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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

CONSCIOUS GIFT GIVING - Simple, thoughtful, responsible

Nov 29, 2009 03:39PM
By Teresa Hernandez

For many, it’s the time of year to agonize over finding the perfect holiday gifts for friends and family without breaking the piggy bank. Many traditional gifts end up collecting dust and adding to household clutter. This year strive to give useful, economical gifts that align with social and environmental values.

Get empowered to make conscious decisions on where best to spend your money. Search for gifts that are produced in a responsible manner. If possible, buy local to help reduce fuel costs. The destruction of the earth, sweatshop labor and the abuses of corporations all contribute to the negative impacts of global free trade. Educate yourself on stores and the products they sell; it's the first step in realizing where your money is actually going. Their products might be inexpensive, but are the low prices worth the cuts that may be taken from a worker’s wages?

And don't forget homemade gifts - they save even more money and add a sincere, personal touch. Get creative with wrapping. Candy wrappers, greens, pine cones, pressed flowers and leaves and berries are just a few of the items that can make gifts look glittering and festive. This season keep it simple, thoughtful and heartfelt and don't go into debt trying to be jolly.

Paper Goods The average U.S. household sends about 30 Christmas cards a year, for a total of 1.9 billion. By purchasing recycled paper products you conserve 17-24 trees for each ton of post-consumer recycled paper used. Producing recycled paper is also less taxing on the planet, causing 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than creating virgin paper.

When giving stationery, journals and other paper gifts, consider more sustainable sources to wood-based paper. It’s only in the last century that trees have become a primary source for paper production. For over 2000 years paper was derived from a variety of pulped rags and plants. Plant fibers yield more paper than wood and are more renewable. For example, hemp produces 250% more fiber than cotton and the Nepalese lokta bush regenerates naturally in about 2 to 3 years and to full maturity in 6-7. There are dozens of other plants used to produce paper including jute, banana leaves, papyrus and cereal.

Producers of tree-free paper have also gotten very creative, mixing other recycled or natural products into the pulp to add color and texture. The most popular process is adding flowers or leaves or imbedding seeds into the pulp.  The latter, knows as seed cards, sprout into a variety of herbs, trees or flowers if they are soaked and planted.

Cocoa, Tea and Coffee Cocoa, tea and coffee products are popular host gifts during the holiday. They are also common items found on the “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” report produced by the U.S. Department of Labor. To ensure you’re not contributing to human trafficking or exploitation, choose products marked with the “Fair Trade Certified” or “Fair Trade Federation” label.

The Fair Trade Federation (FTF) is an international organization that helps farmers and artisans maintain their traditional lifestyles with dignity. The FTF monitors for and prohibits the use of forced child labor and abusive labor, promotes environmental sustainability and guarantees price minimums for farmers and artisans. They also help increase market share, helping to break the cycle of poverty for families all over the world.

Toys Buy eco-friendly, non-toxic toys. When choosing stuffed toys, purchase ones made from organic materials and vegetable dyes.  Avoid toys made with PVC, identifiable by the number 3 inside or the letter “V” underneath the recycling symbol. PVC can leach harmful chemicals leading to cancer and neurological health problems.

Also, don’t assume that toys made from wood are safe for your child or were produced respectful of environment. Many toy companies harvest forests of trees for toy production and then paint them with oil-based paints. Consider whether the toys are Fair-Trade-Certified. You wouldn't want to know that a five-year old child in a sweatshop made the toy you bought for your own five year old.

Alternatives to toys include zoo or museum memberships, art materials, homemade playdough or stocks, bonds, CDs, or contributions to college education funds.

Personal Care Don’t give toxins as a gift. The skin is the largest organ of the body and is very porous, easily absorbing harmful chemicals found in many cosmetics, lotions and oils. Cosmetics are not subject to pre-market approval by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Furthermore, the FDA has not set limits for contaminants, such as lead, in cosmetics. Examples of contaminants are plastic resins in lipstick, asbestos laced talc in blush and eye shadows, and chemical solvents in lotions. Look for products that are void of synthetic fragrances or preservatives and stay away from petroleum-based products. Instead, consider clay and vegetable oil based products.

Other Alternatives Instead of giving gifts to each other, adopt another family instead. Heifer International ( provides gifts of livestock and plants, as well as education in sustainable agriculture, to financially disadvantaged families around the world. Or here in Charlotte, adopt a family in need.

Those who are struggling financially may appreciate practical gifts. A gift of a house cleaning, baby sitting, yard care, a prepaid phone card or movie passes would bring big smiles to the faces of those who can’t afford these luxuries.

Teresa Hernandez owns Pura Vida Worldly Art, an eclectic store that offers responsibly produced and fair trade products including art, jewelry, clothing, home accents, and spiritual art. Learn more at

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