COMMENT:

Spend less by giving zero-waste gifts this Christmas. Just be wary of products marketed at this niche that are unnecessarily expensive.

Even if only one or two presents are replaced with something of less impact on the planet, or by agreement, no present at all, you deserve a pat on the back. Although the zero-waste journey involves buying less, if you do acquire items, they should be able to be composted or disposed of in other environmentally friendly ways when worn out.

Children often want a whole pile of plastic. For the youngest ones, there is home-made edible finger paint, play dough, art materials and other consumables. Wooden toys are sustainable and have a long life, meaning they can be passed on or sold online when you're done with them, or composted.

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By mid-primary school, children start to appreciate an IOU note or gift voucher. IOU a trip to Rainbow's End, Auckland Zoo or whatever they're into. Even a gift voucher for the mall is better than giving them something they'll never use. They keep on giving because you get to experience the event with them.

If you must buy plastic then avoid single-use. Lego, and enduring toys such as PLAYMOBIL and Sylvanian Families, can be re-gifted or sold on to be used and reused by many children.

The Clement family tradition of second-hand presents has become cool. But I have to admit that while my children never distinguished between new and second-hand if they wanted the item, I feel cheap giving other people's children something that's not in its original package.

Parents of waste-inducing children should be talking to each other. I'm sure some would have no issue and may even welcome second-hand presents.

Re-gifting is another concept around giving that's increasingly socially acceptable. Wrap up the gift you received but didn't want and give it to someone who would actually appreciate it.

That means one less item bought this Christmas and less discarding.

Books and magazines are reasonably sustainable gifts. They're reusable, re-saleable, recyclable, donateable and compostable. Someone suggested to me that audio books for children are another option — except if you're buying them on CD in a plastic box. Electronic copies are better.

In the case of clothing, which many of us gift, the fabric matters. Hemp, pure wool and 100 per cent cotton clothing, for example, can be composted at the end of its life. No choice is ever perfect of course. The pesticides used for cotton production, for example, are problematic.

When I first embraced the zero-waste goal I had a brainwave to put together sustainable gift packs for friends' birthdays containing items such as metal straws and reusable shopping bags. It turned out to be a monumental fail.

As my knowledge and thought process improved I realised two things, A: I was giving people things they didn't necessarily need, and B: the "eco" bags I had bought in bulk were made of artificial fibres, which get out through our washing machines, find their way into the sea and ultimately the fish that people are eating.

If you have time, many zero-waste products can be made at home. You could make an eco bag from an old T-shirt. Many websites and YouTube videos offer instructions.

If you don't have time, a huge cottage industry of zero-waste products has sprung up selling things like eco laundry detergent in jars to metal bento boxes for lunches.

Even the most natural eco product is no good if it's not going to get used. Last year I bought a T-shirt from Mr Vintage's lucky dip bin. Great concept. But it turned out to be the only ugly one in the entire collection and I'm sure the recipient is never going to wear it. Maybe it can become a bag.

I'm forever committing crimes against zero waste, by accident or ill-thought-out actions such as the lucky dip present. The reflection on every fail, however, has led to improvements and another baby step towards reducing my impact on the planet.