#ShopEthical This Christmas

Love or hate it, there’s no escaping the fact that Christmas holidays will soon be upon us, and as a significant part of our business has been about ‘selling gifts’… it’s quite a critical time of year!  Despite this, and ironic though it may seem, on a personal level we’re not overly fond (to say the least!) of the mass shopping mania that seems to take over the country as we head into December!!

Black Friday for instance is the epitome of everything we feel is wrong with the modern Christmas – mindless buying for the sake of a ‘bargain’; consumerism gone mad; and how many of these purchases end up in landfill before the next season comes around and we do it all over again.

As many of our followers already know, The Unique Gift Co (our previous business name!) was inspired by our desire to reduce waste – to make use of materials that would otherwise be thrown away, thereby saving resources and contributing to the all-round-good of the planet!  But reducing waste also means reducing our consumption and buying more consciously in the first place – especially at this time of year.  If you’re reading this you probably already share our belief….  But how many of us actually practice what we preach?  Particularly if you have kids, a large family or an awkward relative who turns their nose up at anything handmade… it’s understandable that the temptation to just log-on to amazon and click away is too strong for even the best of us!

But over the past few years we have made a series of conscious decisions to change our spending habits at Christmas time, and it’s easier than you might think especially if you just make one change at a time – in the end the little things all add up!  So here’s some of the things we have done – feel free to add other ideas in the comments below.

#1 Recycle wrapping paper, gift bags and Christmas cards.

When Dave and I first met he used to laugh at how I neatly folded up the used wrapping paper and popped it in a bag for the following year.  Not to the extent of spoiling the fun as the kids tear things open in excitement – that paper can go in the bin – but any pieces which were reusable I would carefully save.  Maybe I’m tight… and I’m sure many won’t agree… but I don’t see the point in throwing something away that has further use. And just think of how many trees I must have saved over the years (ok probably not that many but it still adds up!)  Similarly gift bags can be saved and I make the Christmas cards into gift tags for the following year.

‘Why bother?’ some might say… because when my son was young the amount of packaging that filled the dustbin on Boxing Day was obscene – and I only have one child!!  Most of it is totally unnecessary and the shiny plastic stuff can’t even be recylced, it rots away in landfill or pollutes our oceans for decades to come…. I’m not going to make a big difference on my own but I feel I’m doing my bit …and image if every one us did the same – the world would be quite different.

#2 Not sending Christmas cards.

It’s becoming more common these days to make a donation to charity in lieu of Christmas cards and lets face it… in the digital age there is less need to send someone a physical card when so many wonderful animated versions are available on-line.  However, I feel just sending a card at Christmas (be in physical or digital) to people we never connect with the rest of the year is a bit meaningless.  I’d rather send a letter, give them a call or meet up for a chat.  If their friendship isn’t worth making the effort it isn’t worth a card either!

#3 Support local businesses.

About four years ago I think it was, I made a pledge not to support the high street giants at Christmas…bit of a drastic move at the time but thought I’d give it a whirl!  I decided all my gift shopping would be done by supporting local businesses and artisan makers.  At first I thought it would be easy, as we spend so much time at craft markets selling our own products, but not everyone appreciates handmade and for some people in our family we had to really get creative.  It just means giving a bit more thought to what you  buy and where you choose to spend your money… a local independent bookshop will appreciate your custom far more than some shareholder in a distant country!  These kind of purchases make a direct impact on someone’s life and on your own community.

#4 Make your own gifts

Of course that’s easy for us to say! I know not everyone has the time or the creative flair to make loads of gifts but can you incorporate one or two homemade items onto your list?  Do you like making jam or baking cakes? Perhaps you like to sew or paint? One year we gave my sister a bottle of vodka infused with coffee beans – purchased of course from a local indie retailer! – simple but effective.

#5 Buy second-hand

I don’t believe there is any stigma attached to buying second-hand items as gifts… maybe you’ll disagree… but the way I see it is this: Many people receive unwanted gifts at Christmas (largely due to ‘mindless buying’ in the first place!) and those items are sold on as good as new.  Why should those items go to waste? If they come boxed or in good condition the receiver won’t know they are second hand – and does it matter if they do?  I have been able to give my son gifts I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise by opting for second-hand.

#6 Shop ethical on-line

For those of us who are really struggling for time or inspiration and prefer to just ‘log-on’ there are numerous on-line platforms which support ethical businesses. Here are a couple of my favourites but if you actively start looking there are plenty of others about!

Ethical Superstore offer the largest range of eco, vegan and fairtrade products, sourced from all over the world, and are running a ‘black friday’ campaign with a difference – for every £30 spent this weekend they will donate an item to a food bank in Newcastle (and 20% off across the store too).  So you get a discount, the ease of shopping on-line and the ‘feel good factor’ of supporting a worthy cause this Christmas!

If you’re shopping for books on-line try Wordery.Com.  I’ve found their range and prices to be as good as Amazon and they offer free delivery without a minimum spend; their packaging materials are all recycled and they use it minimally; they support independent publishers and self-published authors, as well as contributing to UK charities and local causes (further details on their website)….and they pay UK taxes!!

Finally, Ethical Revolution is an ethical deals website offering discounts on all kinds of different products and services from food to energy; technology to banking!!  It also documents one guy’s journey towards responsible consumerism and really worth a look.

#7 Buy only what you need

Every year it amazes me when we pop to the supermarket a day or two before Christmas – for just a few last minute items! – how many trolleys are piled high with what is to me an obscene amount of food.  Everyone is so stressed, they’re queuing down the aisles, taking hours to get served… the shops are only closed for one day folks!!!!

In the UK we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink which could have been used – costing the average household £470 per year… and that’s only what we as consumers waste!  Take into account the stuff in supermarkets which is past it’s date, or food which doesn’t even make it onto the shelves because it’s damaged or ‘wonky’… and the figures are sickening.  It’s mindless wastage when there are others going hungry this winter… if we all changed our spending habits industry would soon follow.

Don’t be manipulated by advertising! We buy only what we need, when we need it and waste virtually nothing.

#8 Remember what it’s all about

Christmas, or whichever festival you choose to celebrate at this time of year, is not about how much you’ve spent or who has the better gift; it’s not about sparkly wrapping paper and ribbons; it’s not about lighting up your home like Blackpool illuminations just to compete with the neighbours; it’s not about obligation or feeling pressured to behave in  a certain way…

For me, it’s about spending time with loved ones, sharing a gift because I choose to – not because it’s expected, indulging a little but without forgetting those less fortunate and about taking a moment to appreciate everything we have…

This post is longer than I would usually write so if you’re still with me well done! …And thank you!!

I hope that in time more thoughtful buying habits will become the norm and put an end to this commercial madness!

Let me know if you agree!



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