Top 10 Ethical Christmas Gifts with a Twist 

Gifts that are created with love and thought, gifts to combat consumerism and save the planet, gifts to spread the word about an ethical lifestyle and gifts that will probably save you quite a bit of money too. It’s the Ethical Consumer Top Ten Alternative Christmas Gifts Guide.

It’s that time of the year again. December will see millions of people searching through stores, some in person and some online, looking to find the perfect presents for their friends and families.

Before you start agonising over what to buy your loved ones, we suggest taking a fresher and less consumerist approach to Christmas gifts.

1. The gift of DIY

If you have a creative streak, why not make your own gifts this year? Biscuits, soaps and candles are easy and fun to make and there are thousands of recipes and ideas online. You have complete control over the ingredients, so you can choose Fair Trade, organic and natural products. 

Image: christmas biscuits

Make sure you use recycled packaging, such as old jam jars and used gift wrap to make your gifts as sustainable as possible. This is a great activity to do with children, so get them involved in making the perfect thoughtful gift for grandparents.

Or, if it's more your speed, get a full on project out of your gift-giving. You could dig out your tools and make or upcycle some furniture - you could make, for instance, shelves or a floor lamp, or buy some old crates and transform it into garden furniture.

Just be sure to use sustainable materials when you're upcycling. Cheap modern materials don't tend to last long. One example of this is polyurethane foam which only keeps its shape on a seat for 10 years, but will last who knows how long in a landfill...

Alternatively, make something soft or wearable to show that you care. You could make some funky earrings out of polymer clay, weave together a rug using a couple of second-hand tshirts, or focus your energies on a cushion made out of some old jeans.

2. Gift an experience

Why not gift an experience that you can do together beyond the lock down period: buy tickets to a future show, or book an afternoon tea in. Perhaps you could get them an annual membership to an association such as the Woodland Trust?

Image: Woodland Trust

The experience can also be free, perhaps a promised walk in the forest or a pledge to visit a gallery or exhibition together.

Or, help them access the tools needed to pursue a new hobby. A single purchase of art supplies, musical instruments or technology could provide years of artistry in one fell swoop. Try and look second-hand for these items or buy from an independent stockist if you can.
 

3. The gift of less

If you have a large family or have fallen into the habit of buying for a large group of friends, why not suggest a Secret Santa approach. Pop names in a hat and draw one each, promising to buy just that one present rather than presents for everyone in the group.

Image: christmas gifts

Doing this means that you can even increase the buying budget for your Christmas present shop and get something that would usually be less attainable whilst you still save money.

4. The gift that gives again

Many charities now offer gift vouchers. Oxfam offers a wonderful range of charity gift cards starting from just £5, including help for farmers facing climate change, support for women's leadership and water pumps for families facing drought or hard-to-access water.

Image: oxfam unwrapped

Why not buy a Friends of the Earth Christmas Bee saver kit to help save bees, or provide a food package for your local food bank?

5. The gift of a good read

Books are wonderful gifts for adults and children alike, but instead of buying new why not shop for a good second-hand or even vintage read?

Look to support independent bookshops this Christmas with Bookshop.org.

Check out Near St to see which high street shops are stocking books that you've found online, or try World of Books for your print books. If you're looking to avoid paper, our best buy for e-books is Ebooks.com, where you can also buy gift vouchers and give recommendations.

Image: books

Magazine subscriptions are another great gift, check out Positive News for an empowering read. Many subscriptions now come with online-only options too to cut down on paper use, including Ethical Consumer’s christmas gift subscription.

6. Gift of help 

In this hectic culture that we live in, having help can be far more valuable than any gift. To the stressed-out mum with a new baby, offer a babysitting voucher and give her the night off. To an elderly friend, offer gardening or DIY.

Image: gardening

Offer your car and a strong pair of hands if someone is planning to move house in the New Year. You’d be surprised how helpful you can be and how much your loved ones will welcome this kind of gift.

7. Repurposed gifts

We’ve all had them. That well-intentioned gift that we know we won’t use: the jumper that doesn’t fit, the book you’ve already read, the perfume that isn’t your style. Save these presents and give them away next year, being careful to remember not to give them to the original gifter of course!

Image: re-purposed gifts

This is a great idea for recycling children’s presents when they have a constant stream of birthday parties requiring gifts.

8. New, but ethical, gifts

If we haven’t persuaded you to ditch new gifts entirely, make sure that you buy ethically. Rather than do a one-stop-shop on Amazon, browse ethical alternatives. See our ethical christmas gift guide for ideas. You’ll find hundreds of reports on every gift idea in our product guides, including ethical online retailers such as Ethical Shop* and Amnesty International.

Also try shopping online and supporting independent traders and artists on Etsy.

online shopping

9. Give gifts that will last...

Sometimes loved ones just need a nudge to stop feeding the disposable machine and reuse a water bottle or a reusable coffee cup.

If there's a particular ethical clothing brand that you think they'd love, why not put it right under their nose?

Or if they've said that they're interested in making some changes but don't know where to start, maybe make them a starter kit - how about an ethical wash bag? A bamboo toothbrush, well-chosen soaps, a metal razor, and shampoo bars could do the trick for example. See our gift guide for more inspiration in this area.

The beauty of this gift is that it can be as big or small as you like - maybe if you offer a larger range perhaps your recipient will steer clear of single-use items for longer, and on the other hand, if you only give a couple of products, maybe they'll value them more and put them to better use.

Or if you want to go for a more traditional alternative, how about a fountain pen?

fountin-pen-christmas-gift-ethical-lasting-gift

There are also perishable goods that could encourage healthy lifestyle changes...

You could spoil your loved ones with a veg box from Riverford Organic Farm. This fresh food supplier also offers family recipe boxes that could give up to four people the evening off making dinner...

10. Ethically wrapped gifts

It’s not just what’s inside that counts. Make a promise this year to cut down on wasteful wrapping paper. Lots of wrapping paper can’t be recycled, especially if it includes foil, plastic or glitter decoration.

Why not avoid the ethical minefield and opt for wrapping your presents in old newspaper or paper mag? You could make it personal and wrap each gift in an article that reminds you of the recipient. If you don't have enough time then timeless brown paper would also do.

Furthermore, Furoshiki is the Japanese art of wrapping presents in reusable cloths/scarves. A stylish knot wrap is way more thoughtful than a present wrapped up in something that you can't keep.

You could also make a fabric bag to present your gifts in. Either way with these fun gift-wrap alternatives you're giving sellotape a miss which is a huge win, and doing your recipient a favour for when they next buy someone a gift.

image: fabric knot wrap cloth gift wrap

And to save even more trees, cut down on the number of Christmas cards you send this year. Arrange to meet friends for a Christmas coffee and wish them happy Christmas in person, or send an e-card or email with a personalised Christmas message. Use the money you’ll save on cards and postage to do good through a charity donation. 

11. Just say no thank you

This can be a tricky one, but if you feel like you have everything you need be brave enough to say no to presents this year. Ask for a donation to put towards a campaign of your choosing or put some of our other alternatives on your wish list. 

Image: no presents

Above all, put in the effort with your friends and family, especially those who might feel alone this Christmas.

Time really is the best gift that anyone can receive.