Eco-products Under the Holiday Tree

With less than a week to go until Christmas, many are probably beginning to worry that they won’t finish their holiday shopping in time. What about that gift for your paternal aunt’s husband’s second cousin’s kid?

When we visited the December Eco Products Fair here in Tokyo, we kept in mind the quickly approaching day of gift giving that is celebrated by a couple of billion people worldwide. Here are a few items that caught our eye and, while the exact items may not be available in all local markets, we hope they can inspire everyone and the elves to think a little more ecologically when off on last-minute shopping outings.

A twist on the old necktie standby

What’s a more classic gift for a male relative than a tie? Over the years, ties have changed shape, style, colour and pattern. But never has there been such an emphasis on the material from which they are made. Forget the 100% silk tie or its impostor, polyester. Did you know that banana trees are a good source of fibre to produce high quality textiles?

necktie

“Banana fibres may one day be a substitute for cotton.”

While the fruit is loved throughout the world, banana stems are usually regarded as waste and more than a billion tonnes are discarded to rot each year.  The harder outer part of the stem can be used for tablewear and baskets; the inner soft part can be used as material for things like kimonos.

Banana textiles are mostly manufactured, with a machine extracting the fibre from the plant. These machines require a human assistant and therefore banana fibre textiles support rural and small entrepreneurs in developing countries, not to mention banana-cultivating farmers. Further, compared to cotton, banana fibre takes 10 times less water to produce. While today only 3% of the fibres can be used, if their full potential is realised, banana fibres may one day be a substitute for cotton.

If you get your necktie from this particular company they’ll additionally offset its carbon footprint.  One banana necktie costs US$60 (¥5,000).

Midorie means green for your walls

There’s nothing like taking a deep breath and savouring the fresh air of green spaces. In the small apartments and crowded cities that many of us live in, adding a little green may seem like a daunting task. There’s not enough space on the shelf and most certainly none on the floor.

plant

“These wall plant designs allow you to give the gift of green to people living anywhere.”

But what about your walls?  One Japanese company, Midorie, has created beautiful wall plant designs just for that purpose. And for this particular giving season, they have wall plots as small as 19cm by 19cm and even ones designed with a little Christmas or New Year touch.

Using a specially designed medium that Suntory (Midorie’s parent company) calls “pafcal”, the wall hanging plots are dirt-free and designed in a way so that water doesn’t drip down and leave an unsightly stain. Like rooftop gardens, which we explored in a past article, these wall plants have the similar effect of purifying the air and insulating rooms. They also clean the air and prevent “sick building syndrome” both by removing harmful toxins like benzene and formaldehyde, and refreshing the oxygen supply.

Coming in a size as large as the distance from your ceiling to your floor, to just a square photo frame size, these wall plant designs allow you to give the gift of green to people living anywhere. While the small wall frame may not have a major impact on the room it’s hanging in, it may get your friend thinking greener in terms of future room decor.

Midorie’s prices start from US$60 (¥5,000). A similar system (though this one uses soil), can also be ordered from a California-based company’s website.

Environmental game cards

The best gifts we found for kids were the game cards “My Earth.” Designed by students at Keio University, the game is played in a similar way to the famous Pokemon Cards, but adds a useful environmental awareness-raising twist. Are you on the side of saving the planet or destroying it?

cards

“My Earth game cards reward kids for protecting endangered species.”

It’s great way to get kids learning and thinking about ‘the environment’. For example, in a strategy battle, it’s possible to draw a “Turn up your air conditioning” card that contributes to global warming, or, alternatively, get the support of an environmental non-profit organisation to fight back against pollution. In this way, players learn in a fun way how their day-to-day actions have an effect on the environment.

The cards are extremely popular with young boys, with the game’s website quoting one young player:  “The cards for global warming are so powerful (high in points) and to learn that that’s actually is happening in reality was a big shock.”

You can find them at your local Japanese book store or order them online. The game card starter pack costs US$24 (¥2,000).

Not your average soap

Soap is one of those holiday gifts that either makes great stocking-stuffers or an obligatory gift that is thought to please any female. Nonetheless, if you are going to purchase some gifts from the body-care department, have you taken into consideration products that not only use natural ingredients but are made in a low carbon way?

soap

“PopCube soap is produced using solar energy.”

At the Eco Products Fair, we came across PopCube. Not only are PopCube soaps biodegradable, cute and come in an array of smells and colours, but they are made with solar energy produced from solar panels on top of the factory. In addition, using a cold-processing method, the cubes are saponified at a low 40 degrees Celsius and are then left to air dry for two months. Regular soap on the other hand is often heated at temperatures over 100 degrees Celsius. One PopCube soap bar: $6.30 (¥525).

In another environmental initiative, Max Soap is making use of its annual 100 tonnes of leftover cosmetic soap and recasting soap bars for use in the kitchen.

A little green vroom-vroom

Today, there are many ways to get around town in an ecological way: electric cars, hybrid cars, three litre cars, compressed air, you name it. For short trips to the supermarket or a quick cruise around the city perimeters, why not hop on board a stylish electric scooter?

earscooter

“The earscooter recharges easily by plugging into your wall socket.”

At the fair we by-passed the big automotive companies and came to a small manufacturer by the name of Tanoshii (which means fun in Japanese). Better known for their wheelchairs, they’ve created the earscooter that is equivalent in power to a 50cc motor cycle. It weighs only 52 kilograms and can accelerate up to speeds of 40 km/h. After travelling for approximately 40km, the bike’s battery needs a recharge.

So why choose an electric scooter over an electric car, you may ask? Well, if you are only travelling short distances — e.g., from your home to your office — the scooter needs 50-60% less energy then the electric car. Moreover, it easily plugs into your wall socket (many e-cars still need to be recharged at a charging unit) . Earscooter is priced at US$2,240 (¥187,950).

Space solar charger in your pocket

If you are planning on getting yourself the latest iPhone G4 or Android 2.3, why not offset (at least part of) your environmental impact by buying a solar charger to go with it? The space solar charge is small and comes designed as a key holder so you’ll never be without it. The device charges for up to 20 hours at a time and provides energy for at least 30-40 minutes of talk time (depending on your phone.) It comes with a variety of plugs so it can adapt to whatever model of phone you have.

charger

“Eco, perhaps, but how serious is the space solar charger?”

Sadly, we found that the device requires a battery to capture the energy absorbed from the light and deliver it to your handset. But the built-in battery powers the LED lights which can be used as a flashlight on a dark night and help you find the keyhole to your front door. While it may not offer a serious solution for those serious talkers, it is one of those tiny but smart accessories.  Price: US$23.60 (¥1,980).

We hope that these examples inspire you and have given you an idea of how you can be more environmentally friendly while crossing items off your holiday shopping list. Don’t forget to add finishing touches, such as wrapping your gift in recycled paper or old magazines, and enjoy that green Christmas under your sustainably managed pine tree. No matter what you give and who you give it to, please give with not only a warm heart but also a green mind.

Creative Commons License
Eco-products Under the Holiday Tree by Megumi Nishikura and Stephan Schmidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Authors

Megumi Nishikura’s life purpose is to use the power of media to enlighten and inspire individuals to make choices that build a more positive sustainable world. She has been producing documentary films addressing global issues since 2003.

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