As part of a collaboration between The Yorker and WILD Magazine, Isla Stubbs and Ani Talwar explore different areas of living a plastic-free lifestyle. Here, Isla describes ways to minimise plastic waste and usage when gift-giving at Christmas time. For Ani’s article on how to be a sustainable student, visit WILD’s Lifestyle section.
Christmas is a time for giving, and this year it is predicted that the average adult in Britain will spend £548 on gifts over the festive season. Although these gifts mean well for those receiving them, for the planet they often don’t. Approximately 100 million black bags are filled every year with packaging from toys and gifts, and this doesn’t even account for the amount of plastic in the presents themselves. So, this year look no further, for I have found a wide range of plastic-free brands and websites where you can buy the perfect gift for anyone. And don’t worry, these gifts aren’t just your typical bamboo toothbrush and other eco-friendly utensils, so are still perfect presents for people who aren’t completely sold on the “green lifestyle” (yet!).
It’s not Christmas without chocolate, so why not treat your friends and family (and yourself, of course) to some Divine chocolate? Divine is an ethical brand extremely conscious of its environmental impact. Many popular chocolate brands (including Mars, Cadbury, and Nestlé) use plastic in their packaging which is often non-recyclable, whereas Divine only uses FSC paper and board, and so has been awarded the Plastic Free Trust Mark. Not only is Divine environmentally conscious in terms of their plastic usage (or non-usage), but they also use limited air freight in their supply chain and source almost all their seasonal packaging in the UK. As well as caring for the environment, they care for their workers by having high, ethical working standards for their cocoa bean farmers in Ghana and São Tomé and are committed to improving these country’s social and economic issues.
This brand has a variety of gift items. I would suggest their seasonal orange and gingerbread chocolate, as well as their hot chocolate or range of vegan bars. Divine can be a challenge to find as most supermarkets don’t stock it. Though, Waitrose and Oxfam charity shops will normally have products available, or you can order online from the Divine website.
Walk down the Christmas gifts aisle in any supermarket and you will quickly spot a range of miniature toiletry products in washbags. It’s the go-to gift for someone you don’t know very well. In truth, they probably don’t need that wash bag or those mini shower gels that probably last three washes. So why not try bars instead of bottles? Shampoo and conditioner bars are becoming more popular, and KinKind has a large variety, perfect for different hair types (even coloured hair!). Their gift sets could make the perfect gift for your mum, or maybe your best friend. However, these are only available to buy online; so if you wanted to do your Christmas shopping in-person I would suggest going to Lush. They also have a wide range of shampoo and conditioner bars as well as other great self-care gifts. They’re not completely plastic-free but they do try to reduce their use of plastic and offer money back if you bring back your empty bottles.
As we are a UK based magazine, I couldn’t mention gifts without talking about tea at least once. Most people don’t know that the majority of tea brands contain up to 25% plastic in their teabags. However, at TeaPigs, their tea temples have always been completely plant-based and biodegradable; they were the first drink brand to be awarded the Plastic Free Trust Mark! Not only that, but they are also working towards making their HQ completely plastic-free. Though it’s only a small office, small steps can make a big difference and it’s a great sign that the company isn’t just greenwashing, but truly cares about its environmental impact.
Teapigs have recently come out with a Christmas bundle, containing spiced winter red tea, chai tea, and apple and cinnamon tea – the perfect gift for any tea lover and priced at only £9.99.
The Conscious Houseplant Company
Houseplants are becoming more and more popular, particularly for students as it’s an easy way to decorate a small bedroom. Average house plant sales in the second half of 2019 were up by 60% compared to the previous year. Buying plants sounds like the most eco-friendly gift around, right? However, the plastic pots they arrive in can be a nightmare to recycle – only 10% of local authorities in the U.K. accept them. The Conscious Houseplant Company has taken this into account; their plants are potted in coconut fibre pots made from coir, a natural fibre that is 100% biodegradable. Orders are sent out in recycled cardboard boxes and are protected using recycled filler paper as well as covered with a compostable bag to reduce soil spillages.
Plants start from £9 so are well suited to different budgets, and they also sell pots, plant food and a weekly planner to help with your watering routine.
Peace With The Wild
If you still can’t find a gift, then Peace With The Wild is the perfect website to try. It stocks a wide range of brands, and each and every one of them are plastic-free! From make-up to candles, from dog biscuits to children’s toys, there is something for everyone on this website that strives for sustainability and becoming closer to nature. If you want to keep the sustainability going after Christmas, there is also a refill store in Doncaster (although you could use your container in any refill shop!).
This list is just a start. Check out shops near you, or Christmas market stalls for even more sustainable gifts. If you’re still struggling, Etsy has some great products which you can buy to help support small independent businesses.
About The Author:Isla Stubbs (she/her) is currently in her 3rd year studying Environmental Science at York. She is on a placement year working full-time as a Terrestrial Ecotoxicologist in Cambridge. She was inspired by Ani Talwar to write this article (thanks Ani!).