This holiday season may give new meaning to the term "recycled gifts."
Take a stroll through the stores and you're likely to find, amid the usual toasters and slippers and television sets, a surprising array of ecology- minded products. 'Tis the season, it seems, to save the planet.
Christmas cards and gift-wrapping paper made from recycled paper were the forerunners of this movement. Now you'll find chocolates shaped like endangered animals. You can buy T-shirts and part of what you pay will go toward rehabilitating diseased seals. In all, 13% of the products that debuted on the market last year made some sort of environmental pitch, according to one report.
Claiming that your product will help save the rain forest, or won't harm the ozone, is simply good business, analysts say. More and more buyers keep those sorts of things in mind. But that's the cynical view.
Let's pretend it has to do with good will. Let's envision Santa Claus in a green suit this year. Here is a brief list of suggestions:
* The au courant gift is Vice President-elect Al Gore's book, "Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit" (Houghton Mifflin). Times reviewer Chris Goodrich warns that the 372-page tome can read dryly at times. But it has drawn praise for being sincere, complete and forward-thinking. And, at $21.95, it ranks among the less-expensive global gifts.
Other book selections include the $10.95 Environmental Almanac (Houghton Mifflin), with facts to guide your daily actions, and "Environmental Vacations: Projects to Save the Planet" for $15.95 from John Muir Publications.
So you'd better read up. As President Bush would say, Captain Ozone is on his way to the White House and we'll be up to our necks in spotted owls.
* Those with a shorter attention span can opt for a video-game alternative. EcoQuest, which runs on IBM computers, promises to take you on "a thrilling adventure that underscores the delicate and miraculous balance of nature."
Players follow the exploits of young Adam and Delphineus the Dolphin as they brave the terrors of toxic waste, oil spills and deadly drift nets. The game includes a booklet of environmental suggestions. In addition, the manufacturer, Sierra On-Line Inc., pledges to donate an unnamed portion of the $35 price to the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
* U.S. Roads has taken what is perhaps the most novel approach to the ecological gift. These leather and suede desert boots have soles made from recycled tires. According to a pamphlet that accompanies each pair, they were concocted by Jack Donovan, a bootlegging trucker during Prohibition days.
What other manufacturer would hope to lure customers with "that old and neglected tire that modestly had given all it could, yet was unable to disappear, unrecyclable and unburnable, forever polluting and providing mosquito breeding holes."
Indeed. U.S. Roads can be found at Journeys shoe stores for about $100.
* If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, you might try influencing that big lug on your gift list with Natural Wonders' "Chocolate Animal Kingdom." It's a milk-chocolate globe the size of a softball and opens to reveal a half-dozen endangered animals--also made of chocolate--inside. Once your fellah has consumed all this sugar, he might have the energy to read the box, with its suggestion that he learn more about endangered species.
The globe goes for $15. Natural Wonders also sells books and videotapes with environmental information.
* The Body Shop is a cosmetics chain that claims to avoid the unnecessary packaging and animal testing that the industry is often accused of. Many of their products are sold in refillable containers. They market buttons and T-shirts with ecology slogans.
They also offer scented soap in the shapes of endangered animals. While these may not directly aid the environment, they are inexpensive at $1.40 each and, if you use your imagination, they might just be consciousness-raising. The turtle smells like cucumber, the rhinoceros like mango and the giant panda like coconut.
* O Wear markets a line of organic cotton T-shirts and casual wear that you can find at the Sherman Oaks Bullock's. Organic cotton, in case you didn't know, is grown without the use of chemicals.
There's a video that plays on monitors in the store and explains all this. "People seem to really love it," a Bullock's employee said. The line includes jeans (at a pricey $75), jackets, sweat pants and, appropriately, mock turtlenecks.
Meanwhile, Wet Seal stores sell $15 cotton T-shirts that bear the photograph of a seal on the front and this pledge on the back: "Proud contributors to the Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach. Help save seals."
* If all these choices seem puzzling, Eddie Bauer has the gift for you. For $12, you can purchase a good old-fashioned jigsaw puzzle with scenes of mountain meadows. The cardboard portions are made from recycled materials. And the box lists a nifty recycling idea: "Donate used puzzles to homes for the elderly or a local hospital."
There's also a kit for planting Blue Spruce trees, in case you have an urge to do the Johnny Appleseed thing.
More such gifts may arrive by next Christmas. Nike, for one, plans to retail a shoe made partially from recycled rubber soles. By spring, stores should have this politically correct sneaker from the people who brought us "Air Jordans."
Maybe they should call them "Clean-Air Jordans."