Green America: Growing the Green Economy for People and the Planet


Live better.
Save more. Invest wisely.
Make a difference.


Nov/Dec 2012


6 Really Terrible Gift Ideas



1. Items in "Stupid Plastic" Packaging -- Tired of the single-use “stupid plastic” packaging, sharp wire ties, and open-proof plastic containers that many gift items come swathed in? So is the Earth. Most plastic is made from polluting, resource-intensive petroleum, and tons of single use plastic is clogging the oceans and harming wildlife.

Avoid gift items that come wrapped in plastic, and avoid shopping from online retailers that package your items in even more plastic.

SOLUTION: If you’re buying anything new this holiday season, look for items in independent, local stores that aren’t over-packaged. When ordering via mail, ask sellers to avoid sending plastic when they ship your items.

2. Unnatural Candles -- Candles are always a popular stocking stuffer, but they could be making you sick. Conventional candles are made with paraffin wax—a petroleum by-product that releases carcinogenic soot when burned and can damage your electronics and ductwork. They’re most often scented with synthetic oils that can cause lung irritation and other health problems. Some candles may even have lead, a neurotoxicant, in their wicks.

SOLUTION: Choose GMO-free soy or beeswax candles scented with 100 percent natural essential oils. Find green candlemakers at

3. Plastic Toys -- Everything we said about plastic packaging holds true for plastic toys. Even worse, many of today’s “It” toys (like Barbie dolls) are made from PVC plastic—known as the “poison plastic” because it leaches toxic chemicals throughout its life cycle.

SOLUTION: Avoid soft plastic toys like rubber ducks, which are often made with PVC. Consider non-plastic secondhand toys and new toys made from wood, cloth, and other natural materials from green retailers at

4. Problem Electronics -- Every year, Greenpeace scores electronics manufacturers on their efforts to reduce company-wide greenhouse gas emissions, implement recycling take-back programs, eliminate toxic innards in their products, and minimize excessive packaging. Rim, Sharp, Acer, LG, and Toshiba were the bottom-dwellers in the latest Greenpeace report. A 2012 study by the Ecology Center deemed the iPhone 4S and 5, the Motorola Citrus, the LG Remarq, and the Samsung Captivate and Evergreen as the least toxic cell phones.

When it comes to worker rights, China Labor Watch released a 2011 report that detailed child and sweatshop labor in factories making products for Dell, IBM, Ericsson, Philips, Microsoft, Apple, HP, and Nokia. Two 2012 reports from the nonprofit revealed child workers and sweatshop labor abuses in factories making Apple and Samsung products.

SOLUTION: Buy used electronics or refurbish current electronics whenever possible. Consider giving a gift certificate from your local electronics repair shop for a tune-up in lieu of a new electronic item. Be sure to recycle your old electronics with a responsible recycler. Find one at, or take your old electronics to your local Best Buy (, which will recycle them for free via responsible recyclers like Electronic Recyclers Internationalm.

5. Conventional Chocolate -- If you’ve been reading the Green American for awhile, you’re likely familiar with the fact that much of the cocoa that goes into the products of major US chocolate companies comes from West Africa—where child and slave labor is a huge problem.

SOLUTION: Buy Fair Trade Certified™ chocolate. The Fair Trade system uses independent monitoring to ensure that your chocolate comes from cooperatives that pay their workers a living wage, ensure they work in healthy and safe conditions, use sustainable farming methods, and set aside a premium for community development. Look for the Fair Trade Certified logo on chocolate at your local stores, or order chocolate from the companies listed at

6. "International" Home Decor -- The home decor items you see at stores like Pier 1 Imports may look tempting, but chances are the artisans who made them received very little for their beautiful work.

In fact, our allies at the International Labor Rights Forum named Pier 1 to its 2010 Sweatshop Hall of Shame for the poor treatment of workers in the Paul Yu factory in the Philippines, which makes Pier 1 items. The factory fired 200 workers in 2010 for attempting to form a workers’ association. In addition, five of six Paul Yu workers labors under a temporary contract, meaning they make less money and have fewer benefits and no collective bargaining rights compared to full-time workers. While temporary contracts are only supposed to last six months by law, many Paul Yu workers have been working as temps for several years.

SOLUTION: Get beautiful, high-quality baskets, shawls, jewelry, furniture, and other home decor and personal items with an international flair from Fair Trade businesses. Find them in the “Fair Trade” and “Home Decor,” “Jewelry,” and “Clothing” categories at


Green American
Green American -  a vision of the future delivered right to your door
Your Green America membership includes:
a FREE subscription to the Green American
a FREE copy of our National Green Pages™
a FREE copy of our Guide to Socially Responsible Investing