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Where to shop online for sustainable Christmas gifts that isn’t Amazon

Someone on my local zero waste Facebook group recently asked the question, “what are some good zero waste stocking fillers?” and my favourite response was this one: “air”.

When it comes to living zero waste, the less stuff we buy the better.

I’m all for cancelling Christmas altogether, in fact.

But we all like to celebrate Christmas in different ways, and if gifts is your thing, I have some ideas – not on what to buy, but on where to buy it.

If I can’t persuade you to cancel Christmas altogether, then perhaps I can persuade you to spend more of your money with independent small businesses, and less of your money with global mega-corporations, and especially with Amazon.

What’s wrong with Amazon?

Yes it’s cheap, and yes it’s convenient – but we all know that most things that are cheap and convenient are causing issues elsewhere. And that’s definitely the case with Amazon, and its founder, Jeff Bezos.

Bezos is a billionaire, worth around $150 billion US dollars. That’s a lot of money. It’s almost too much money to fathom.

To paraphrase a popular tweet: If you worked every single day, making $5,000 a day, from the year 1500 until the year 2020, you would still not be a billionaire. You’d have to work for 548 years (and not spend a penny of what you earned).

To have as much money as Jeff Bezos has, you’d need to earn $5,000 a day, every single day, for about 77,000 years. (Jeff earns about $150,000 a minute.)

No-one becomes a billionaire ethically and sustainably. And Amazon is notorious for its exploitative practices: from not paying tax, to underpaying workers, to exploiting workers, to destroying small businesses.

(If you’d like to know more, and I hope that you do! – there are two great articles that I recommend you read.

Bezos the billionaire hero? Nope. A really good explanation of what being a billionaire actually means (in the context of greenwashing).

The Ethical Issues with Amazon. A well researched piece with links detailing many of Amazon’s wrongdoings.

Hopefully you’ll give them both a read, but if not, my message is this: this Christmas, if you’re buying gifts, try to give more of your money to business owners that aren’t already billionaires, and are working hard to operate ethically and sustainably.

This post contains some affiliate links. This means if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Where to buy ethical Christmas gifts online that isn’t Amazon

Books

So many people tell me that they don’t buy books from Amazon (because boycott), they buy from Book Depository – which is actually (sigh) owned by Amazon. As is Abe Books.

Here are some Amazon-free alternatives.

Bookshop.org. An online US bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores. You can choose for the profit from your order to go to a bookstore of your choice, or added to an earnings pool to be distributed among independent bookstores. B-Corp certified. UK Bookshop just launched in 2020.

Booktopia. Australia’s biggest locally owned online bookstore, and one of Amazon’s biggest (Australian) competitors.

Chapters Indigo. Canada’s biggest online bookstore.

Dymocks. Australian bookstore chain. Many Dymocks stores are franchises. One of the better-than-Amazon-but-not-the best-choice options.

Hive. Online UK store connected (and giving a cut to) to hundreds of independent bookshops across the UK, by giving them a chance to sell online through Hive.

Indiebound. Launched by the American Booksellers Association, this is a US site for independent bookstores.

Rabble Books & Games. My local independent bookstore (Perth, Australia) that has an amazing range of books. Champions Indigenous writers and illustrators, LGBTQIA+ fiction, small publishers, and diversity. Made the international news when they announced they were going to remove JK Rowling’s books from the shelves to create a safer space (you can still order them in – profits donated to Trans Folk WA) after outrage from the trans community over the content of her latest novel and other transphobic comments.

Readings. Independent bookstore in Melbourne, Australia which also sells books online. Won Australian Book Retailer of the Year 2020.

Waterstones. Big UK bookstore chain. Owned by a hedge fund so not the most independent and ethical option, but a better choice than Amazon.

Wordery. Has a similar model to Book Depository, with free delivery worldwide, only it isn’t owned by Amazon. A great alternative if you need (free) worldwide shipping.

Zero waste and plastic-free reusables

There are so many online stores selling zero waste alternatives and plastic-free swaps, that it’s possible to find everything you need (and plenty of stuff that you probably don’t!) without using Amazon. These are stores I’ve used, or that come recommended by my readers.

To make it easier, I’ve divided into UK, USA and Australian sites.

Australia:

Biome. One of the best Australian online eco stores (and six physical stores, most in Brisbane), founded in 2003. B-Corp certified business.

Flora & Fauna. 100% vegan, ethical and cruelty-free online store. B-Corp certified.

Nourished Life. Online store selling mainly organic, natural skincare and beauty products. There is a lot of plastic packaging to sift through, but they do have a good range of zero waste products.

Seed & Sprout. An online eco store selling beautiful own-branded zero waste and plastic-free products including reusables, cleaning and skincare products.

Spiral Garden. Natural, ethical and sustainable products (and gardening supplies) from this Tasmanian-based store. Lots of unique items.

Urban Revolution (my local Perth-based store). Garden and zero-waste store with a constantly updated range of items.

Zero Store. Large range of zero waste products, with no plastic in sight. Based in Fremantle, Western Australia.

UK:

&Keep. One of the best UK online eco stores, with a fabulous range of products. (The name, &Keep, comes from the premise that if you buy quality, well made things, you only need to buy them once and you will keep them forever.) Most products are plastic-free.

A Slice of Green. One of the longest-standing online eco stores, operating since 2007. Mostly selling reusables, with a small (but excellent) range of books.

Anything but plastic. Wide range of plastic-free products including skincare.

Boobalou. An eco home store with plenty of zero waste and low waste products.

Ethical Superstore. Not just plastic-free and zero waste products (there is plenty on this site you probably don’t need) but a good one-stop shop of ethical products that isn’t Amazon, including food. Their sister store thenaturalcollection.com has more of a focus on ethical homewares.

Eqo Living. An online eco store selling mostly reusables, with some beauty products.

USA:

Life without plastic. The original plastic-free shop (beginning life in 2006). Many products are completely plastic- and silicone-free, and made entirely of metals and natural materials.

Package free shop. Founded by Lauren Singer of Trash Is For Tossers, with products divided into five categories based on values: ‘circular’, ‘compostable’, ‘organic’, ‘100 % plastic-free’ and ‘vegan’.

Tiny Yellow Bungalow. An adorable zero waste shop of hand-picked products (by the owner, Jessie) with an excellent accompanying blog.

Wild Minimalist. Online store with a great range of products.

Underwear and socks

I had to include a section on underwear because it’s the classic Christmas gift, after all – and probably one of the most useful and usable things you can gift someone (assuming you know their size).

Organic Basics. This is my favourite place to get underwear. And I love their socks. Great quality, and very comfortable. They sell a range of basics, made of organic cotton… which you might have gotten from the name.

Pact. This US brand comes highly recommended by many of my readers. A large range of basics made from organic cotton.

Very Good Bra. The only completely zero waste bra on the market. Stephanie, the founder, is so passionate about zero waste fashion, and it shows. They have just released a range of zero waste sleepwear, and also sell underwear (which I haven’t tried but I’m sure I will love just as much as I do their bra.)

These are my top three, but if you’d like more options for ethical underwear, you might find these posts useful:

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Underwear Brands

A Guide to Ethical + Organic Bras (and Bralettes)

A guide to men’s ethical + organic underwear

And slightly more niche, but still an excellent Christmas gift in my view:

Zero waste periods: the pros and cons of menstrual underwear (+ 6 brands to consider)

Other sites to consider

Etsy. A great online marketplace for finding independent artists and creators making ethical, low waste and upcycled products.

Gumtree. An online classifieds site, where you can find unwanted gifts and lightly-used products, as well as vintage items.

Who Gives A Crap. If there is one thing people need even more than underwear and socks, it’s toilet paper. I’ve given this as a 40th birthday present, and as a wedding gift (more than once). They even make limited edition Christmas toilet paper.

Christmas gifts might not be my thing, but persuading people to look for options away from Amazon and the big box stores most definitely is my thing. Spending a little more (or perhaps, spending the same, or buying a little less) means not lining the coffers of the richest man in the world, sharing the wealth by supporting independent businesses and having a more positive impact on the planet.

If you have any other ethical sites you’d like to recommend, I’d love to hear them. Happy festivities!

We’re all on different journeys

Last week I wrote a blog post about toilet paper. Eco-friendly, ethical toilet paper. Toilet paper that’s even more eco-friendly and ethical than the previous eco-friendly and ethical toilet paper I used to buy. It feels kind of absurd, really – writing blog posts about toilet paper. I pondered what friends I’ve not been in contact with recently might think if they stumbled across the post. I wonder what Lindsay’s up to these days? I’ll check her blog. Oh. She’s writing about toilet paper. Is that really how she spends her time these days? Does she have nothing bigger to worry about? Read more

Another step in the right direction

The parcel I’ve been waiting for all week finally arrived on Friday. Oh the excitement! I don’t order things online much anymore, but it wasn’t the idea of receiving a parcel that caused my excitement. It was the contents of the parcel…

Toilet paper.

Yes. You did read that right. Read more

How ethical are our trainers?

Last weekend I bought a new pair of trainers. They were, in fact, Nike trainers. They were, in fact again, Nike trainers made entirely of synthetic materials – which means plastic. So how does that sit with a plastic-avoiding, environmentally-conscious girl like me who champions ethical and sustainable consumption?

What’s wrong with Nike?

Nike sounds alarm bells for many people because they received a lot of criticism in the late 1990s and were subject to a massive consumer boycott. Nike were targeted because they were a best-selling brand; the reason for the boycott was Nike’s refusal to accept responsibility for the practices and treatment of workers in the factories it subcontracted to make its clothing and footwear ranges.

That was 13 years ago (the boycott ended in 2000). How does Nike perform today? They have definitely become more transparent. They have a detailed section on their website about their reporting and governance, including links to published reports, and an interactive map (last updated May 2013) which lists all the factories that make their products.

Maquila Solidarity Network, a Canadian-based workers rights organisation, published a Revealing Clothing Report in 2006 detailing labour standards reporting by retailers and brands selling clothes, and Nike scored 68%. Of the 30 companies investigated, Nike were fifth in the rankings. Lululemon, the yoga-inspired athletic brand, scored just 18%.

Still, there is a lot of room for improvement. In Ethical Consumer magazine’s latest Trainer buying guide, Nike scored 6.5 out of 20 on its ethical and environmental scale. Which sounds pretty bad, although when you you read further you find that Umbro, Adidas, Reebok, Puma and Brooks scored lower than that.

What about other brands?

Nike aren’t perfect and they still have a long way to go, but they are now committed to transparency. That is an important step. Consider though, that Nike were deliberately targeted for a boycott because they are a best-selling brand with a huge reputation. They were the scapegoat for the clothing industry. What about other, lesser known brands? Were they doing things differently? How committed to sustainability are they? How transparent are their reporting systems?

Looking at the Ethical Consumer scores, many other major high-street brands (Adidas, Reebok, Umbro, Puma and Brooks) scored no better than Nike. Oxfam Australia are putting pressure on Adidas and Puma as well as Nike to improve workers’ rights and other issues they have identified. Clearly Nike aren’t the only guilty party. Nike may have got the bad rap but they’re no worse than any of these other brands.

Are there any ethical trainer brands?

I found three interesting articles about this (two from the Guardian, one from 2008 and another from 2012, and one from the Huffingdon Post). The general consensus seems to be that whilst it’s possible to buy fashion trainers from ethical brands (Ethletic scored 17/20 on Ethical Consumer’s review but only make converse-style trainers), finding athletic sports shoes is more of a challenge.

That’s not to say that there aren’t great brands out there, but it’s going to take a fair bit of research and dedication to find them, and it’s unlikely you’ll find them in your local high-street shop.

Want to know more about ethical shopping?

I’m going to follow up this post with a guide to ethical shopping, but for now I’ll just give a few links if you’d like to read more.

The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping is a great place to start. This book was published in 2004 so whilst some of the company information is a little dated, the principles remain the same. This is a book I read when it first came out and I learned a lot.

Ethical Consumer is a UK-based magazine available in print and online. They are a non-profit alternative consumer organisation dedicated to the promotion of universal human rights, environmental sustainability and animal welfare. Some of the information is available for free on the website or you can subscribe for £29.95 a year to access all the reports.

Labour Behind the Label is another UK organisation that run campaigns and also publish investigative reports, and works to support garment worker’s efforts worldwide to defend rights and improve wages.

Maquila Solidarity Network have a great list of resources, both Canadian and International, on their website – there’s too many to list and I haven’t checked them all out, but head over there to see if there’s anything that is relevant to you.

How do I feel about my purchase?

Do I regret my purchase? No. I haven’t bought a pair of trainers in over 15 years. I had absolutely no idea what I was looking for. I went to a shop to get some expert advice and these were the shoes that they recommended. I made a decision based on what I needed, what was available and the knowledge I had. I didn’t want to buy second hand because I didn’t want trainers that were molded to the shape of someone else’s feet. When they wear out, I will be able to make an informed decision based on what I know I need, and  I can choose a pair that are made by a more sustainable company. Hopefully I can find some made with natural materials and not plastic! I certainly won’t be replacing them before they wear out, even when the colour goes out of fashion or if I see a new pair on sale for a bargain price. These guys are with me for (their) life.

Another thing I’d like to add, is that (excluding some underwear I purchased in January) this is my first brand new clothing purchase all year. We are almost into September. In 8 months, I have only purchased one new thing. I have also bought a second-hand skirt, a second-hand coat and a second-hand jumper. That is it.

I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be. I’m just trying to do the best I can.

Paying full whack for a new pair of trainers

This weekend was a weekend of firsts. I bought my first pair of running trainers since I was at school – and that was a good while ago now. I also paid full price. That’s something I hardly ever (never?) do. What’s going on? Read more