Zero waste Birthday presents

Filed in Blog by on July 25, 2008 12 Comments
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giving presents the zero waste way
I’m proud to announce the giving of two zero waste Birthday presents last week! Little Miss Green was invited to a friend’s sixth Birthday party. Her friend is very arty and likes to make things so it was craft materials I was after.

I did think of putting together a kit from things around our home, but there are only certain friends you can do that for. I wasn’t sure how far I could push things with this friend, so I decided against it. Also, I’m more of a live and let live person. I don’t expect others to understand, join in with or do what I’m doing regards the waste issue, so it took a lot of thinking about. I never want to come across as judgemental or critical of others’ choices. And I certainly don’t want to impose my values on others.

I find it a shame that we are living in such a consumer driven society, because some of Little miss Green’s favourite toys have been things we’ve found in charity shops, out in the woods, in skips (!) or friends have given to us. And show me a child who won’t make creations out of the inside of toilet rolls and empty cardboard boxes!

Anyhow, I decided on a voucher for Hobbycraft for our first friend. Lots of people think money or vouchers mean you haven’t thought about a personal gift. But I prefer to know anything I have spent on a present will be valued and appreciated, rather than buy something for the sake of it and find it’s not really what the person wanted.

Also, when people buy me things, I feel bad if it’s something that’s not really ‘me’. They’ve wasted their time and money and it puts us all in an awkward position.

The voucher was a paper one, fortunately. I had visions of it being one of those new fangled ‘credit card’ style ones. I question as to whether anyone actually goes and reuses them, as is the idea. I expect the reality is that these bits of plastic are a one-time used landfill layabout.

The other girl was celebrating her eighth Birthday. Here’s where I was able to be more creative! There are a small group of us who have made a pact at Birthday times. We give things our own children have loved but no longer use, things we find in charity shops, have made ourselves or items from our own homes that we no longer need / want.

I love this idea! It keeps us off the consumer treadmill and I find I put a lot *more* thought into this. People might think it’s an easy way to offload your tat, but I think it’s really special to be able to send a present that has some personal history to it. If there is a particular story behind the present then I write it out and include it as part of the gift.

For this special little girl, we found a book that Little Miss Green never took to. I bought it for her a couple of years ago, but it never quite hit the mark or held her interest. I’m hoping it will be just what the other child will like.
Her Mum is really gifted at sewing and neeedle work projects, and this book ‘Fabrics of Fairy tales’ brings together stories about many different fabrics, and features intricate, hand-sewn collage illustrations throughout. So I’m hoping they will get opportunities to sit down together and read this book whilst creating lovely memories about precious mum-daughter time.

I always keep any useful packaging that comes through the door at Chez Green – jiffy bags, bubble wrap and cardboard boxes are stashed away for such times as I need to post something. I had the perfect cardboard packaging from Amazon to send this hardback book, so I ended up with the ideal solution to a time that can be very stressful when you’re trying to keep the environment in mind too.

Little Miss Green is quite the artist, so she makes most of our cards. I already have a stash of cards I have bought in the past and was stunned to see how many in there are individually wrapped in cellophane. It’s just another thing I had not given any thought to before. Perhaps next time I’ll consider sending birthday e-cards instead!

I was thinking about the end result of these gifts on the landfill too. I’m hoping the voucher will be recycled by the company, the envelopes and packaging reused and the book will be given to another child in the future when it is outgrown. I know I don’t have any responsibility for these outcomes, but at least the possibility is there.

This weekend there are two more Birthday celebrations taking place (one of a man we all know and love by now!) and the landfill is groaning already; I’ll tell you all about it next week.


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (12)

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  1. Well done on your gifts Mrs G. Little Miss Green’s friends are so lucky to have someone who gives real thought to the presents. I know what you mean about those plastic wrappers on cards. I’ve been boycotting them for a while now and it is possible to get good looking cards without wrappers, even if you can’t make them yourself.

    So, someone in the Green household has got a birthday coming up eh? Well I guess it’s not the horse. Happy birthday Mr G…and all I can say is, it’s a good job your birthday isn’t in Zero Waste Week ;-D

  2. I’ve been known to give surplus plants as gifts if the season is right – one friend got melon seedlings and a plait of garlic for her birthday this year.

    A little creative thinking and you can give a gift that means so much more!

  3. I often give homemade breadstuffs as gifts…people really appreciate it because few people make homemade bread, and it’s very cheap. I have not, however, found a non-plastic way of storing the bread…any ideas would be greatly appreciated. I do re-use the plastic bags, but still.

    I haven’t bought a greeting card in eons…I’m a scrapbooker and so I always have paper scraps and such left around here, and they make good cards. I also use my photography hobby to turn out some neat, one of a kind cards for family members. You know, though, cards here in the US don’t seem to come in plastic wrappers very often. Still, making cards is a lot cheaper than buying them.

  4. theothermrsgreen says:

    If Hobbycraft had been around when I was Miss Green’s age and she gave me a voucher, she would have been “my bestest friend in the whole wide world” – I loved making things. One Christmas my mum gave me a box (I think it was an old Christmas cracker box) full of coloured paper, tissue, scissors, pens, pencils etc etc etc and I loved it. I have done the same since for my niece and it was equally well received. It’s a girl thing I’m sure!

    Kristen has given me some good ideas about birthday cards – we’ve made photo cards before but not on a regular basis – mmmmmm……….. thank you.

  5. theothermrsgreen says:

    Sorry me again – When I think about it I have been recycling for longer than I thought. Mrs Green, you’re comment about passing on things that Miss Green doesn’t need anymore reminds of larger toys that we have passed on to nieces and nephews that I had forgotten about – v.good idea and to get together with other parents too. I read on another forum sometime ago that a birthday girl asked for £2 Woolworths vouchers from each party attendee instead of a gift because there was something in particular she wanted – basic cost to each parent £2 plus a card – party girl got £50 to buy exactly what she wanted – tricky, but if parents will agree!!!

    The year before last for Christmas I gave parents, brother and bil and sil (only a small family!) baskets of homemade Christmas pudding, cake, damson jam and flavoured olive oils plus a few extras – I think I need to start working for Christmas!!

  6. Mrs Green says:

    Hey Mrs A – oh my; imagine having a Birthday during zero waste week; that would make quite a story. he’d have to be like the Queen and have an official one later in the year when none of you are paying such close attention to us LOL!

    Sarah and Kristen – I LOVE your ideas. I enjoy giving home made food because I know, unless it is disgusting 😀 that there won’t be any waste with it. I usually make special biscuits – the sort you wouldn’t buy (or be able to find in the shops) for yourself to make them more of a treat. I made truffles one Christmas and they were really popular.
    Kristen; you’ve reminded me. I’m c*** at making bread all except for one type which is cheese and beer bread. I made it for a soup kitchen lunch once when LMG was at school and I was nearly mobbed on the way out by everyone asking me for the recipe. That would make a fab present.
    Your cards sound beautiful. The ones LMG and I made today were, erm, rustic and home made looking to say the least 😀 We can get wooden or crockpot style bread bins over here – maybe you could find something like that or do you mean for wrapping bread to give away to friends?

    Theothermrsgreen I would surely arrived at heaven too if I had received a present like that. This is exactly the sort of thing I was playing with the idea of giving to this friend, only from things we already had in the house and I just wasn’t sure what her parents might have thought – you never can tell how things will be received can you?
    I think the idea of the girl saving for one big item is wonderful and I’m really pleased it worked out. Mmmmm, your Christmas present hampers sound gorgeous.

    What a talented and creative bunch of people we have on this site – I’m really looking forward to sharing ideas with you all for a ‘zero waste Christmas’ now 😀

  7. Jane says:

    Quite some time ago I ordered lots of paper, card, ribbon (well, jute string and things) from a recycled paper manufacturer and I now save boxes that my son and I decorate and then fill with an assortment of this paper for friends along with a set of pens (other than pens made with recycled cases I’m not sure what to do here… they need something to draw with and for really young kids pencils tend not to be that great). They always go down a treat, although it does mean that if you get invited to lots of parties for one child over the years you have to think of other things- even children love plants though, especially if it means they can grow their own tomatoes etc.

  8. Yeah, I need something both to store my own bread and to give it away. Bread can get pretty dry if it’s not airtight, and so I worry about using one of those breadboxes. If you have experience with one, though, I’d love to hear it.

  9. Diz says:

    Those awful credit card style bits of plastic are highly valued chez Diz! We are doing a lot of work on the house, and they are ideal for applying filler, tile adhesive, etc. Not recyclable, maybe, but definitely reusable.

  10. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Jane,
    It sounds like many of us are sharing the great idea for an ‘arts and crafts’ box for children’s presents. I’m not sure about pens, although a nice fountain pen might be nice for older children. I still have one that was my Grandfather’s which I use occasionally. The recycled pens are great though – I’m a big fan of the ‘remarkable’ range.

    Kristen, I only remember a wooden bread bin from years ago when I lived at home. Come to think of it, we had a crome one too. I don’t remember much about them to be honest, but I don’t remember eating dry, stale bread, so I guess they work!

    Diz! Great to see you – thank you for stopping by with your comment. Your suggestion is included, ready for next month’s dustbin demon 😉 Glad you’ve found such a great reuse for those cards…………

  11. Kris says:

    I was one of those little girls too :o) I was given stationery every year by my Nanny and Aunt and love pretty papers and crafty bits. These days I’m always intending to get round to making cards and not getting there, but instead I use a local scheme for reconditioned cards (the front is remounted) which is usually 40p a card and also gives me somewhere worthwhile to send my used ones.

    The Christmas present ideas strike a chord too (though I must say – how unfair! having 4 people to buy for, I have 25!! ;o) I have one good friend that makes me chocolate truffles each year (I give her the kilner jar back) and I make her jewellery. And I’m a very big fan of the humble voucher, both for myself and for the rapidly growing nephews and niece – I’d far rather they chose what they really want. I have reloaded cards myself but the shops often looked surprised at the request and have to get a colleague in for a reminder of how to do it… shame as this does seem to imply a lot of the cards just get discarded.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    Hi Kris, oh those childhood boxes of stationary, glittery pens and pretty notepaper! I have to admit I still love nice stationary now……

    The reconditioned cards you talk about sound great. We make similar things here; which have an added charm when you see the state of my ability to cut straight lines 😀

    Well done for reloading the voucher cards; you’re the only person I know of who does this.

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