Eco-Presents & the Art of Giving and Receiving

Written by Ilke
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Grande Place on Christmas Day, Brussels Grande Place on Christmas Day, Brussels GothPhil on flickr!

This article consists of two parts: first is a list of original ideas for eco-friendly presents, followed by the art of giving and receiving. There are also some ideas for sustainable wrapping.

Some original ideas for eco-friendly presents

Just try to imagine all the waste and pollution resulting from the Christmas season - it will make you sad. But, with a little bit of imagination, you can find many original ideas for an eco-friendly Christmas! Here is a list to give you some inspiration:

  • Local products: Belgian beers, cheese, chocolates, waffles, Speculoos, wild game products, jams, honey, vinegars, crystal, crafts, lace, books with regional recipes (this way you can avoid long transport and reduce green house gases)
  • Fair trade items from Oxfam world solidarity shops
  • Fair trade or bio baskets (e.g. check out your Delhaize, Colruyt, Oxfam world solidarity shops)
  • Hand-crafted items made by you or a local craftsperson
  • Seeds, a tree or bush (local species) to plant or donate for planting (see our gardening articles or check the UN Billion tree program or a tree planting certificate for the Jane Goodall Gombe Chimpanzee Reserve)
  • Guides to ecological wine or a book on the Slow Cooking movement (e.g. Cook&Book shop, close to Woluwe Shopping)
  • a nice water jar to serve tap water at the table
  • a thermos drinking bottle and lunch box (check at A.S. Adventure or other outdoor shops)
  • invite a cook to your house
  • kitchen tools to use/enhance cooking at home
  • a caddy to shop in the neighborhood
  • Donate an amount to a charity organization or finance a child in a developing country and gift the receipt (e.g., or gift certificates for the Jane Goodall Institute)
  • charity projects for children at
  • a "Green Seat" to offset emissions (CO2 or GHG) flight of your visitors
  • adopt an animal at the zoo or abroad (e.g. a chimpanzee in Africa) or support a seal sanctuary in the Netherlands
  • adopt a goat/chicken donated to a person in a developing country (e.g. on Cows'n'Things)
  • a course in eco-driving (e.g. with Safe Drivers Plan or at a workshop of Ecolife)
  • electronic newspaper subscription or periodical membership
  • a cooking, crafts, ice skating, sports, or dancing course
  • warm socks, sweater, shawl, or blanket and an invitation to the receiver to turn their thermostat down by two degrees
  • an electronic use (watt measurement) meter
  • a pedometer or speedometer (with calorie counter!) to encourage walking or cycling
  • a bicycle basket and/or panniers or cycling lights and a reflective vest
  • personalized service coupons for mowing the lawn, doing the shopping, preparing a dessert, a home-made bread or meal once a month for a set number of months over the year (especially wonderful for the older person who has everything)
  • make coupons for biking tours, theatre evenings or massage for members of your family
  • solar chargers for iPods and mobile phones
  • membership card to download music from a website (such as the iTunes gift card which is available almost everywhere)
  • a book of cinema passes and public transport passes to get there (great for teens)
  • bikes, roller skates, a public transport membership or a Cambio (carsharing) membership
  • a membership card or tickets to the theatre, opera, movies, museums
  • Have a look at Nature et Decouvertes for young and old: parts of their turnover are donated to different projects)
  • Basket or box of second-hand books
  • a membership for an organic fruit and/or vegetable basket (see our article on organic baskets)
  • A composter and a kitchen container for collection of scraps
  • Make a basket for the avid gardener with ecological products.
  • Give a certificate for an ecological gardener/horticulturalist (see our gardening info).
  • Give a coupon to assist in the setup of an ecologically sound garden
  • Bird feeders or houses, beneficial insect or bat houses, hedgehog houses, frog and toad houses (see our section on Presents for ordering online)
  • A chicken, feed, and a chicken house to start someone on the way to their own free-range, organic eggs and garden fertilizer.

What to avoid

  • Plastic
  • Batteries
  • new paper wrappings
  • exotic food from far, far away
  • Purchasing food or drink in non-recyclable containers for your consumption while shopping.

What to do

  • Use your own reusable bag to carry home any purchases.
  • Consider purchasing online and saving on international shipping costs.
  • Try to be creative with wrapping using reusable materials such as clothing, towels, sheets blankets, previously used paper, flower pots, baskets. Or look into Furoshiki.

The Art of Giving and Receiving

The other day, one of my friends shared with me that she would be knitting a scarf as a gift for her sister this year. She and her husband live quite comfortably, but she acknowledged that the state of the world economy gave her a moment to pause and think about what she might do rather than buy. Admittedly she is skilled in hand-crafts and naturally derives pleasure from her skill in the art of knitting, but economy aside I found myself reflecting upon her desire to make a gift versus purchasing one. Is it better to make than buy or the reverse? Is it better to buy something made locally than made a long distance from home?

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Two styrofoam meat containers hinged together and then wrapped. The container can then be used to carry hot or cold foods to parties.
Alternatively it can be use as a reusable, protective gift box.

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Shoebox: lid and bottom wrapped separately to allow for reuse.

It would be so easy to be judgemental as to what is better when considering the environment, but I think it is healthier to evaluate the art of giving and receiving and not critique the actions. It has been relatively easy in Western cultures over the years of plenty to give because we can give, and because media has driven us to believe that we must give. We give to family, we give to friends, we give to neighbours, we give and we give, and we give more especially during the season of giving. As a result, there has been pressure to buy more, buy bigger, and spend to the point where we feel undue stress and panic. Often we are unable to take comfort, pleasure, or satisfaction in what we are doing. Was it the right gift? Will he or she like it? Will he or she think what I’ve made is ugly, silly, or cheap? Do they already have one? Is it the right colour? Did I spend as much on him as on her? Is it just going to be returned and exchanged? Should I just have bought a gift card, which is easier for me and the recipient can pick out what they want?

I have had many of these thoughts in the past at one time or another, but have come to realize there is more to giving than just buying something. There is an art to giving and receiving and it doesn’t require a specialist to practice it. Economics and marketing, nor the environment need drive our act of giving or receiving; they may play a part in the final decisions, but need not drive it. I would offer as food for thought that giving and receiving is an art form as easily practiced by a child or an adult – no age discrimination, no gender discrimination, no economic discrimination. Simply, it takes practice. Trust your own abilities to know the receiver of the gift (this may include their cultural background) and stick to your values and your budget no matter what. Give yourself permission to be a creative thinker and escape the confines of the media and monetary-driven gift giving.

Think outside the box. It may take more time than usual, but when practiced will creatively express the sentiments for giving. Perhaps it is time to break out of an old pattern that keeps you locked in traditional gift giving. Art has been defined as an “undertaking of a creative activity or type of artistic expression that is intended to be beautiful or thought-provoking; an undertaking or activity enhanced by a high level of skill or refinement”. Presenting or receiving a gift is all of this and more. Do consider the presentation. Must it be wrapped in paper? Can gifts be presented in reusable containers? Can gift tags be reused on travel bags, backpacks, or could you possibly make ones that are edible by birds and can be placed on an exterior tree afterwards for their enjoyment? Give your mind the space and freedom to think creatively.

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Reusable wrapped Christmas Gift Boxes made by children under 10. Mark the inside of boxes with years when wrapped
and in future years enjoy remembering the children's handiwork and possibly the gifts in them.

Have a look at ideas for environmentally sound gifts listed below. Develop your own art of giving and add to this list by sending us an email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Remember that the art of receiving falls hand in hand with the art of giving as you open up your heart and mind and reflect upon what the giver was thinking about you with their choice of gift. You might like to consider the following:

This article can be found in the December 2010 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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