Everyday enviro with Elise: joke gifts are no laughing matter

Everyday enviro with Elise: joke gifts are no laughing matter

By Elise Catterall  November 16th, 2021

With Christmas approaching, Elise reflects on that time she bought her boss a singing fish and why we’d all be better off if we steer clear of the gimmicks.


As summer approaches in Australia, so does the time of year for gift giving. And, this year, holiday season is likely be more special than most due to the extended period of absence we have had from many of our loved ones. However, as we start making shopping lists for gifts, I have one request for you: no gadgets or joke gifts.

I am guilty of doing the last-minute Christmas gift trawl and landing on a funny, quirky gadget or joke present that no one needs, and almost certainly no one wants after the novelty wears off. Here are some of the highlights of my ‘gadget hall of shame’ gift purchases over past years:

  • A fish that flaps and sings when you walk past it. That was for a boss, astoundingly I wasn’t fired.

  • Plastic egg/tomato/cucumber slicers.

  • A mini dust buster for a keyboard.

  • A gravity operated dunking bird thing — the ones that bob into your drink. Why?

  • A lava drops desk toy.

  • A pin art toy that holds the impression of your hand, face, etc.

I’m embarrassed just thinking about these gifts, not least because they show how little thought I put into them. They do provide a good opportunity, though, to reflect on how not to shop. What are the chances that any of these gifts are still being used and enjoyed by the recipient? Pretty low. In fact, it’s unlikely that they were ever used and enjoyed. After all, did they even want them in the first place?

I don’t mean to seem all bah humbug, but let’s look at why these types of gifts are best avoided.

Firstly, a huge amount of resources and materials go into their manufacture. Do we really need to waste precious metals to make chips that allow a plastic fish to sing a song? Then there are the resources and materials used for packaging, the carbon miles that go into transport and delivery — because rarely are these items made locally. And then, of course, the impact on landfill when the novelty has inevitably worn off and they get thrown away. 

On top of all that, they are also a wasted opportunity to do some good with your gift giving, whether it be a thoughtful, appreciated gift that demonstrates how much you value the recipient, something that gives back, or something that isn’t a burden on the planet like an experience. Gadgets and joke gifts achieve none of that.

This year, consider giving a gift of a donation to an ape sanctuary, instead of buying a gorilla that swings around on a plastic post. Oh yeah, I bought that one too. Tsk, tsk. Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information.

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


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Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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