Dreaming of green holidays! Last-minute gifts for eco-friendly giving

Secret book safe (Photo courtesy of artofmanliness.com)

Secret book safe (Photo courtesy of artofmanliness.com)

December 19, 2014 | by Kyla Winchester

I know, you’re behind on your gifts! And of course you’re procrastinating, reading blog posts to delay making decisions about what to get folks (in the next five days — plenty of time!). You can stop worrying because I have some great last-minute gift ideas for everyone on your list; gifts that will also be a little gentler on the planet at a time of year when our collective ecological footprint soars.

No-sew upcycled t-shirt tote

Tote bags are great, but the ones from the grocery store take up a lot of space and are more concerned with branding than with being aesthetically pleasing. Make a tote bag out of a t-shirt with this handy no-sew tutorial, and you can delight the recipient in several ways: use a t-shirt with a message/brand that they’ll love, and reduce your footprint by turning something old and unused into something new and useful again.

For advanced gifters, you can reinforce the bag by doubling up with a second, slightly sturdier lining layer, like old  jeans. This increases the bag’s versatility but keeps your giving green!

Tutorial >

Upcycled, no-sew legwarmers (Photo courtesy of Renegade Seamstress)

Upcycled, no-sew legwarmers (Photo courtesy of Renegade Seamstress)

Upcycled leg-warmers/boot socks

It’s the time of year when you want to stay inside, sipping hot beverages and watching the fireplace channel. Give your recipients these boot-socks/leg-warmers to keep them cozy until spring! Like with the t-shirt for the tote bag, you  can use an old sweater you already own or head to a thrift shop and pick up something in a pattern the recipient will love. It’s pretty simple as gifts go, so you can probably make a few pairs once you’ve got the process down-pat, and you can take care of a few people on your list at once.

Tutorial >

Paper ornament (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Paper ornament (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Upcycled card ornaments

For the person who has everything who also always decorates for Christmas, give a handmade ornament. Upcycling old Christmas cards into an ornament is pretty much as eco-friendly as it gets. Years down the road if the ornament is eventually damaged it can be recycled, making the footprint for this gift practically zero.

You can freehand the shapes for the house, or use this template. The fiddliest part is attaching the sides to the front and back of the house. If you’re using liquid glue, let those pieces dry a bit for more stabilitybefore adding the base and then the roof. Then attach a loop of string or thread to the roof to make it hangable.

Paper embellishments (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Paper embellishments (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Paper embellishments

For the paper-crafter in your life, feed their addiction by giving them handmade embellishments for their card-making or scrapbooking stash. For the greenest gift, use paper from your own stash, but be sure the paper is acid-free so that photos in scrapbooks aren’t damaged over time. However, even if you have to buy new acid-free paper, the fact that the embellishments can be recycled when no longer needed  reduces this gift’s footprint.If you do have suitable paper already in your stash, it helps the last-minute factor by eliminating an additional errand!

If you have paper punches  this can be both  green and very fast. Even if you have to cut things out by hand, it still shouldn’t take too long to make the five to 10 you would buy in a set from the store. And if you are cutting them by hand, you can do almost anything you can imagine!

For more inspiration (from someone with more skills than me) check this out (scroll down for the embellishments photo) >

A secret book safe

Do you know someone who wants to be a spy? Obviously, we all do — the drama, the intrigue, the saving-your-country-while-drinking-holiday-punch...Give someone a secret book safe and you can make them feel like a 007 agent handing off microfiche (translation: microfiche is what people used 50 years ago instead of USB sticks). 

The key here is finding a great book for the safe. The tutorial mentions  finding a boring book a guest wouldn’t actually take of the shelf, but I think finding something that aligns with the recipient’s interests would be great fun Even better if it is old and hardcover. Regardless, upcycling an old book into a space to stash valuables or secrets (or valuable secrets) will be a one-of-a-kind green gift.

Instructions >

Cookies in a jar (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Cookies in a jar (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)


Cookies in a jar

I have been making food gifts for years, but didn’t truly understand the joy of food gifts until a co-worker surprised me with homemade treats this week. To make a food gift green, here is a vegan cookie-in-a-jar recipe. Vegan food has a lower footprint, and I promise these cookies are just as delicious — just ask a co-worker I gave cookies to last year, who brought me the cookie jar back a few months after Christmas, and said, “More please!”

Again, use a clean jar from your kitchen stash and use paper scraps for instructions and decorating for a delicious, green gift.

Brownie in a mug (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

Brownie in a mug (Photo by Kyla Winchester/NCC staff)

BONUS IDEA: Brownies in a mug

Another food gift, this one also upcycles a plain, old mug into something useful. You can go the extra mile by making mix to go with the mug, for near-instant craving satisfaction.

Write on the mug in ceramic craft pen (following directions for making the pen permanent):

Brownie in a mug!
Whisk together:
2T water, 2T oil
Dash salt
Few drops vanilla
Whisk in 2T of sugar
Whisk in
2T cocoa powder
2T flour
Microwave 75 to 90 seconds

Then make the mix in a sealable bag:

1 part cocoa powder
1  part white flour
1 part sugar

(For example, making mix with ¼ cup of each ingredient will make enough for four batches of brownies if the recipient uses three tablespoons of mix.)

Write out the instructions on some scrap paper:

“Add 3 parts brownie mix to mug. Add 1 part water, 1 part oil, few drops vanilla and a dash of salt and stir to combine. Microwave 75 seconds to 90 seconds for a batch with three tablespoons of mix (brownie is of course best undercooked slightly)."


Gently seal and  arrange the bag of mix in the mug, and tape or tie on the instructions.

I hope this helps you get those last-minute gifts in order, while keeping your eco-conscience clear. Let me know how your gifts turn out! And if you have suggestions for other green gifts, leave a note in the comments section below.

Happy (green) holidays!

Kyla Winchester (Photo by Theresa Winchester)

About the Author

Kyla Winchester is the former development officer for NCC's Ontario Region.

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