Choosing the right gift can be tricky at the best of times. Choosing a zero-waste, plastic-free, or ethical gift can be tough. In this guide, I've pulled together the best sustainable gift ideas for all budgets, including ideas that cost nothing at all! Whether you're looking for Christmas, birthdays, or any other occasion, this guide will inspire and help you choose something really special. I've ideas for men, women, and children. Once you've chosen your gift, don't forget to check out the section on eco-wrapping!
- Why Choose a Zero Waste, Plastic Free or Ethical Gift?
- What is a Sustainable Gift?
- What is an Ethical Gift?
- Zero Waste Gift Ideas
- Eco Friendly Food Hampers
- Zero Waste Personal Care Gifts
- Fairtrade Ethical Gifts
- Charity Sponsorships -zero waste, plastic free & ethical!
- Subscriptions, Local Classes and Group Memberships
- Vouchers and Experiences
- Zero Waste and Plastic Free Homemade Gifts
- Zero Waste Gifts for the garden
- Zero Waste and Plastic Free Gifts for Children
- Recycled or Second Hand Gifts
- Your time
- Zero Waste Gift Wrapping
Why Choose a Zero Waste, Plastic Free or Ethical Gift?
The type of gifts we buy can have a big environmental impact with long-lasting consequences. But it's not hard to choose gifts that are zero waste, plastic free, and ethical.
In our consumer-driven society, our abundance of stuff is causing serious harm to our environment. Considering how something was made, how long it will last, and how it will be disposed of, can help us make good sustainable gift choices that still bring lots of joy and happiness.
What is a Sustainable Gift?
Choosing sustainable gifts, make a real statement. A sustainable gift does not harm the environment or has a positive environmental benefit in the long run. 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.
What is an Ethical Gift?
Ethical gifts are gifts that haven't been made cheaply using slave labour or gifts that have a positive social impact. Often choosing an ethical gift will mean supporting the maker of the gift, such as through Fairtrade for example. It could be a sponsorship gift or a gift that supports a social enterprise. The money you spend on your gift can have a long-term positive impact on communities for years to come.
Zero Waste Gift Ideas
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.
Budget Zero Waste Gift Ideas
- A stainless steel water bottle. 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 with your reusable cup.
- Stainless Steel lunchboxes or straws are a great investment and gift idea. They're durable and won't taint your food with that faint 'plasticky' taste, which could also help reduce food waste!
- Re-usable sandwich bags. Made from cloth with waterproof linings and available in loads of different patterns.
- A set of bamboo utensils could come in handy for the commuter or those eating lunch on the go.
- Washable, reusable beeswax wraps come in lots of different designs and make an eye catching gift.
More Expensive Zero Waste Gift Ideas
- Put together a 'Make your own pizza kit' with 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) for the ultimate zero-waste coffee experience.
- A reusable shaving kit makes a great gift. It saves hundreds of disposable razors and the blades can be recycled. Traditional shaving soap lasts ages and is a great environmental and cheaper alternative to shaving foam in aerosols.
Eco Friendly Food Hampers
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, doesn't have excessive packaging, and is plastic-free. 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 eco 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 Gifts
There are lots of zero-waste personal care products available and these make great eco-friendly plastic-free 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).
Charity Sponsorships -zero waste, plastic free & ethical!
Lots of charities have sponsorship gifts and these can make lovely 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.
Subscriptions, Local Classes and Group Memberships
Many magazine subscriptions are now available online rather than receiving paper copies and make great zero-waste plastic-free gifts. Subscriptions to special interest websites such as family history or photography courses or other online learning can bring joy for months and years to come.
Digital streaming subscriptions to services such as Spotify, Netflix, 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?
Zero Waste and Plastic Free Homemade Gifts
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?
Zero Waste Gifts 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 zero waste 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.
Zero Waste and Plastic Free Gifts for Children
It's tempting to buy children 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 chilli plants 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 and zero-waste 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 bear 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 zero waste and cost-effective. Books from a charity shop 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.
Zero Waste Gift Wrapping
When it comes to wrapping, you want to make sure to wrap your gift in the most environmentally friendly plastic-free way. A reusable gift wrap is most sustainable. Re-use any boxes, gift bags, or wrapping you already have.
The Japanese have a special way of wrapping 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 how to do this. 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 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 paper based '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 and check out my other Eco Living Tips.