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Portland Tribune

Shop without surrendering your soul

December 2006

Complaining about the commercialization of Christmas is almost as old as the holiday itself. The season also can be murder on the environment and the budget.

According to, a Web site touted in the Al Gore book and film “An Inconvenient Truth,” 5 million extra tons of trash are produced between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And, it takes an average of four months for credit card users to pay off holiday bills (total U.S. credit card debt is estimated at more than $600 billion already).

Inexpensive clothes and toys often are sweatshop-produced, shipped all over the world via fossil fuels, and made from materials that are ecologically irresponsible. Then there’s all the wrapping paper.

But buying “green” (and local) doesn’t mean buying boring, and you’ll probably find yourself getting much more into the holiday spirit at independent boutiques like Imp or at Bob’s Red Mill — where you can watch the quartz mill press your oatmeal — than at the mall.

It’s up to you whether you tell your recipient you’ve bought them a sustainable gift. They’ll probably like it so much they won’t think twice. And using recycled newspaper tied with bits of fabric or greens from your yard can look beautiful and creative (try to choose upbeat newspaper sections or stories for your wrapping — even this section!).

Of course, this also is an opportunity to educate people in your life who could use a push in the right direction. You can subtly mention that their gift is made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials because you hope that the Earth will be around for many more holidays to come.

Holiday e-cards expressing similar sentiments can be found at

Another way to remind loved ones of your commitment to celebrating the holidays a little differently is to send an e-mail asking them to donate a small amount of money to a charity in lieu of a gift, providing them a list with a few of your favorites. But if you want to buy actual presents, the following are some of the gifts you can feel good about.

FOR KIDS Balancing Cactus

Balancing Cactus ($20) is the only toy in the world that is really, really fun to play with but makes no grating noises, leaves no stains, and actually can double as artwork in your home.

The “cactus,” a stand that looks like a flowerpot and a series of bright interpretations of succulent spines, which vary in weight, shape and size, is constructed from rubber wood.

Previously, aging Thai rubber trees were burned and turned into charcoal once they stopped producing the raw materials to manufacture latex; using the wood to construct something is a very new idea, and a great one to support.

The wood is painted with nontoxic stains and kiln-dried, which limits moisture and also mellows the tones of the paint so they are simultaneously bright and natural-looking.

The object of the game is to assemble the cactus by balancing the weighted spines in a precise manner so as not to topple the pot. It’s excellent training for the Ikea furniture children probably will be assembling one day.

Canoe, 1136 S.W. Alder St., 503-889-8545