Plastic-free gifts to feel smug about this season

Opinion piece, first published by ABC, 21 December 2018

Ah, Christmas (or whatever holiday tradition you celebrate involving copious amounts of food).

The time of year when work is winding down, the weather is heating up, but all you can think is, what the heck am I going to get Aunt Megan this year?

Present-giving can be fraught, and not just because the politics of who overspent on the Secret Santa (or worse, underspent) can be worse than Canberra.

You may also be concerned that we're dwindling the Earth's resources on plug-in slippers, novelty ties and inflatable flamingo drink-holders for the pool that you don't have.

The best place to start? With presents that will help the planet while subtly saying "Do better this year" to all your relatives.

A butter dish

Dreary old margarine, formerly the one and only spread-on health food, has been demoted and now butter is back in vogue.

It tastes so much better, but most butters lack the undeniably convenient "spreadability" of margarine.

This leaves most of us buying plastic tub after plastic tub of the more expensive, somehow "spreadable" butter (hint, the secret ingredient is usually palm oil).

But there's a better way: a butter dish. These ancient inventions, harking back to the days before refrigerators, keep butter at the perfect temperature for spreading, while allowing it to live conveniently on your kitchen bench.

A soda stream

What's the cheapest way to feel like you're on holiday in Italy? A crisp sparkling drink with a slice of lemon.

Usually, this somehow endlessly-more sophisticated variation on water comes in plastic bottles. But there's an alternative for your floppy hat-wearing, Aperol spritz-sipping friends: a Soda Stream.

These nifty devices let you transform flat, tasteless tap water into sparkling with the push of a button. It's like living in the future!

A guppy washing bag

For your friend who always turns up to brunch in their active wear (maybe they're addicted to yoga, maybe they just realise leggings are the most comfortable form of pant). Either way, they love a bit of Lycra.

Alas, most yoga pants shed millions of plastic microfibres into waterways each time they are washed, and these end up impacting ecosystems and human health.

The solution? A Guppyfriend washing bag! These bags capture the microplastics before they can escape to the ocean. Plus, they might lengthen the lifespan of your clothes by providing a protective buffer in the wash.

Make something! (Not really)

On every list of "ethical Christmas presents", there's the cheery suggestion to just make something with love!

But who has the time to collate everyone’s allergies, cross-reference with recipes, conclude that nothing won’t cause anaphylactic shock, then collapse in despair?

As with everything in life, I've found it's better to turn to the professionals. There are plenty of small businesses, backed by amazing people, who make delicious things with their hands. So, you have all the benefits of homemade, without actually having to do it.

Plus, you'll make another person very happy when you buy the jam/chocolate/gourmet dog biscuits they have spent time and energy making (with love).

An experience

Each year, we inevitably receive a gift that misses the mark. Unless you are ruthless in rejecting or re-gifting, these will linger at the back of your cupboard for approximately three years until the next council clean up.

Instead of adding to landfill, why not give the gift of time and a memory this year?

It could be as simple as a homemade voucher promising your Mum a fancy dinner, or maybe tickets to a movie, a favourite band or a play. These gifts really are the best because they let you spend quality time with the people you love — and also, it's kind of a gift to yourself.

Re-useable vessels

For the caffeine-addicted loved one, gift them a re-useable coffee cup. Some are practically designed so they won't leak even when you drop them in your bag, others are handcrafted and just beautiful. This makes it much harder for the person after you in the coffee line, who also ordered an almond flat white, to "accidentally" mistake your coffee for theirs.

For anyone who drinks liquid, a re-useable water bottle is an excellent gift. Metal bottles are both robust and light. The insulated versions keep cold liquids super cool for 12-24 hours — an absolute lifesaver during a hot summer's day at the beach.

Solid bath products

Feeling brave this Christmas? Want to imply a relative is environmentally irresponsible and that they kinda smell? Look no further!

Solid shampoos, shower gels and even conditioner (who knew?) are a lovely gift. Rubbing a solid bar on your scalp may feel a bit weird at first, but the natural ingredients will leave you with the silky mane of a Melbourne Cup-winning race horse. You rub solid soap on your body, so why not your hair?

Socks and jocks (reimagined with bamboo)

Socks and undies are a classic Mum-present, received despairingly by children across the nation (but joyfully by adult kids still figuring out how to "adult").

So why not change it up this year and gift your offspring some under-things woven from bamboo?

Bamboo boasts all the breathability of cotton but is grown with a fraction of the water and none of the pesticides.

If you really want to get into theme, you could buy bamboo undies with a panda motif. Even if they're 30, they're still your kids — and it is your duty to embarrass them.

Beeswax wraps

Is someone in your family always reaching for the gladwrap? Is your Tupperware draw a jungle of misplaced lids?

Beeswax wraps — an eco-alternative to clingwrap — make the perfect present. The wax warms up in your hands, so you can easily press it over your containers or around your sandwich. It then hardens in a cold fridge, creating an airtight seal.

The beeswax is naturally antimicrobial, so these wraps are safe to store food in the fridge or a lunchbox — and super easy to clean.

Like getting crafty? You can also buy DIY wrap kits, with different fabric swatches and a hunk of beeswax to melt.

Gift wrapping

Is there anything more satisfying than a large pile of discarded wrapping paper on Christmas morning? Yes — the satisfaction of knowing that you haven't bought beautiful paper only for it to be ripped apart and thrown in the bin.

This year, try wrapping your presents in cloth, newspaper or an old shoe box. The cloth can be used time and again, and the others can have a brief, second career before they make their way to the recycling bin.

Clara Williams Roldan