December is here and that means consumerism is ramping up to a fever pitch. In the name of holiday spirit, we buy each other a ton of gifts that aren’t necessarily wanted (another Yankee candle, no thanks!) and a lot of it ends up in the dump a few months into the new year. This, of course, drives the production of more and more goods every year and, in the name of profit, retailers push us to consume, consume, consume.
This year, I am being more mindful of the purchases I make by gifting sustainable and ethically made items to some people on my list. But a new item is still a new item, even if it is sustainably made. That means raw goods are consumed, energy is expended during manufacturing and byproducts enter the waste stream.
What to do? Give upcycled gifts!
If you’re crafty and have the time, you can make your own upcycled gifts. If you have young kids like me, you’ll probably want someone else to do the work. Luckily, there are a lot of great makers coming up with some really cool upcycled items.
I’ve put together a collection of a few of my favorites. There’s something for everyone on your list – and maybe something for yourself too!
STYLISH LEATHER BAG | $195 | Handmade in India from eco-friendly leather remnants. Leather is tanned using natural extracts instead of chemicals. I love the contrasting stripes and the buckle closure. This is a versatile bag and would look great styled with jeans for an everyday look or with a dressier work pant for the office.
CHANDELIERS EARRINGS | $22 | Handmade in India from wooden beads wrapped in recycled sari material. I admittedly am terrible with accessorizing but would definitely wear these for a fun pop of color against a neutral outfit.
SILK SCARF | $25 | Handmade in Nepal from recycled silk loom ends. I love the nubby texture and multicolors. This looks similar to a handmade scarf that I was gifted several years ago that has since disappeared from my closet. I’d love to replace it with this beautiful upcycled option!
RECYCLED BOTTLE PLATTER | $24 | Handmade in Wyoming from discarded glass bottles collected from roadsides and national forests. For the friend that loves to entertain and could use a statement platter to spark conversations over wine and cheese. Unfortunately, I am not in a place to do any classy adult entertaining – my normal night is passing out on the couch at 8:15 PM as soon as the kids are in bed – but if I was, I would use something like this!
HOCKEY STICK GRILL SET | $50 | Handmade in California from repurposed hockey sticks. The perfect gift for the hockey fan in your life who loves to grill. And for those of you who live where there is snow and can’t quite wrap your head around grilling right now, the artists make hockey stick snow brushes too!
DAILY NEWS TRIVET | $9 | Handmade in the Philippines from recycled newspapers. This would be great for the chef with an eclectic taste. I love the way the spiraled papers create an assortment of colors.
ECLECTIC SHOWER CURTAIN | $90 | Handmade in India from recycled saris and cloth remnants. The gift for your friend who is always looking for decorations for her home. There’s something about these vibrant colors that really draws me in. We have sliding glass doors in our shower, otherwise I would be tempted to buy this one for myself.
WINE BOTTLE TERRARIUM | $38 | Handmade in Idaho from repurposed wine bottles. I love gifting plants because everyone could use one more plant in the house. This would be perfect for the plant lover in your life.
RECYCLED WOOL BLANKET | $60 | Made in the UK and India from offcut wool scrapings and recycled clothing. This color palette is beautiful and would make me feel like a lass in Braveheart. Except I would be laying underneath this on the couch watching Netflix, which I’m pretty sure they didn’t have in 13th century Scotland, right? Perfect for the couch-loving homebody in your life. Or for me! Mom, if you’re reading this, send me one!
UPCYCLED DICTIONARY ART PRINT | $13 |Handmade in Ohio from recycled dictionary pages. These are colorful, quirky prints that would add character to any room. Perfect for your friend that loves reading and art!
RECORD BOOKENDS | $40| Handmade in Pennsylvania from repurposed records and recycled waste wood. These would be a great gift for music lover or bibliophile alike. We have so much old vinyl in our house that I’m tired of looking at – I’m considering making something like this for myself!
EARTH NEWS JOURNAL | $19 |Handmade in Bangladesh from old newspapers and recycled cloth. I love the woven texture and color scheme of these journals – perfect for the poet or journaler in your life.
BIKE CHAIN BOTTLE OPENER | $10 | Made in Oregon from recycled bike chains. This would be a good stocking stuffer for your dad/brother/boyfriend or a perfect small present for your drinking buddy. I often end up getting beer for my brothers so this would be a good companion gift.
THUMB PIANO | $20 | Made in Burkina Faso from recycled cans and wood. My husband is a musician and is really hard to buy gifts for because he always says he doesn’t want anything. I think this would be a cool present for him to fiddle around with and it would be great for the musician in your life too!
INNER TUBE WALLET | $25 | Handmade in Israel from repurposed bike tires. I also picked out this gift with my husband in mind. When we lived in Pittsburgh he would commute mostly by bike and now that we’re in San Diego where our commutes are a little more onerous, he still likes taking rides around the neighborhood. And I love any gift that repurposes rubber because discarded tires account for a large chunk of our garbage.
The Little Ones
RECYCLED WOOL MITTENS | $29 | These adorable little mittens are handmade in the USA with recycled sweaters. My kids are too young to keep anything on their hands for more than 30 seconds, but if they were older, I’d get them these. Tons of clothing ends up in the dump every year (no one’s really going to use all of those junky clothes you donate to Goodwill), so figuring out how to upcycle them is super important!
UPCYCLED FLANNEL| $22 | Infant- and toddler-sized flannels made in the USA from upcycled clothing. I love, love, love these cute little flannels and when my daughter gets a little bigger I’ll probably buy her one. Do you have a stylish kid in your life who could use one of these?
WATERPROOF BIB | $15 | Ethically made from post-consumer recycled bottles in China. Let’s face it. If you have kids, you are going to need to buy a bunch of things that you only use for a few months to a year at most. Finding an upcycled option for any of the necessities can help reduce your child’s impact on the environment. These bibs come in a lot of cute patterns and would be a perfect stocking stuffer for your child/niece/nephew.
So there you have it! I hope you decide to give an upcycled gift or two this holiday season.
A lot of the items on this list are from Ten Thousand Villages and Uncommon Goods, both really great retailers for unique gift ideas. If you didn’t find something you like on this list, check their websites out for some more handmade, up cycled gift options.
Do you have any great upcycled gift ideas? I’d love to hear about them!