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Green Gift Guide: Low-Impact, Eco-Friendly Ideas For the Holidays

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The holidays can be a tricky time to go green. Green and red, perhaps, but environmentally conscious, not so much. Assuming you've got the food part covered - organic this, local that, you know the drill - the main challenge that remains is really the gifts. Copious gift-giving can seem inherently detrimental to the environment, as nary a gift is carbon-free. Luckily, there's no need to abstain completely as there are plenty of low-impact options that your friends and family will surely enjoy.

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Homemade Goods: Everyone know it's the thought that counts, and what could be more thoughtful than a gift you made yourself. Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like a woolly hand-knitted scarf a tin of home-baked cookies. Here are a few other directions you might want to go:

1. DIY Recycled Paper Notebooks
Recycled paper notebooks make great gifts because not only are they good-looking - especially if you wind up using wrapping paper scraps and the like - but they are unquestionably useful. Consider making some that small enough for your friends and family members to carry with them - the better to jot down their ideas and New Year's resolutions. Meghan Mcclain and Jill Thomas of Design Sponge explain their fairly simple procedure, which begins with collecting scraps.

2.Organic Bath Salts
Martha Stewart proposes giving the gift of bath salts, which you can proffer in a recycled jar. A big glass pickle jar might work well. Apparently, Americans spends $300 million annually on conventional women's bath gift sets. This gift is green of course because it will introduce your friends and family to the virtues of organic bath products with recycled packaging. No need to spook up the bath with additives and coloring when simply salt and a drop or two of essential oil will do the trick.

Start with about 4 cups of sea salt or kosher salt. Mix in several drops of an oil such as peppermint or tea tree, available at your local natural food's store) or dried fragrant plants, such as lavender or eucalyptus. Voila: Bath salts.

3. House Plants
Kate Pruitti over at Design Sponge was frustrated with the "depressing lack of variety for hanging planters out there" and decided to make her own from old ceramic planters she found lying around her house. Click here for the full post and instructions.

I have opened up my collection of old knick-knacks to a world of possibilities with a wonderful gizmo: the multi-purpose drill bit for use on ceramic, porcelain, glass, tile, etc. I decided to make a custom hanging pot by drilling holes in a pretty pot.

This neat gift idea would enable your loved ones to bring a bit of green into their homes by suspending plants from their ceilings. You may want to include a plant. Not only do they look great but they can drastically improve a space's air quality. Treehugger's Bonnie Alter suggests a few particularly purifying - and handsome - specimen: the Rubber Plant, the Ficus Benjamina (weeping fig), english ivy, or boston ferns. When in doubt, consider the spider plant, which I like to think of as the carnation of houseplants: very cheap, and underrated. It grows remarkably quickly, too.

Low-Impact Gift Subscriptions: Rather than giving a gift subscription to a glossy magazine (all that paper and ink, not to mention the ramifications of cross-country shipping seems a bit wasteful - certainly online is the way to go), considered these quirkier eco-alternatives.

1. Library Style
As nice as it is to receive books for the holidays, as many as 20 million trees are cut down every year for American book production. Consider giving used books, or - better yet - look into BookSwim, which is like Netflix for library books. It's the first national online service that rents paperback and hardcover books to subscribers. BookSwim ships the books out to readers who can enjoy them at their leisure and then send them back, at which time more books are sent to them. Not only will this promote library book reading, but it's also a great way to save you gas (and time) driving to the library. The books are shipped for free in 100% recycled plastic bags.

But if the library and used books aren't doing it for you, or you're just set on giving a new book, try a green book. Chelsea Green, a founding member of the Green Press Initiative, has been printing on recycled paper since 1985. They've got some intriguing new titles out including: The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins and Open Spaces Sacred Places: Stories of How Nature Heals and Unifies, by by Tom Stoner and Carolyn Rapp. I can also recommend Sandor Ellix Katz's modern classic, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods.

2. CSA Membership
Treehugger recommends the colorful and environmentally-friendly, not to mention highly practical gift of local produce.

Purple Cape cauliflower, Striped Toga eggplant, Bloody Butcher tomato, Chocolate Beauty pepper...who wouldn't love a weekly box of lyrical vegetables delivered via your gift of a CSA membership? Find a Community Supported Agriculture farm near you at Local Harvest.

3. Digital Edition
If you did have The New Yorker in mind, consider giving the new digital edition, which arrives in the recipient's inbox early Monday morning (hours - or days - before a paper copy would have arrived in their mailbox) with a considerably smaller carbon footprint.

It is Better to Give Than to Receive
Re-gifting is generally considered bad form, but that doesn't mean you apartment or house is doomed to overflow with all of your stuff plus whatever people give you. Uncluttered suggests a policy of out with the old, in with the new:

For the gifts that you do want, make sure you get rid of the old items in your home that they replace. If you receive a new pair of jeans, sell or donate an old pair. Likewise electronics equipment. Try and make the holiday season a zero sum gain in the accumulation of stuff. This advice won't apply to all gifts, such as one of a kind gifts and consumables. However, for clothing and toys, it is an easy way to get rid of old items that have been replaced.

But we've all received our share of dud presents. You can donate gifts that don't fit or don't suit your tastes to your local thrift shop or freecycle, a website that facilitates the exchange of free stuff from people in your area. If you really feel like you don't need anything, try to urge family and friends to give you something non-tangible, like an itunes gift certificate or better yet, a donation to a charity you're into. Planet Green suggests a few of their favorite eco-friendly causes:

A) Working in 10 countries, the Seva Foundation provides financial resources and technical expertise to help communities build sustainable solutions to poverty and disease.

B) Global Green was founded by President Gorbachev and seeks to resolve problems with climate change, weapons of mass destruction, and clean drinking water.

C) National Wildlife Federation encourages Americans to protect wildlife by confronting global warming and restoring natural habitats.

D) Oceana is the largest international ocean advocacy group committed to protecting and restoring the world's oceans and its inhabitants. Supporters can adopt a marine creature through Oceana's website. Gift recipients will receive ocean-themed cookie cutters and sea creature plush toys as a bonus.

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