The Ultimate Zero Waste Holiday Guide

Creating a zero waste holiday sounds daunting, right? After all, when I recall many of the gift exchanges I’ve been apart of, the aftermath usually involves heaps of trash - it seems nearly unavoidable! While I admit that it can be very difficult to not produce any trash during the holidays, I don’t think it is impossible to significantly reduce our plastic waste. I believe that with a bit of mindfulness and creativity, we can be well on our way to creating a low-waste holiday season. Read on to see 100 + zero waste gift ideas and gift wrapping ideas to help us live more sustainably during the holiday season.


Refer to the Buyerarchy


Before running to the store or shopping online, refer to the Buyerarchy of Needs. In addition to saving money and reducing waste, this method of conscious consumerism can also be used to create thoughtful gifts. Start by considering what you already have to give, then work your way up the diagram, only resorting to buying new as a last option. If you do buy new, then first search for locally made items instead of purchasing items that travel long distances. Items that ship will likely have a larger carbon footprint and arrive with plastic packaging.

Do you have resources readily available that you can use to make a gift, repurpose an object, or negotiate a trade with someone? Or perhaps you have skills and talents to offer a loved one as a gift. Although re-gifting may be frowned upon by some, it is still a viable option if the gift is in like-new condition and if the item would be highly valued by the receiver. I do encourage that re-gifting should be approached with considerable care so as not to give the impression that it was thoughtlessly gifted. Exercise your creativity and resourcefulness to consider other options prior to buying new.

Mindful & Sustainable Gifts

When it comes to giving mindfully and sustainably there are loads of options available to us. Many of these gift ideas are completely zero-waste and others are totally free!



Think: live music, ballet, symphony, opera, sports game, art museum, comedy show, movie theater tickets, or a play, etc. Look into your town’s local events and see what might appeal to the folks on your holiday shopping list. There’s bound to be a fun experience you can give them, or attend with them.

Classes or Lessons

Classes and lessons are a great gift to give the studious individuals on your list. Classes ranging from cooking, photography, painting, sewing, ceramics, and guitar lessons, to yoga, meditation, or fitness classes are great places to start brainstorming. You could consider buying linguistic lessons, gardening, or even an online master class for your recipient. Search for local workshops in your area based on the hobbies and subjects that interest your gift receiver.

Outdoor Adventure

Another fun experience-based gift might involve getting outside. Take your gift recipient for a scenic walk or hike; or perhaps something a bit more adventurous like a snowshoeing, iceskating, skiing, snowboarding, or sledding.


Words of Appreciation

Consider giving the gift of a heart-felt message. Hand writing a letter full of love and appreciation might be the most valued and thoughtful gift someone receives this season. Consider coupling this gift with another non-material gift. Don’t miss the opportunity to express your love and appreciation for the people in your life this holiday season.

Quality Time

Perhaps someone on your holiday list values quality time more than any other gift. Offer to take them out for a coffee, lunch or dinner date (to stay) while you give them a lovely meal and your undivided attention.

Skills Trade

Think about the skills you have to offer and consider offering your time to teach what you know to someone that is interested in learning. Offering to teach a friend how to cook will likely be more memorable and valued than giving them set of wooden spoons or a cookbook. You could also suggest a trade for a gift exchange - an hour of Spanish lessons for an hour massage. Or, a painting class in exchange for a pilates lesson.


Most people love to receive delicious treats around the holidays. Find out what suits the folks on your list and get creative in the kitchen. Homemade edibles like herb butters, jams and preserves, pickled garden vegetables, as well as freshly baked bread are great options. You might also consider giving homemade kombucha or infused alcohols. If you aren’t in the creative mood, a nice bottle of wine and locally made chocolates are a few other widely favored consumable gifts.


Plants & Gardening

Another great zero waste gift idea for the nature lovers on your list, is plants and gardening supplies. These are great additions to any home because they help purify the air, provide extra life energy, and add to the overall aesthetic of indoor and outdoor spaces. Give a tree seedling, potted herbs, seed packets, flower bulbs or a beautifully potted plant in a non-plastic pot to bring color and life into the home during winter months. In addition to giving plants, a small kitchen compost bucket and un-packaged gardening tools would be a great way to help your gift receiver begin to compost and grow their own food.

Gift Cards & digital subscriptions

Digital subscriptions are an easy way to give a great gift that doesn’t come with any plastic waste. Credit to iTunes, GooglePlay, Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV, HBO, Starz, or digital libraries full of audio books and podcasts are likely to be welcomed. You might also consider giving a recipient on your list a subscription to a digital newspaper, magazine or blog, filled with content they love to read. Gift cards are also great because they can be extremely versatile and customizable. Let these gift card ideas get your brainstorm session going: massage and facial service, zero waste skin care, zero waste makeup, hair cut or luxury face shave, ethical or vintage clothing shop, AirBnB experience, local transportation pass, local recreation pass, or a natural grocery store gift card.

Act of Service

One of the most mindful gifts you could give is an act of service - plus there is likely zero to minimal waste involved. Perhaps your recipient needs help cleaning the house, washing the car, making dinner, shoveling snow or help with another form of yard and home maintenance. You could give someone a ride into town, or offer to babysit. Consider what your recipient needs most and offer to be of service.

Charitable Donation

In lieu of material or experiential gifts, perhaps someone on your list would really love for you to donate, on their behalf, to one of their favorite philanthropic organizations. Choose a cause that holds special meaning with the recipient and research which philanthropic organization will have the greatest impact using your money. When it comes time to share you gift, let your recipient know how much you gave the organization in their name.


Zero Waste Starter Kit

If someone on your list is interested in practicing sustainable living, you might consider giving them a zero-waste starter kit. A simple to-go dining kit that is comprised of reusable utensils, a stainless steel straw, utensil sleeve, napkin, food container and mug or cup in a reusable bag will make a big impact. You could also give a few personal care items, such as plastic-free-packaged soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, or a bamboo toothbrush. Also, zero-waste kitchen items like a natural scrubber, dish soap, beeswax wraps, or glass storage containers might be welcomed by the eco-conscious homemakers on your list.


Zero Waste Gift Wrap

In the holiday season, single-use gift wrap waste is over-abundant. Use this season as an opportunity to reuse and up-cycle other materials for stylish gift wrap that wont produce a lot of waste. You might consider up-cycling newspaper to use as gift wrap, or collaged magazine pages. Wrap gifts in a reusable bag so that the receiver might be able to use that bag again in the future. Brown paper bags can be easily styled and composted as well, or perhaps reuse the brown packing paper that comes in mailed packages. Another option is to fold and tie fabric for a beautifully wrapped gift. Select fabric made of natural fibers, like cotton or linen, so it can be re-used for a number of other purposes, such as homemade beeswax wraps.

Creating a zero waste holiday experience is easier than you might think. It simply requires a bit of thoughtfulness, a dash of creativity, and a healthy dose of resourcefulness. Remember to have fun connecting with the people on your holiday shopping list through mindful and sustainable giving! The holiday season is about slowing down to connect with people, and expressing love and appreciation through giving.

What zero waste gifts are you planning to give the people on your holiday shopping list?

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