Culture Editor Ilina Jha walks us through Birmingham’s sustainable shops in time for the Christmas season

Written by Ilina Jha

Christmas is coming, there is shopping to do, and we are students living on increasingly tight budgets in a cost-of-living crisis. While the festive season is an exciting time for many of us, the pressure to get meaningful gifts for our friends and family on limited budgets can be overwhelming – and that’s not to mention the environmental concerns about plastic packaging, wastage, and rampant, capitalist consumerism. How do we balance being environmentally conscious and financially friendly with our desire to give Christmas presents?

Some, of course, decide to eschew presents entirely and focus more on other, equally (if not more) important aspects of Christmas. However, you do not have to give up the gift of giving this Christmas. 

Here are some of the best places to shop sustainably on a budget in Birmingham:

Harbourne’s Charity Shops:

Charity shops are undoubtedly some of the best places to go for sustainable shopping. You’re buying second-hand items, thus lengthening their use. You’re getting them for a stellar bargain and you’re supporting a fantastic cause while you’re doing it – what’s not to like?

Charity shops are undoubtedly some of the best places to go for sustainable shopping

As any student knows, Harborne is the place to go in Birmingham for charity shops. From clothes to DVDS, and decorations to rugs, you can find almost anything along Harborne’s high street – including a huge variety of budget friendly Christmas cards, wrapping, and ribbon.

My personal favourite has to be the Oxfam Bookshop. From romance, thriller, fantasy, and the classic works of literature that many an English student will be familiar with, you’re sure to find a fiction book to suit anyone. For those with a preference for non-fiction, there is also plenty to choose from, with books on history, politics, religion, cooking, and more. For the younger members of your family, there is a range of both classic and contemporary children’s books, and there is even an impressive collection of music records. 

The Clean Kilo, Bournville:

The Clean Kilo in Bournville is the largest zero-waste supermarket in the UK. They sell various food and household products that don’t have plastic packaging, instead using bulk dispensers and asking customers to bring their own containers to fill with items. Not only is the environmental ethos of The Clean Kilo very impressive, they also work hard to ensure that their environmental principles do not come at a hefty price tag, meaning you don’t have to be rich to buy their high-quality, organic and artisan products.

The Clean Kilo sells a range of items that make perfect Christmas presents

The Clean Kilo sells a range of items that make perfect Christmas presents. Their boxes of beautiful artisan chocolate truffles – that just so happen to be vegan, too! – will surely delight any sweet tooth. You can also find a selection of eco-friendly lifestyle items ranging from children’s books to beeswax lip balm and natural, plastic-free chewing gum. If you know anyone who is particularly keen to become more environmentally friendly, perhaps they might like a reusable straw, reusable beeswax food wraps, or even Jen Gale’s book The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.

For those who can’t make it in-person to Bournville, The Clean Kilo has an online shop where you can order items for delivery right to your own home – and you’ll have the comfort of knowing that your items have only travelled a short distance, rather than hundreds of miles, to reach you.

An online option – The Ethical Superstore:

For those who find navigating their way through the hordes of Christmas shoppers to be their worst nightmare, there are, of course, many ways in which you can shop sustainably online, from the comfort of your own home. You’ll most likely already know of sites such as eBay, Vinted, and AbeBooks, which are great places to find second-hand, affordable items. But another great option is The Ethical Superstore’s website. 

…there are, of course, many ways in which you can shop sustainably online

This online shop does what is says on the tin: it sells ethical products. Everything from food to clothes to home furnishings can be found on The Ethical Superstore. Some items are, of course, a little on the pricier end. However, the ‘Christmas’ section includes the category ‘Gifts Under £10’, which currently has 160 products to choose from. Biscuits, chocolates, candles, books, and bath bombs; the choice is almost endless. All are ethically and sustainably made, and many gifts are even geared towards sustainability – for example, you can buy seedball tubes that make it easy to grow wildflowers in your garden or in a plant pot, encouraging biodiversity and bees. For ethical and sustainable gifts that don’t break the bank, the ‘Gifts Under £10’ section of The Ethical Superstore website is the place to go.

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