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12 local plastic-free and zero-waste gifts for Christmas

By Zona Hiranandani 20 December 2019
Header image courtesy of Coconut Matter

Christmas is a time of festive giving, but more than often or not, it’s also the time of wasteful consumption. Zona Hiranandani, a waste-conscious freelance writer who was born and bred in Hong Kong and writes about sustainability issues, gives us her best tips on how to be mindful with your Christmas shopping this year.

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Photos courtesy of Forbes and 賴振邦 / Facebook

We’ve all seen the waste crisis on a global scale, thanks to the rising movement of zero waste on social media: the pretty pantry with asymmetrical mason jars, pictures of the ‘garbage patch’ crisis in the Pacific Ocean, and ‘I saved a turtle with my metal straw!’ Instagram selfies. Here in the 852, we’ve witnessed the post-typhoon Mangkhut’s wash-up of plastic trash on our shores, the disposable plastic umbrella bags thrown into an already overfilled bin, and existing landfills filled to the brim with our waste.For the last month of 2019, we need to re-think our gift-giving ways to family and friends to reduce our waste. According to a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace, ten of the biggest supermarket chains in the U.K. increased their plastic packaging by 17,000 tonnes out of a total of 900,00 tonnes since last year. Now imagine throwing all that plastic packaging into your kitchen bin where it eventually ends up in landfills.Tie this with the increase of hyper-consumerism, where gifts are returned during the festive season, and we have another problem: more unopened gifts sent to landfills or shipped off to developing countries as ‘donated landfill gifts’. While there are activists boycotting Black Friday thanks to its social and environmental impacts, a surge of ethical companies are actually embracing anti-consumption and zero-waste ideas for the lead up to the Christmas season post-Black Friday weekend sales.

Before we get into what we can opt as sustainable gifts, here are some questions to think about before you trod off to the shops for your loved ones. We need to slow down and think twice of what we give and consume. So, grab a cuppa and let’s get started.

  • Do we really need the things we buy and could we prioritise time with family instead of physical gifts? 
  • Can we reduce our carbon emissions by supporting our local sellers? 
  • Are there ethical and sustainable brands that we can support?
  • What were the resources used (materials, delivery method, packaging, and labour-intensive manufacturing process) to make said products?
  • If you have to order online, can you group individual gifts as one order and are there plastic-free packaging options?

Now that you’ve jotted down your answers and had a ponder over these questions, here are some zero waste ideas that you can build right here in the 852! 

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Photos courtesy of Bareaya

1. Build a zero-waste shaving kit

It might not seem as obvious as the food waste crisis in Hong Kong, but we generate a good whopping one million pounds of trash from our bathroom according to the Environmental Protection Agency—mostly from disposable plastic razors. They’re often not recyclable (and non-biodegradable) due to the mixed materials of blades and plastic casing.On top of that, commercial shaving foam comes in unrecyclable aerosol cans and bathroom toiletries tend to be packaged in excessive plastic. To combat this, why not gift a safety razor as a ‘lifetime’ essential purchase? They’re often money-saving in the long term, as the only thing that needs changing is the blade itself. Throw in spare blades, a vegan shaving bar, and moisturiser into a cloth pouch or upcycled box for a festive shaving kit all-rounder. You can also pass on a small upcycled jar for collecting blunt blades before recycling them!Check out Bareaya, Edgar, Live Zero, and Plastic-Free HK for some shaving essentials to build your kit.

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Photos courtesy of Coconut Matter

2. Zero-waste make-up

If you take a peek into your make-up collection right now, chances are there is an abundance of plastic packaging in your make-up drawer. The majority of commercial and drugstore make-up packaging aren’t built for recycling—there are some foundation pump bottles that can’t even be opened.Just as everyone is talking about the environmental and social impacts of fast fashion, we also need to be aware of fast beauty trends and the abundance of waste that it produces. Think slow: look at the packaging and the product ingredients. Most of us aren’t probably aware of what we put on our faces. Last but not least, do we really still need animal-tested products to feel good?Red: the colour of Christmas parties. Those of us who love smearing our lips for the festive parties don’t have to worry about not finding beautiful red lipsticks. Coconut Matter offers a decent range of moisturising lipsticks in compostable paper tubes, including a bright red one perfect for Christmas. If you’re after a more low-key look, Soap Yummy’s beautiful vegan lip tints are a great plastic-free option; the minimal tube design is a reflection of the natural look that their lip tints give. Don’t forget to check out her bagel-inspired soap bars! Just try and not eat them…For those looking for more full-on make-up options, Lush Hong Kong has recently opened their naked packaging store in Causeway Bay, a great option for seeking out package-free vegan make-up for family and friends. Go one step further and bring your own container or cloth wrap for your purchased gifts!Another great sustainable vegan brand is Elate Cosmetics, a brand available through Live Zero and Plastic-Free HK, who offer refills for their sustainably sourced bamboo palettes.

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Photos courtesy of Organic Basics

3. Sustainable socks

Socks: the ultimate classic Christmas gift other than cosy jumpers. Instead of opting for tacky and cheap fast fashion Christmas socks, why not invest in a high-quality pair that can be worn for years?Cotton socks from a sustainable brand are good options, ensuring fair wages and minimal environmental impacts. Organic Basics is a transparent fashion brand that lists out its sustainable policies and manufacturing processes on its website. The company’s silvertech and organic cotton socks are offered as packs, making it cheaper to buy socks for a few friends for one price. For a more local option, why not wander around a Christmas market in Hong Kong for knitted socks made by a local artisan?

Read more! Here’s your ultimate guide to zero-waste shopping in Hong Kong.

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Photos courtesy of Essencial Candles

4. Candles and home decor

Naturally fragranced candles add a nice hygge touch for gift-giving. A great personal addition is creating your own soy candles with essential oils (with help from Pinterest recipes!). Bulk soy wax and candle wicks can be found at Live Zero Bulk Beauty on High Street, Sai Ying Pun, and if you don’t have enough upcycled glass jars for your candle mixes, you can grab one of their donated jars off their shelf.If you don’t have time to make it yourself, look out for Essencial Candles, who source their beeswax from local bee farms! For non-candle lovers, Studio Jolene has upcycled cardholders and flower vases made from donated plastic bags.

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Photo courtesy of The Tare Market and Zero Waste Nerd

5. Create a beginner’s ‘zero waste kit’

Not everyone is aware of how they could be more sustainable in their daily lives. Why not create a go-to travel kit for them? Things like bamboo cutlery, reuseable straws (metal, glass, and even silicone!), a tin lunch box, and food cloth bags (to put in loose fruits and vegetables from the wet markets) are great things to have around the house.If they’re a coffee addict (like this guilty writer here), a reusable coffee cup is vital. Throw in a lovely handwritten list of 852 coffee shops offering B.Y.O.C. (bring your own cup) discounts for good measure! Venture around the zero-waste shops in Hong Kong and you’re bound to find the essentials.Try re-gifting your spare cutleries, Tupperwares, upcycled glass jars (wrapped with elastic bands around a flannel for a D.I.Y. coffee cup), hankies, and cloth bags made out of your pillowcases. This is great if you’re on a gifts budget and it promotes a circular ‘re-gifting’ economy as well.

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Photos courtesy of Paper-Roses

6. Christmas cards

With so many of us on our smartphones, it makes sense to send cute e-cards or filter selfies wishing our loved ones a joyous Christmas. But if you’re the traditional type, try and opt for an FSC-certified paper card. Paper-Roses, a local Hong Kong artist, sells FSC-certified paper cards with cute watercolour illustrations of Hong Kong. Best of all, the designs are hand-painted! For charity Christmas cheer, the Lion Rock Press has a charity card range, where 100 percent of their profits goes towards Mother’s Choice.

Read more! These are the best places to shop for eco-friendly swimwear in Hong Kong and Asia.

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7. Local workshops and events

Christmas gifts don’t always have to be in the form of tangible gifts; sharing experiences with your loved ones could also be wonderful during this time of the festive season. What’s better than cosying up with your loved one during the cold winter days while you enjoy a home-cooked, candlelit meal, or even strolling through the hiking trails of Hong Kong wrapped up in knitted jumpers and scarves?Visiting local art galleries, such as the Blue Lotus Gallery (a favourite of mine, especially if you’re into photography), and grabbing a coffee (MANA! is right opposite the Blue Lotus Gallery) afterwards will add a wintery hygge touch to your day. There is a splendour of (free) events going on in this vibrant city pretty much all the time; look on the Facebook Events page or Eventbrite Hong Kong for ideas!

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8. ‘Blind date book’

Spice up another classic Christmas gift by giving a surprise ‘blind date book’ gift. It’s the best way to give to a bookish friend, and a perfect opportunity to show off how well you know their reading tastes.To keep it sustainable, look for second-hand books in local shops such as Flow or Books & Co. Both are filled with English fiction books from wall to wall. Wrapping can be as simple as newspapers, upcycled magazines, or brown paper tied with twine. Add a small tag for the book summary (could be as short as three to four bullet points!) but keep it vague and discreet! After all, it’s a ‘blind date’ with their new book!

9. Gifted subscriptions

If they’re not so much of a reader but an avid smartphone minimalist techie, then gifting subscriptions is a proactive way for gift-giving. Not only does it reduce physical waste, but you’re giving a new experience to loved ones. Who doesn’t love getting their Netflix, Audible, or Spotify being paid for? If they’re a gamer, get a co-op game off their Steam wishlist for the weekend. Christmas can also be a stressful month for some, so why not sign them up for yoga classes through apps like ClassPass, or pay for mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Calm, and Simple Habits.

Read more! These are the best places to shop for eco-friendly homeware in Hong Kong.

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Photos courtesy of Gardenista and HGTV

10. DIY Christmas garlands

Making things doesn’t have to be complicated and what is better when the materials are straight from your pantry? Some ideas for your Christmas tree ornaments and decor could include making garlands out of popcorn, cranberries, penne, and any soft dried fruits (it’ll be easier to thread through!). Bulk dried fruits and pasta can be found at Live Zero in Sai Ying Pun and Sai Kung. Cotton strings and twine can be found in most local art and stationery shops.

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11. Regift your clutter!

There is still a stigma when it comes to giving second-hand things as gifts in Hong Kong, but it is the easiest way to reduce your waste and clutter at the same time. Passing on hand-me-downs to family and friends adds a sweet personal touch; it’s the thought that counts and Christmas is all about sharing and bonding with your loved ones. Very useful for friends who have been pining for that jumper of yours!

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Photos courtesy of Homemade for Elle and The Prairie Homestead

12. D.I.Y. self-care kits

Living in a cramped and fast-paced city can take a toll on our mental health, so gifting a little ‘self-care’ basket to your family and friends is an awesome way to show your gratitude for their company. Things like making your own bath salts, solid perfumes, lip balms, candles, knitted socks (if you have the worthy knitting power for this!) would sure to put them in a cosy uplifting festive mood. Most ingredients can be found at Live Zero Bulk Beauty and Shiu Shing Hong in Sheung Wan. To get you started, here are some D.I.Y. recipes that have worked for me.Bath salts Recipe: Mix Epsom salts with 20 drops of essential oils (lavender is a great beginner essential oil to start with, but have fun making your own blends). Pour one layer of the mixed Epsom salts into an upcycled glass jar, another layer of dried rosebuds and lavenders, then a final layer with the rest of the Epsom salts. Solid perfumes recipe: Melt 1 tablespoon jojoba oil (sweet almond oil or coconut oil also works) and 1 tablespoon beeswax (or candelilla wax if vegan) in a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot with hot water on the stove). Stir until the beeswax is melted and incorporated with jojoba oil. Add 10–20 drops of essential oils. Pour into small tins. Allow to cool and set. To use, take a pea size of it and rub onto wrists and other heat points of the body (elbows, behind ear lobes, neck, and behind the knees).Lip balm recipe: Melt 1 tablespoon shea butter, 1 tablespoon cocoa butter, ½ tablespoon beeswax (or candelilla wax if vegan), and 1 tablespoon coconut oil into a double boiler. You can add 5–10 drops of peppermint essential oil for a minty Christmas feel, but this step is optional. Pour into small tins or containers. Allow to cool and set.Soy candles recipe: Melt 2 cups of soy wax in a double boiler. You can choose to add 10–15 drops of essential oils into melted soy wax and stir, but this is optional. Pour into moulds or into an upcycled glass jar with a wick stuck in it (prepared in advance—use a pencil or chopstick to hold the wick string in place while pouring). When pouring wax, be sure that the string stays in place and is centred straight—it’ll help burn the candle more evenly. Allow to cool and set.

Bonus: Embrace ‘no gift-giving’ for Christmas this year

One of the best ways to reduce waste is to not buy anything for this year. Be thankful and appreciate each other’s company. Save the planet by giving free hugs to your loved ones!

Read more! Check out the best eco-friendly fashion brands in Hong Kong, or explore the Shopping section on Localiiz.

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Zona Hiranandani

Sustainability Writer

Born and bred in Hong Kong, Zona Hiranandani is a waste-conscious freelance writer, designer, and photographer who focuses on sustainability issues and educating the community about lessening their environmental impact through simple lifestyle changes. Read more of her writing on her website.