Zero Waste Holiday Gifts

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There’s nothing like the feeling of waking up Christmas morning when all the anticipation hits its peak and you will finally know what’s in those beautifully-wrapped gifts under the tree. I used to wait breathlessly to see what would fill my Christmas pile, but now I prefer to be the one filling those gifts. It’s more fun to finally watch someone open a gift I’ve specially chosen for them and see the excitement on their face.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of nearly-zero-waste gift ideas to help you on your search for the perfect gift. The purpose of this guide is not to make you feel limited by the zero waste aspect, in fact, I’m hoping it shows you that you have tons of options! A few of these require a little extra time and effort on your part, but that’s the best part of receiving one of these gifts; the lucky recipient will notice the effort and love you put into it.

For the neighbors

Sweet or savory butters

Presented in a small 4-oz jar, these look beautiful and take very little time, yet they feel very festive and indulgent. It’s a simple matter of mixing fillings into softened butter to spoon into the jar. Some of our favorites are raspberry, herb, or honey butter. To spice it up (see what I did there??), gift with a vintage spreader or fresh loaf of bread.

Stovetop potpourri

A variety of wintertime fragrances presented in a jar or bag is a simple (we’re all about simple over here) way to share holiday cheer. Some of the most fulfilling parts of the season are the moments when a special bake is filling the house with goodness, or you get a whiff of pine and/or cinnamon when walking past a tree. Find examples of potpourri kits here  or here. You may be able to find many of the ingredients in bulk (especially cinnamon sticks) or at least sold in larger quantities with limited packaging.

Homemade baking mixes

Baking supplies can be easier to find in bulk, and measuring out dry ingredients is something even children can help with. Try a pancake, biscuit, or brownie mix + wooden spoon or a hot cocoa mix + ceramic mug. These look lovely presented in a jar or cloth bag.

Treats presented in a tin or jar

Homemade or not, sweet or savory, there will always be room for edible gifts. Our own family traditions include making caramels and savory snack mix for our friends and neighbors.

FOR LOVED ONES

Self-care

Seed Phytonutrients. Naturally made with the power of seeds and independent, organic farmers; I especially love the Ultra Rich Facial Cream, lip balm, and callous balm.

Homemade sugar scrub. This vanilla sugar cookie version sounds good enough to eat.

Spa experience. Massage, pedicure, facial… this will make them feel pampered. Try out a local green spa for a more zero waste option.

For the host

Handmade ceramics. Notary Ceramics, East Fork Pottery, and Henry Street Studio are a few of my favorites right now.

Walnut serving board. Specially designed by Fresh Exchange, this is a beautiful heirloom piece that could grace a table of any style.

Local art and crafts. Look up your local craft guild and pay a visit, you never know what one-of-a-kind treasures you’ll find.

Floral arrangement workshop. Let your loved one spend some time amid the roses with a local floral workshop.

For the Fashion icon

Winter accessories. A soft wool scarf or beanie by Everlane will be worn season after season.

Alpaca sweater. It’s the new merino; alpaca wool is ever so soft and warm, plus it’s more sustainable than merino. I’m gifting this one to myself this year.

This cashmere crew from Everlane is a great sweater option for the men.

Pure wool socks. Made from 100% Jacobs Wool, knit in Ireland, then hand-dyed with natural plant dyes by the lovely Kathryn Davey in her studio in Dublin.

For the adventurer

Bamboo travel cutlery set. Lightweight essentials for eating out that come in a neat canvas pouch.

Insulated waterbottle. This one from Kleen Kanteen keeps hot drinks hot for 20 hours and iced ones cold for 50.

Pass to a climbing gym.

Escape room experience. These are especially fun for groups.

Sponsor a run. If you have a loved one who enjoys running, offer to sponsor one of their runs. Don’t forget to go cheer them on!

For the [aspiring] chef

Handcarved wooden spoon. This is perfect for spices, jam or travel.

Lovely linen tea towels. Timeless fabric and zero waste to boot.

Toribe kitchen scissors. Japanese kitchen scissors for cutting herbs, salads, meats, and nori.

Cooking class for one or two. Specialty cooking stores often have fun cooking classes that teach technique while allowing you to dine on your creations.

Foraging tour. This is a unique experience they would remember for a long time.

Other

Subscription for favorite video game or tv platform.

Gardening or compost class.

Lecture tickets.

FOR THE Children

It is so fun to shop for kids, and they love receiving gifts, but often their favorites are not the most elaborate, expensive toys. A found acorn, broken necklace, or special rock may excite them. And the specific gift you give may not be as important as the love behind the gift and chance you give them to let their imaginations run wild.

A handmade gift

  • Wooden peg dolls dressed with scrap fabrics and acorn hats

  • Put together a kit for them to have their own adventures (example: build-your-own fort kit with a sheet, clothespins, a length of rope, a flashlight)

A re-gift

  • A place to display their favorite treasures - shallow basket, special box, or drawer divider

  • Old jewelry for dressing-up

An experience

  • Museum pass

  • Movie or concert tickets

  • Zoo membership

  • Cooking class for kids

  • Pottery-painting class

  • Flower or herb seeds

  • Contribution to college fund

Ask the parent what their child needs

I don’t know many parents that wouldn’t welcome a family member or friend asking for a list of their child’s needs to give as Christmas gifts. You ensure that the child is getting something they can use, often fulfilling a need the parents would have had to pay for on their own. And you know your gift won’t end up permanently at the bottom of the toy bin. It’s a win-win.

If approaching a parent feels awkward, try adapting this message: “Hi [parent’s name], if it’s okay with you, I’d like to give [child’s name] an experience or contribute to a need they have for Christmas this year. Is there something that [child’s name] needs that I can give them as a gift?”

For the parents

If you’re the parent, you can ask close family and friends for specific items or no gifts. It may be a bit awkward at first, and it does require being a bit understanding as you may still get some gifts you didn’t ask for or didn’t need, but most people are usually happy to give your child something he/she will actually use. When our daughter was born we set up a college fund for her and told our parents that we’d welcome contributions to the fund instead of gifts if they so choose.

A NOTE ON WRAPPING

A great way to reduce your footprint during the holiday season is by using wrappings that can be reused or recycled. Try plain brown paper for wrapping gifts (plus, these come in huge rolls, saving you $$ - here is the one we have) for a classic minimalist look. Or you can simply save papers you receive from packaging, old newspapers, or previous gifts. If papers you save end up a little crinkled, it’s no problem; just mush them together a few times until they’re evenly crinkled and then wrap all the same. Replace plastic bows with bits of greenery, tiny bags of sweets, drawings, silk ribbon, or small treasures.

You don’t have to stick with the classic paper wrappings, either. Try using cloth - Japanese furoshiki style, glass jars, metal tins, or even old boxes and bags.

All those fancy wrapping papers are tempting, but a hand-decorated gift can look just as enticing. And at the end of the day, it’s the love behind the gift that really counts.

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