Choosing the right gift can be tricky at the best of times. Choosing a zero-waste, sustainable, eco-friendly, or ethical gift that won't harm the environment can seem tough. In this guide, you'll find imaginative ideas for all budgets, including ideas that cost nothing at all! Whether you're looking for Christmas, birthdays, or any other occasion, this zero waste gift guide will inspire you with eco-friendly ideas for everyone. As we are all challenged to move towards a more sustainable future, save resources and reduce our waste, now is the time to re-think our gifting and embrace alternative ideas to the usual 'stuff'.
- What is a sustainable gift?
- Zero Waste Gifts
- Food Hampers and Gifts
- Zero Waste Personal Care Products
- Fairtrade Ethical Gifts
- Charity Sponsorships
- Subscriptions, Local Classes and Group Memberships
- Vouchers and Experiences
- Homemade Gifts
- Something for the garden
- Eco Friendly Children's Gifts
- Recycled or Second Hand Gifts
- Your time
- Eco Wrapping
What is a sustainable gift?
A truly sustainable gift does no harm to the environment or has a positive environmental benefit in the long run. Try to choose something recycled, reusable, edible, digital, second hand or made from natural materials for a lower environmental impact. Remember any gift is wasteful if it isn't used! Finally, do check out the section on Eco Wrapping. Once you've bought your gift, you want to make sure you don't ruin the environmental credentials with the wrapping.
Zero Waste Gifts
These are the gifts that help people move toward a more sustainable or zero waste lifestyle. In the long run, these items have a lower environmental impact as they are re-usable. They also help reduce waste by keeping their disposable equivalents out of landfill.
- A stainless steel water bottle. A decent one will last years and replace thousands of single-use water bottles. You can buy them in many different designs and even get them personalised.
- A 'Keep Cup' or reusable coffee cup. Many of the large coffee chains offer a discount if you use a reusable cup.
- Stainless Steel lunchboxes or straws. Stainless steel lunch boxes are a great investment and gift idea. They're durable and won't taint your food with that faint 'plasticky' taste, which could also reduce food waste!
- Re-usable sandwich bags. Made from cloth with waterproof linings and available in loads of different patterns. They are a great reusable way to avoid single-use wrap, especially cling film which cannot be recycled.
- A set of bamboo utensils could come in handy for the commuter or those eating lunch on the go.
- Washable, reusable beeswax wraps are a great alternative to single-use wrap in the kitchen. Available in a range of sizes and lots of different designs.
- Put together a 'Make your own pizza kit' which could include a pizza tray, board, cutter, rolling pin, pizza flour, and maybe a few jars of toppings such as roasted peppers, olives, or capers. This helps avoid packaging and transport emissions from takeaways and deliveries. It's also way cheaper to make your own pizzas so this could be a handy gift that does payback.
- A zero waste coffee kit with a bean grinder, stovetop pot, and some fairtrade coffee beans. If you have a larger budget, you could invest in a countertop barista machine that uses freshly ground coffee (not pods).
Food Hampers and Gifts
If you're looking for a gift that can be wrapped, food is a good eco gift (as long as it doesn't get wasted). A specialty food your 'gift-ee' wouldn't normally buy. If possible try to choose something that's been produced locally and doesn't have excessive packaging. Lots of local producers including cafes and even restaurants now offer a local delivery service.
Specialty teas, local preserves or honey, locally produced ales, ciders, spirits, or nonalcoholic drinks all make great food gifts. You could also gift biscuits, chocolates, or cakes. This is a great way to support and even promote local producers.
Zero Waste Personal Care Products
There are lots of zero waste personal care products available and these make great eco-friendly gifts. From local handmade or organic soaps or shampoo bars to bamboo toothbrushes, toothpaste tabs, or pretty reusable makeup pad removers. For men, a nondisposable razor with shaving soap in a dish is a great sustainable gift and could save several hundred pounds a year.
Fairtrade Ethical Gifts
Fairtrade products make ideal ethical gifts and help support some of the world's poorest farmers. The Fairtrade Organisation uses sustainable farming practices. This not only better protects the health of farmworkers but offers the best long-term farming solutions. There is now a huge choice of Fairtrade products available from food, chocolate, wine, spices, nuts, and oils to gold, sports balls, and clothing (items made from fairtrade cotton). Fairtrade has also launched a subscription-based 'Live Fair' box. This is a box of fairtrade goodies delivered every 4 months, to help you live a little fairer.
Lots of charities have sponsorship gifts and these can make great meaningful present ideas. Give a gift to charity in someone's name and you could save a life. Pick a cause close to the person's heart or match it to their occupation, for example, teacher or midwife. It doesn't have to be expensive and gifts start from around £5. UNICEF Oxfam Christian Aid Save The Children WaterAid, Impact, and CAFOD all offer a wide range of gifts to help those in the Global South.
Causes closer to home that have sponsorship gifts include Centrepoint which helps young people facing homelessness and Refuge which cares for women and children fleeing domestic violence.
Subscriptions, Local Classes and Group Memberships
Many magazine subscriptions are now available online rather than receiving paper copies. Subscriptions to special interest websites such as family history or photography courses or other online learning make useful eco-friendly gifts
Digital streaming subscriptions to services such as Spotify, Netflix or Disney, or Kindle vouchers are examples of great zero-waste gifts that keep on giving.
Subscriptions to local classes or interest groups support your local economy as well as make inspiring eco gifts. Many will have vouchers available that you can gift. Anything from exercise classes to art, birdwatching, or music!
An annual membership subscription to a local or national environmental organization or local veg box scheme also makes good eco-friendly gifts.
Vouchers and Experiences
Vouchers for local restaurants or cafes or afternoon tea make thoughtful sustainable gifts and support your local economy. Other voucher ideas include special cookery classes, foraging courses, or flower arranging. If you're looking for something more active, how about sports activities such as sailing, windsurfing, tree trekking, or golf lessons.
Making your own gifts is not only thoughtful but can be a very sustainable way to gift. You don't need to be particularly arty or creative as there are lots you can do. Put together a photo album or scrapbook for a special birthday or anniversary. A homemade eco-friendly hamper shows care and attention as you can tailor it specifically to what the person likes. Edible gifts that are relatively easy to make yourself and make good gifts include homemade pasta, chocolate truffles, gingerbread biscuits, shortbread, or fudge. Simple homemade eco-friendly pamper gifts include homemade bath bombs or bath salts or a simple DIY body scrub made from coconut oil, sugar, and orange zest.
If you're looking for something more practical, how about a personalized bookmark or a homemade candle using a mason jar or old china cup.
Something for the garden
Gifts for the garden are great eco gifts and bring joy year after year. We have a tree a friend gifted us when one of our children was born. It's survived four house moves and sits in a large pot on our patio. Shrubs or flower or vegetable seeds also make good gifts. A range of herbs for cooking is useful and will also look good. Fruit trees or plants such as rhubarb are low maintenance and gifts that keep on giving. Gifts to entice wildlife are also good eco-friendly ideas such as bird feeders, birdbaths, insect houses, or bat boxes.
Eco Friendly Children's Gifts
It's tempting to buy children's stuff, but there are lots of eco-friendly gift ideas kids will love. Animal adoptions via charities such as WWF can help kids connect with nature. Seeds or plants that produce something edible they can water and watch grow such as tomato, pepper or chili are gifts that will last. A wooden bee or bughouse for insects to nest in can help encourage wildlife in gardens and be exciting for children to watch. Plantable pencils made from 100% recycled paper are a great idea. When the pencil gets too small, you plant it in the ground and watch it grow.
Outdoor sports or courses such as den building, tree trekking, wood crafts, or subscriptions to any activity are good environmental choices. Vouchers for one-off activities they have never tried before or theatre or cinema tickets. How about a subscription to a Toy Library? For a monthly fee, a toy library allows them to borrow toys then return them and swap them for more. This works out at much better value than buying toys outright and it's not wasteful. In the UK visit Whirli, in the US Toy Library, and in Australia, Toy Libraries Australia If you're looking for gifts with little or no cost, you could gift them a teddy bears picnic or vouchers they can use at home for their choice of dinner, film, activity or sleepover.
Recycled or Second Hand Gifts
Second-hand gifts are very eco-friendly as well as cost-effective. Books from a charity shop that can then be re-gifted back. You might like to look at items that have been upcycled. This is a good way of extending the life of a product and making sure it doesn't go to waste. If you're part of a 'Secret Santa' maybe you could suggest that all gifts have to be second-hand.
Don't underestimate the value of your time as a gift. You could helpfully volunteer your time, for example, babysitting, dog sitting, cooking a homemade meal, or doing some gardening. Alternatively, gift time with someone and organize a day out together with a picnic or a visit to a local attraction, or even just a walk. Rather than exchanging Christmas gifts amongst extended family, arranging to meet up and do something special together could bring a lot more joy than a physical gift.
When it comes to wrapping, you want to make sure to wrap it in the most environmentally friendly way. The most sustainable way to wrap is with a reusable gift wrap. Re-use any boxes, gift bags, or wrapping that you have. The Japanese have a special way to wrap things called Furoshiki. Furoshiki is the method of using an eco-friendly cloth to wrap gifts. The cloth is usually square-shaped and durable. There's no tape involved and the cloth is simply tied. There are plenty of YouTube videos showing you how to do this and it's very straightforward. The idea is that the cloth is used over and over again.
If you are using wrapping paper, avoid ones that can't be recycled. For example, ones made from foil or that have glitter on them. If you scrunch it up and it springs back, it can't be recycled. Brown wrapping paper made from recycled paper is a good sustainable option. Decorate it, wrap the string around it or add some pretty foliage to make it look special. Pine cones, evergreen sprigs, or dried leaves are good eco decorations. Sellotape and parcel tape can't be recycled but there are various 'eco tapes' available that are plastic-free and biodegradable.
We all want our gifts to be valued and appreciated and there's so much more we can gift than the usual shop-bought stuff. Some of the best gifts cost nothing at all but show great thought and care. If you have any other ideas you'd like to share, please leave a note in the comments.