Lucky for you, we've compiled ideas for every important person in your life, from the woman who birthed you to the boss you'd really rather not have to buy a present for, thankyouverymuch. The emphasis this year is on things you can make yourself, things that are inexpensive (with one outlandish — but totally worth it — exception), and, of course, things that are low-impact or actually help the Earth and its inhabitants. So start wishing for a green Christmas.
For your brother, husband or boyfriend:
• Homemade infused vodka: Here's an easy personalization upgrade to an inexpensive gift. Infused vodka is like making tea but with booze; it flavors the flavorless drink with anything he likes. We talked to Elliot Feldman, who makes the house-infused brews at Nova Bar and Restaurant near San Francisco's South Park, to get his tastiest and most popular recipes.
• A good supply of organic cotton handkerchiefs: These save a lot of trees, and are especially great for parents of small children, who are constantly wiping noses.
For your sister, girlfriend or wife:
• Homemade chocolate truffles: One or our editors adapted this recipe from at least three different sources and perfected it over the years. It’s really easy; the most difficult part will be coming up with an excuse to get her out of the apartment for four hours while you’re making it. (Don’t worry — most of that is waiting for it to cool, and you can totally do the rest while watching football.)
• A homemade cookbook: Go to What's Cooking Grandma, a site that archives users' grandmothers' recipes for future generations (think Epicurious for the crafty set) and make a cookbook composed of recipes for her (not your) favorite foods. This video will show you how to bind your own book using only six things, all of which you can find at a drugstore. (Don't forget to use recycled paper.)
• Handmade or independently designed fashion: Etsy.com and Shophandmade.com showcase thousands of small designers and craftspeople selling at lower prices than in many stores (because there's virtually no overhead). Keep in mind that women want to try on things like shoes, pants and swimsuits, so stay in the sweaters-and-accessories zone to be safe.
For your Mom:
• Earrings made from old chandeliers: With the right tools and some basic knowledge, you can turn chandelier crystals into beautiful bling. Craftbits is full of instructions and patterns for turning broken or found objects into jewelry, as is, of course, Martha Stewart. If you're a total clutz or you're totally late, you can also buy these recycled pretties readymade from professional designers such Eda and Betty, Jade Gedon or Amy Pfaffman.
For your Dad:
• Make comfy throw pillows out of one of his favorite old sweaters or T-shirts. Here's how:
1. Cut two rectangular or square pieces from the garment.
2. Turn inside out, so patterned sides faced inward.
3. Stitch three sides shut using a thread color that blends with the fabric. Sew most of the fourth side, leaving 3-4 inches open.
4. Flip inside out.
5. Fill with stuffing or repurposed fabric (likeT-shirts or towels cut into strips, or pantyhose).
6. Sew remaining section using a whip stitch. Leave as is or sew on buttons, patches, or other decals for added flair.
For your ironic hipster friend:
• Ditto about the towels.
• Find a set of silverware at an estate sale and voila, s/he'll never use plastic cutlery again.
For the jaded college kid in your life:
• An affordable, green, charitable laptop. Nicholas Negroponte of MIT's Media Lab hit on the idea several years ago of designing an Internet-enabled computer that's cheap and durable enough to be handed out to every child on Earth. The result is the One Laptop Per Child hand-cranked computer. For $399, you can give one to a child in the developing world, plus one as a gift for someone you know (or yourself, as far as that goes). The machine can work without electricity and is smash-resistant and waterproof, so it's sure to survive dorm life. It also advertises its owner as someone concerned about environmental issues and about kids not lucky enough to be going to college in the U.S.
• An iTunes gift card has zero packaging and zero waste.
For nearly newborns and new parents:
• An original, limited-edition print from New Editions. These are bright, colorful works by internationally exhibited contemporary artists. Each is whimsical enough for a child's room, yet sophisticated enough to display at any age. The prints are made to last and be handed down and enjoyed for generations — truly a gift for a lifetime. And the company is committed to sustainable enterprise, using folios made from FSC-certified paper that's green e-certified as zero carbon. And all mailing and other materials the company uses are 35 percent to 100 percent recycled or FSC-certified or both.
For kids ages 0-6:
• An original sock puppet, or perhaps even a whole sock puppet theater customized to the kid's favorite play/story/book/fairy tale. Instructions here.
For kids ages 6-16:
• Teach them there's more to the holidays than getting stuff and make a donation in their name to one of the charities listed below. Or, if that's going to eternally exile you to lame-uncle-land, an iTunes gift card.
For your boss:
• Collect subscription inserts from magazines (you know, the really annoying things that are always falling on the floor) and cut them into uniform sizes to make cards for an address book or Rolodex. You can find Rolodex bases on eBay and cut the cards to fit.
For the shutterbug or world traveler:
• Get the Gorilla pod. It's a super-flexible tripod that stands on or wraps itself around virtually anything solid and will last 'til the ice caps freeze again. You can order one without packaging to save $5 and some plastic.
For ... anyone else:
• A card from globalgiving.com supporting a project in the developing world — a very humanitarian kind of gift that has a way of totally disarming total jerks.
For the person who is just discovering the health, economic and ecological benefits of greening their lifestyle:
Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the environment and public health, has a great gift bag that will help your friends and family reduce their chemical exposure to toxic chemicals and diminish their carbon footprint, while contributing to the organization's ongoing efforts (and -- shhh -- getting yourself a tax deduction). Each bag comes in a reusable tote made from 100 percent recycled plastic and contains a six-piece Pyrex glass container set (to replace BPA-containing plastic containers); a 27 oz. Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottle (to end their reliance on bottled water); $25 in coupons from green companies like Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farm; a box of organic cookies (because, hey, what the hell) and more.
If you are sending your gift or ordering it online, use UPS. The company just came out with a device that prints addresses directly on boxes, which will save tons of paper, and has more clean-energy delivery vehicles than any other delivery company. (It also has software that minimizes its drivers' left-hand turns, to reduce idling and the pollution it produces.)
If you can't find quite the right gift, consider a gift to charity in honor of those on your list. Search "friends of x" or "save the x" to find a group working to protect a park or natural landmark near where the person lives. Heal The Bay is a classic West Coast outfit; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation serves the six-state watershed in the mid-Atlantic region. There are also all manner of creatures and ecosystems ready for adopting:
• What's old is new again in eco-charities at Adopt a Rainforest.
• If you think fat and slippery is cute, you can adopt a manatee.
• Vegetarian friend? Adopt a Farm Sanctuary animal. Your pal will get a picture of the furry or feathered guy along with a bio, and e-mail updates on how s/he's doing throughout the year.
• Dog lover? The Humane Society has done more to stop organized dogfighting rings than any single law enforcement agency.
• Kid? The National Wildlife Federation offers mags like Ranger Rick, Your Big Backyard and Animal Baby, which provide early green education while you're supporting a conservation charity.
• At the website of the World Wildlife Fund (they're the one with the panda logo), you can adopt any of more than 90 endangered species and they'll send you a photo or stuffed animal.
• Surfer? The Surfrider Foundation keeps the waves in California clean and the beaches accessible.
• Diver? Oceana fights coral bleaching and destructive fishing, and has a number of notable victories under its belt.
Story by Plenty staff. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.