Sustainable Gift Giving: How To Have A Zero Waste Holiday

This year consider some meaningful green ideas for sustainable gift giving on your special occasions.

Hands holding a gift wrapped in fabric
(Image credit: byanikona / 500px / Getty Images)

The holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions often call for a gift. In our disposable world filled with things that end up in landfills, green gifting ideas can help build a more sustainable world. Fortunately, manufacturers are listening and there are many sustainable gift options for purchase. Some of the best ways to practice sustainable giving can also stem from homemade or repurposed items. So the next holiday season, eco-friendly, low waste options can be had with a push of a button, swipe of the card, or by taking a little time to create something meaningful.

Why You Should Try Sustainable Gift Giving

Landfill capacity has become exhausted in many areas. One publication states that 45.4 million tons of waste is dumped per year. That is clearly an unsustainable situation. Gift wrapping, packaging, and throw away consumption culture further exacerbates the issue. Setting a standard for zero waste, saving money, minimizing our carbon footprint, choosing ethically sourced items and shopping local are all easy ways to help the sustainable agenda. Selecting wanted or needed gifts, and minimizing the number of gifts in favor of sentimental or experience based presents can further impact us in a beneficial way.

Sustainable Gift Ideas

Before embarking on a gift finding expedition, define the receiver's expectation. Make sure you know what they want and that it will be useful. Solve a problem, find a lasting item, and focus on the practical. Something that was truly thought about and that will fill the giftee with delight doesn’t have to be expensive, trendy, or even modern. Each person is different and there is no one size fits all gift solution, but the present can be very meaningful with careful consideration. Once you know the focus, finding sustainable gifting ideas becomes much easier.

Give from Your Garden

Consumables aren’t as likely to go to waste. Craft a gift from the garden. Whether it is the gift of fresh produce from the garden or items made from things you have grown, food is the language of the heart.

Homemade salsa, preserves, zucchini bread, fresh or dried fruit, and other home grown products are sure to be appreciated. Herb oils, rhubarb wine, and home brewed cider are other ways to give from the garden. Braided garlic, fresh herbal bouquets, dried herbs and lavender sachets are all easy and appreciated gifts. Garden lovers will be happy with a gifted plant. Divide old perennials and pot them up. Dig up strawberries or cane berries, and split ornamental grasses. Start seeds and give transplants. One of the easiest and most appreciated gifts is a lovely bouquet of flowers from your garden. Make a holiday wreath from dried leaves, pinecones, herbs, pressed flowers. Make pinecone bird feeders, seed bombs, or bath oils.

Give an Experience

An experience is something that will last in memory. It may even provide education, result in a wanted item, entertain, start a new hobby, or simply delight the receiver. Choose something they wouldn’t get themselves such as a spa day. Opt for a family gift like tickets to a museum or play, an escape room, or other family friendly event. Gift a membership to a botanical garden or a national park pass. Give local gift certificates for restaurants, movie theaters and cafes so they can have an outing.

Give Your Time

The gift of time is more meaningful than ever in this hectic world. Providing a service like offering to rake leaves, mow the lawn, walk a dog, or even babysit the kids for an evening can provide relief to over burdened individuals. Make up a little booklet of coupons with each one good for something. A homemade meal, coffee chat, movie night, or backyard bbq are gifts that create memories. Best of all, it doesn’t cost much to give your time.


Even those who don’t consider themselves crafty can make something unique and precious for a gift. Hunt through thrift stores and jumble sales for items that are useful, can be upcycled, or repurposed. A little paint can go a long way in making something old look new again. Knitting, painting, woodwork, sewing, and other hobbies will result in beautiful gift options. For cooks, make a basket of fresh muffins, tins of cookies, or holiday candy. Make DIY meal kits with your favorite scrumptious recipes.

Look for Local or Fair Trade

A great way to reduce our carbon footprints is to shop local. Local goods aren’t shipped from afar and purchasing from local vendors supports small businesses. You don’t need to wait for Small Business Saturday to spend your dollars helping neighbors and other locals in their business endeavors. Choosing Fair Trade goods supports small farms, ensures the little guy gets his fair share, and makes a living wage. Fair Trade goods contribute to not only local shares of commerce but have a global effect.

Don’t Be Afraid to Regift

Regifting has a bad reputation but, in fact, it reduces waste, moves goods from an unneeded area to fulfill a need, and lowers costs during holidays. There is nothing wrong with gifting an item you don’t need to someone who does. However, don’t give something away that will not be appreciated and will only clutter up someone else’s life.

How to Wrap Gifts Sustainably

Over 2.3 million pounds of packaging and gift wrap is thrown away every year. Much of this is plastic which will not break down in our lifetimes and clogs waterways, poisons animals, and releases toxins. The paper wrapping wastes trees and is often not recyclable due to shiny coatings and other decor.

Repurpose newspaper, paper bags, and other items as homemade gift wrapping. Reuse gift bags or place presents in reusable totes. Thrift a scarf as a wrap or enfold gifts in a blanket or quilt that can double up the gift. Even tea towels make an attractive wrap and are useful after the holiday.

Furoshiki is a Japanese tradition of wrapping gifts in beautiful, reusable fabrics and can be translated to any culture’s fabric preferences. With this type of sustainable gift giving, the wrap is part of the beauty of the present, but its usefulness will live on.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.