you give them and should you give at all?

A burgeoning industry of retailers, manufacturers and PR consultants is attempting to “green” the Christmas gift market. An Eco Gift Festival brought together “more than 15,000 consumers and 200 environmentally conscious vendors” at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for an orgy of consumerism.  This writer received a copy of the “Green Christmas” guide. The pocket sized book ($7.95 in the US) arrived in a box big enough for 24 copies, and was delivered on a large truck.

Other companies offered similarly inappropriate recommendations under a green banner: Recycled gift-wrap made of “waste cotton fabrics” costs £4.50 for three sheets from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales (www.cat.org.uk) and consumes considerably more  resources than recycled newspaper; a BMW rental from www.zipcar.com ( $77 per day) was justified, the company claimed, because “each Zipcar replaces over 15 privately owned vehicles”; an “eco green radiator booster” £14.67 from www.peagreenthings.co.uk, needs to be plugged into the mains; reduced-wrapping chocolates from Nestle (large selection box £3.49) begged the question of how much further the wrapping could be reduced; Tsi-La, a £25 perfume from www.puresha.com was described as a “green fragrance” because it contains no chemicals but comes in luxurious packaging; a Shark Steam mop which “cleans a 1,000 square foot floor space with only one pint of water” still used non-renewable electricity; the Toy Industry Association of America chose to single out the new Barbie B-Cause as one of its top three eco-toys because it features fabric remnants from other Barbie doll clothing lines, without questioning the eco-credentials of the overall product.

As a result of marketing efforts such as these, the word Green has fallen into disrepute.  A survey earlier this year by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, examined claims made about 1,018 widely sold goods. Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, and the FTC, TerraChoice found that all but one of the green claims were false or could be misleading.

One way to cleave through this apparent paradox is to use Freecycle the global web based community of four million members who give away possessions they no longer need to others in the same locale. Nothing could be greener than using something which was destined for the landfill.

“Freecycle is growing like crazy leading up to Christmas,” said Deron Beal, the organization’s founder and Executive Director.  – “people are trying to find a gift that is a used item or get supplies to make things like quilts out of used materials.”

In small towns, Mothers meet via their local Freecycle group. “They get together at a café and open up the boot to give each other children’s’ stuff,” said Beal.

To underline how superfluous Christmas gifting can be, Beal revealed that Freecycle’s “busiest time of the entire year is directly following Christmas.

“We just peak out – the web sites max out.

“You do see an abundance of Santa socks and Christmas tree ties and sweaters that people don’t want, -but some use it for their kids to give toys they no longer want to other children in the community.

Beal said the reason for Freecycle’s wild success was “people see how much fun it is to give their stuff away – when you give someone something you were going to throw away anyway, the gift is in the giving.”

Beal himself is not a big gift giver or getter “I know if I go out and buy something it will be the wrong thing anyway,” he said.  – I just got (everybody) gift certificates to the local cinema. They can pick the movie themselves.”

To give or not to give? Discovery networks TV host Sara Snow has perhaps found a middle way.

“As a family we have come to a pact not to give presents,” said Snow whose father founded Eden Foods, one of the earliest organic food companies and now one of the largest in America.  “A few years ago we decided we have everything we need — we all have too much stuff,” she said.

“We spent a couple years making gifts for one another. I made blankets for everyone one year, but our fingers got tired,” said Snow, whose show Living Fresh highlights green and organic lifestyles. “So now we gather our money together and make a donation. Last year we went with a micro lending institution – we started a bank in Malawi – it was a one time donation on our part and the money is loaned out to people and is it is repaid it is relent out to other people. So it’s green in that it was not a gift that involved anything wasteful.”

For those who have not managed to make the same pact as the Snow family, here are some ideas that pass the green test::

Second hand bicycle – (Short trips under three miles represent nearly half of all trips according to US DoT) plus kinetic powered “Anklelite” $19.99 www.pedalite.com

Paper potter – make flower pots from paper –£9.74 www.peagreenthings.co.uk

Paper log maker – recycle old paper to make fuel – £19.95 from www.originalgift.co.uk

Adopt 250 Saplings in Honduras £38.00 (approx $55.86) – new trees act as wind breaks, hold soil together in tropical storms and prevent mudslides. (www.presentaid.org) OR Adopt a half acre of South American rainforest (about 30 trees) – $50 from coolearth.org

Ibids – Children’s educational toy characters that teach about eco-behaviour- $39.99 from www.ibids.com

Owl Energy monitor (£39.99) – reveals amount and cost of electricity being consumed from Robert Dyas. Or Kill-a-watt meter $33 from buy.com

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription:  www.localharvest.org/csa.jsp

Solar powered LED Christmas lights – using only renewable energy (ebay.com)

Sunlinq portable solar chargers made of innovative” thin-film” solar cells (www.globalsolar.com/)

Maybe in this credit crunch year, the greenest gift of all is the green of dollar bills, perhaps tucked discreetly into a recycled envelope. No chance there of an unwanted gift.

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