by Suzanne Wentley
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The holidays sneak up on me, which makes no sense as I have the entire year to prepare. But still, there’s always a point in November or December when I start beating my head for new ideas for sustainable gifts for friends and family.
Sometimes, I have it all together enough to make gifts. If you happen to be ahead of the game yourself, you may enjoy the first article in this two-part gift guide. I did the brainstorming for you this holiday season!
This is not one of those years. That’s OK because I don’t have to be crafty all the time. While my friends are knitting blankets and soaking vanilla beans in vodka, this holiday season I’ll be purchasing gifts online, shipping them, and not feeling guilty about it at all! In fact, I’m giving myself extra points because everyone on my list will get sustainable gifts.
Just because we’re buying gifts doesn’t mean we have to give up our values. I still care about the Earth. I still strive for a zero-waste lifestyle. I still want everyone I love to be happy and healthy, and I know that buying stuff isn’t the answer. Focusing on buying sustainable gifts means getting them something they’ll love and enjoy.
The gifts I love to give are practical and designed to help make the lives of my friends and family easier every day. Here are 25 thoughtful ideas for sustainable gifts to check off your shopping list this holiday season.
1. Reusable Grocery Bags
All my friends have two bag-related piles: First, they have a massive explosion of plastic grocery bags (or, if they’re Whole Foods shoppers, doubled-up paper bags with ripped handles). Second, they have a spattering of reusable bags they “always forget” on their way into the store.
The solution is foldable reusable grocery bags that fit easily in the center console or a purse. They are affordable, cute, and sturdy enough to hold a gallon of oat milk and all the bars of dark chocolate I can buy. The easy fold-and-go design cuts down on the friction to encourage these friends to up their bag game.
2. Reusable Produce Bags
I have a couple of those stuff-sack grocery bags, but I go a step further, personally. When I go to farmer’s markets or natural food stores, I’ll bring a large wicker basket over my arm filled with a variety of produce bags. Fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, and other items often come in a plastic bag, which is totally unnecessary. I declare success when I can purchase everything I desire without waste. It’s harder to do in a grocery store, where every cauliflower is smothered in plastic, but it’s easier with produce bags.
3. Bamboo Toothbrushes
A toothbrush is a perfect stocking stuffer, and bamboo versions are ideal sustainable gifts. Before you brush this idea by (see what I did there?), consider that discarded plastic toothbrushes account for 50 million pounds of plastic trash every year! Gross!
These bamboo toothbrushes come with different colored bristles, which makes it easy to distinguish if you have more than one person in the household. I also like that they’re soft, since sometimes I’ve purchased toothbrushes that are way too stiff and kinda hurt my teeth. I guess I’m just sensitive!
4. Silicone Sponges
Maybe these sustainable gift ideas aren’t exciting enough for you but stay with me here. Dish sponges can be bacteria-ridden, stinky messes that frequently require a straight-up toss in the garbage. Why not buy a stack of silicone sponges that last much longer? As the cook in the household, I like the idea of getting this for my boyfriend when he washes the dishes each night.
5. Compost Crocks and Bins
Composting is surprisingly easy and rewarding, especially for gardeners. But you have to have the right equipment and read up on the process. You can get it going with two items: an indoor compost crock for the kitchen and a larger bin for outside.
There are many different styles of indoor composting crocks, but I like the simple style with a replaceable filter in the lid to reduce odors. For an outdoor bin, I recommend a tumbler-style compost bin. You fill it up, give it a few spins, and let it work its magic.
6. Solar-Powered Charger
Solar power technology has come a long way, so there’s no reason, really, why anyone should ever have a drained cell phone battery. If someone on your list is always searching for a charge, pick up a portable solar charger. This little survivalist tool can be a real lifesaver — and it saves fossil fuels, too.
7. Travel Mug
Sure, you can get by with one of those $5 plastic travel mugs with an awkward snap-on lid, ugly pattern, and inability to maintain a beverage’s temperature for more than a few minutes. But really, life’s too short.
A good travel mug goes a long way, especially when you’re interested in cutting down on disposable coffee cups. Those cups, by the way, always seem to come with a plastic lid and a paper sleeve to protect your hand. Your loved ones would look much cooler with a high-quality insulated mug instead.
8. Drinking Water Filter
If you know someone who is still buying plastic gallons of drinking water, you’ll do them (and the environment) a huge favor with a gift of a water filter. Modern water filters, whether they come as a pitcher, something to install under the sink faucet, or a standalone unit, provide the same or even better water than what most stores sell in plastic jugs.
The price ranges dramatically, and my advice is to buy whatever drinking water filter is in the budget. Throw in a few extra filters and let them know where to replace them, too. A filter is only as good as how often it’s changed.
9. CSA Subscription
It’s likely there is a CSA, short for “community supported agriculture,” somewhere near you or someone on your list. These are farms that set up programs that allow people in nearby communities to buy shares of the harvest to be picked up or delivered throughout the growing season. The farms get customers, and the customers get farm-fresh food. It’s a win-win.
10. Audible Membership
It’s a digital world, and that’s a good thing for people who prefer to live a minimalist lifestyle. When I sold all my possessions and turned nomadic, I still wanted new books. But I knew I wasn’t going to buy books from a store and lug them around with me. I purchased a Kindle and also got a subscription to Audible. Problem solved!
11. Bento Boxes
Styrofoam takeaway clams are nothing short of embarrassing, in my opinion. I have a pet peeve about trying to put my leftovers neatly in the little square box while seated at the table, and I don’t think the clam does a good job of keeping my food fresh and free of leaks.
It’s also shortsighted to use Styrofoam for 12 hours only to throw it away, as it will linger in a landfill longer than you’ll be alive. It’s a major upgrade to bring your own Bento box. As an added bonus, you can bring it with you to work the next day — even if you take the subway. Might as well pack some reusable bamboo utensils, too.
12. Charity Donation
Some years, I don’t want to buy things for anyone. Those years, I give to charity. I think about the recipient and what they care about. Then, I’ll research different non-profit organizations to confirm they’re doing good work and that they’re trustworthy with the donation.
When making a donation, you can often give “in honor of” someone. Many charities will also send an email to whomever you wish to let them know that you’ve given in their name. These can be different and important sustainable gifts.
13. Recycled Notebooks
I journal every day, and I encourage all my friends to follow my lead. It’s great for your mental health as well as for feeling creative and expressive. But that doesn’t mean I want to cut down some trees to make it all happen. When I give notebooks as gifts, I want them to be functional as well as sustainable. Look for notebooks made from recycled materials in pretty colors for a sure-to-please gift idea.
14. Compostable iPhone Case
If you’re over all my ideas, maybe a spin through the online store of EarthHero will save you some time. They’ve got tons of great sustainable gifts, but my favorite is the compostable iPhone case. I just recently needed to buy a new one, and it’s a bummer that nothing can be done with it. If you have a compost bin, that’s another problem solved.
15. Avocado Green Pillows
Orianna tells me that she has an Avocado Green organic mattress and pillows, and that made me think that those could be really awesome gifts, too. About a decade ago, I found myself waking up at night with a tingling feeling in my hands. After an MRI and carpal tunnel syndrome test, my doctor told me that all I needed was a supportive pillow. He was right.
These organic luxury pillows look like exactly what I use. They naturally mold to your head, neck, and shoulders. What a comfy gift!
16. Tentree Sustainable Outfit
Whatever you do, skip fast fashion when looking for great sustainable gifts. If you want to get something new and cute, check out Tentree. They offset the water use from making their clothing by planting trees and diverting waste from landfills. Plus, their sweaters and athletic wear will last.
17. Indoor Gardens
Is there really anything better than snipping fresh herbs from the garden and using them with whatever you’re cooking? I don’t think so! In many climates, there’s no gardening outdoors during the holiday season. An indoor herb garden would be perfect.
18. Organic Hand Lotion
During the winter, I always have hand lotion within reach. My skin gets so flaky and dry, so I’m always applying a moisturizer of some kind. With so many lovely fragrances and lush ingredients, you can’t go wrong with giving organic hand lotion as a gift. I simply love EO French Lavender hand cream, and anyone on your list will, too.
19. Soy Candle
Candles are always burning during the holidays, but that’s not necessarily a good thing when it comes to having good air quality indoors. Most candles are made with paraffin and emit toxins into the atmosphere. Soy candles are much better sustainable gifts. For a sophisticated Christmas aroma, try a pine and agarwood scented soy candle.
20. Dryer Balls
If someone you know is still using fabric softener, it’s time to give them a major upgrade. Dryer balls do the same thing but without all the chemicals. Plus, you can use them repeatedly without having to throw away plastic bottles. Dryer balls also have the added benefit of drying clothes faster, which saves electricity.
21. Beeswax Food Wraps
This list isn’t wrapped up yet — but maybe those leftovers need to be. Beeswax wraps are a great addition to a kitchen otherwise addicted to wasteful products like plastic wrap or aluminum foil. I first discovered these items from a friend who made her own, and I’ve used them for years. I recommend giving a variety pack of beeswax wraps, so everything’s covered.
22. Thrift Store Finds
Not everything has to be purchased new to be the perfect gift. If you limit yourself to shopping in secondhand stores, you’ll always be guaranteed to give sustainable gifts. Take note of what’s missing in the houses of your friends and family, then keep them in mind as you wander around thrift or antique stores. For example, a friend collects vintage jadeite glass. Whenever I see something, I pick it up for a future present I know she’ll love.
23. Bamboo Sheets
We spend a third of the day in bed, if we’re lucky, so we might as well make the most of it. Bamboo sheets are a gift that’s luxurious as well as sustainable. Bamboo is actually grass, so it grows super-fast. That makes it a renewable resource!
24. Coffee of the Month Subscription
Last Christmas, I found a local coffee roaster in my parents’ town. I subscribed for a monthly coffee subscription, which involved sending them a bag of single-origin beans every month. They enjoyed the coffee and looked forward to seeing what arrived. If your friends and family don’t like coffee, there are many other drinks and treats companies offer as part of monthly subscriptions.
Finally, if you’re still stumped about what to get someone while remaining true to your values of reducing our carbon footprint and living a minimalist lifestyle, think about experiences. What would your friends and family like to do? Maybe they’d like concert tickets, a day at an amusement park, or admission to a local art museum. When there’s nothing material to buy, you know you’re staying sustainable — and putting a smile on their faces, too!
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