A Guide to Finding Green Gifts This Holiday Season

By Judith Scherr
Friday December 22, 2006

’Tis the weekend before giftmas  

And I’m in a panic 

Not a thing for the grandma 

Or friendly mechanic 

I rush out to Macy’s  

Then an Emeryville mall 

Empty wallet on gas  

Buying presents for all: 

Enriching the bosses 

Clearcutting the woods 

The ice caps are melting 

For my giftmas goods. 



There are shopping alternatives and you don’t have to leave Berkeley. 

A quick walk along San Pablo Avenue, a short ride up to the Telegraph Fair, a drive to Solano Avenue or over to College Avenue—unfortunately there’s no city-sponsored shopper shuttle or free parking as in some years past—present a wealth of gifts that don’t support employers of child workers, promote global warming or deplete natural resources. 

If you start your shopping spree at the Ecology Center, a block south of Dwight Way on San Pablo, you’ll find organic cotton socks and baby wear. “Organic cotton keeps the pesticides out of the environment,” says Carrie Bennett, employed at the center for eight months, after having quit an accounting job to work where she can promote the environment while learning to preserve it. 

Bennett points out the recycled paper note cards and recycled glassware. And purses made from discarded packaging. She’s also got a list of books she recommends. One is Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World by Paul Stamets and another is Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway, which Bennett says is a practical “yet an in-depth guide” to gardening. 

On Tuesday, Nuria Bowart was shopping at the Ecology Center with baby Aya for recycled bottles. She fills the bottles with homemade hot sauce to give as gifts. Grace Lee was there too. She had picked out a half-dozen stainless steel water bottles for friends and family. “They don’t leech chemicals like the plastic bottles do,” Lee said, conceding that one has to “get over a little stainless steel taste.” 

If you’re into retro, vintage or even antique clothing, you can cross to the east side of San Pablo and walk toward Dwight Way, where there are three shops that sell vintage apparel, two just south of Dwight Way and one to the north.  

At Icon Vintage, store clerk Bonnie Rippberger told the Daily Planet she had been selling gifts all day—aprons and earrings. Someone had found the perfect gift in a fuzzy 1960s bathrobe.  

The store, Rippberger said, “is for people who really like far out retro stuff.”  

Retro, according to Karen Anderson, owner of Another Vintage, two doors north of Icon, refers to things 20 or more years old, vintage is 30 or more years old and antique is 100 years old.  

“People appreciate not buying new and buying local,” Anderson said. The shop offers a large selection of clothes, hats and jewelry. “They’re all one-of-a kind,” Anderson explained. 

Twisters, just north of Dwight Way, has been in the area for seven years in three different locations. Owner Heidi Spanier welcomes the cluster of vintage shops. Rather than look at them as competition, she says that together they attract more customers.  

Spanier sells mostly jewelry and jackets for gifts—things that don’t have to fit. On the whole, the store’s stock dates from the 1940s to the 1980s. “We do get some ’20s Victorian,” she said. 

Farther north on San Pablo is Ohmega Salvage, which features all sorts of recycled products for the home, including cabinets, lighting fixtures—and even bathtubs. Close by, on Seventh Street near Heintz, is the Wooden Duck that carries furniture made from recycled wood.  

The Global Exchange Store up on College Avenue near Stuart Street, features “fair trade” items. “For all the products in the store, the artisan gets a fair wage,” said Carolyn Gravely, who manages the store.  

Some of the items are environmentally friendly as well as fair trade, such as baskets made from recycled strips of plastic from a co-op in Nepal and doormats made from flip-flops from the Philippines. There are also tote bags, created from old rice sacks by disabled Cambodian workers and silk scarves from Nepal made from recycled silk saris from India. 

There are still two days—Saturday and Sunday—to get to the Telegraph Avenue Holiday Street Fair between Dwight Way and Bancroft Way. Among the hundreds of crafts offered are Peter Neufeld’s belts made from recycled silverware and cheeseboards made by Pat Lloyd from old flattened bottles.  

Of course, on the Avenue are Rasputin Records and Amoeba Music, famous for used records and CDs; for gently-read books on Telegraph there are Moe’s and Shakespeare and Company. 

In fact, in Berkeley one can find used books from independent booksellers in many neighborhoods—there is Pegasus on Solano Avenue near The Alameda and a second Pegasus on Shattuck Avenue near Durant; there’s also Black Oak Books on Shattuck near Durant Avenue. 

And finally, when you get your treasures home, they can be gift-wrapped in something old—the Ecology Center suggests dressing them in old maps, sheet music, colorful advertisements, used baskets or tins, scarves or a child’s drawing.  

At the end of the day, your (organic cotton) wallet will be a whole lot lighter, but you may have saved a tree or two, paid a decent wage to a craftsperson in Berkeley or Nepal and found something you’re happy to give.  

And maybe—possibly—you’ll resist the Macy’s after-Christmas sale.