It's almost Christmas again . . ....


It's almost Christmas again . . . which means it's time for your annual dose of Santa Claustrophobia as you search through crowded stores, hunting for the "perfect" gift.

Want some suggestions? Here's my first list of "12 Simple (and Unusual) Things You Can Give to Help Save the Earth."

1. A gift certificate to a local nursery ($10-$25). The ultimate "green" gift. If you'd rather give something more impressive, make it a houseplant, which is not only pretty but practical -- houseplants clean up indoor pollution. Among the most effective pollution fighters: philodendrons, spider plants.

2. Recycled writing paper ($6-$19). There's no "cycle" in "recycle" unless we buy recycled materials, too. Look for recycled stationery at a local store, or call the Earth Care Paper Co. at (608) 277-2900. It has everything from 12-piece stationery sets to reams of blank 100 percent recycled paper.

3. A cotton shower curtain (about $30). Tired of smelly, moldy plastic shower curtains? So are your friends. Give them this attractive, natural alternative. Check bath stores, or order from NOPE (Non-Polluting Enterprises) at (800) 782-NOPE.

4. Rechargeable batteries and charger ($18 and up). Convenient, saves money and keeps hazardous waste out of the environment; disposable alkaline batteries contain toxic mercury. Most hardware stores stock at least one brand.

5. A gift certificate for a month of diaper service for new parents (about $40-$50 a month). Be sure to find out if your friends already use a service, so you can get a certificate at the right one. Also recommended: cloth diaper covers. As a new father, I can vouch for Nikkys and Bio-bottoms ($8.95-$16.50).

6. "The Recycler's Handbook" by the EarthWorks Group ($4.95). An entertaining and inexpensive way to make recycling a part of your life. Fascinating facts, how-tos and answers to basic questions. Printed on recycled paper, of course. A good stocking-stuffer.

7. A permanent coffee filter ($20). Do your friends still use paper coffee filters? A permanent one will cut down on waste, and your friends will never have to worry about running out of filters again. I can recommend a brand called Swiss Gold, but shop around.

8. A hat from the San Francisco Hat Co. ($24.95). Help save rain-forest trees by supporting sustainable resources. Give a fedora-style straw hat handwoven out of native palm by the Quiche Indians in Guatemala. Order from Gardener's Supply at (800) 457-4031.

9. Cloth napkins ($4 and up apiece). An elegant way to break the "disposable dependency."

10. "Save the World" ($23). A board game for ages 11 and up. Players have the solutions to environmental threats -- but they have to use them. Created by a small Los Angeles firm called Bongers. For last-minute orders, call (213) 455-1667; they'll send it COD. Or write to Bongers, P.O. Box 84366, Los Angeles, Calif. 90073.

11. A subscription to P-3, the Earth-Based Magazine for Kids ($18). The best children's environmental magazine anywhere, and a gift kids will enjoy all year. Fun facts, games, cartoons and lots more teach good eco-habits. To order, call (802) 326-4669 or write to P.O. Box 52, Montgomery, Vt. 05470. Tell them it's a gift, and they'll send a card.

12. An audiocassette tape of eco-music for kids. Recommended: "All in this Together" (ages 4-10) from Sisters' Choice Records and "Dirt Made My Lunch" from the Banana Slug String Band (ages 4-8); $9.98 each, available from Music for Little People, (800) 346-4445.

*The EarthWorks Group

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