Zero Waste Holiday Gift Guide

Gifts - We all want them, we all get them, but what do we do with them? As we are socially obliged to buy holiday gifts for parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, ex-uncles, friends, bosses, and coworkers, we sometimes can’t resist the temptation to scour Amazon (or the ‘As seen on TV’ shelf at RiteAid) for the perfect one-size-fits-all present. And sure, sometimes a cheetah print Huggle (hooded Snuggie knockoff) or a PotatoExpress microwave potato cooker actually comes from the wishlist, but these items are more typically fated for the back corner of the basement. 

And while most of us use the holidays as an excuse for gluttony and overconsumption, the seasonal excess isn’t easy on the planet. In the United States, an estimated 2.6 billion cards are sold each holiday season- enough to fill a football stadium 10 stories high (1). And all that gift wrapping? It isn’t recyclable if it is metallic, laminated, textured, or has glitter (2). So as the well-intentioned gifts clutter up our homes, their adornments pile in the landfills. 

It’s not realistic to get a gift perfectly suited for everyone, but you can get gifts that will be less wasteful. Here are some Things, Thing Alternatives, and Gift Wrap Alternatives that as gifts will show that you care about both the person and the planet. 



A glass straw

Like a stainless steel or bamboo straw, but classier. Glass straws are easy to clean, recyclable, and are good for both warm and cold drinks. Frozé? Check. Hot chocolate? Check. In the light, they glow like the first snowfall. 

A cast iron pan

Cast iron pans are virtually indestructible, easy to care for, and don’t have all the nasty chemicals of a non-stick pan. Nothing says “I love you and want to keep you around” like removing cancer-causing PTFE’s from a kitchen. Seriously though, cast iron pans are awesome. They distribute heat evenly and contrary to popular belief, are easy to clean. They’re a joy to cook with, and that pan-seared tempeh never tasted so good. 

Zero waste to-go kit

Fork, knife, spoon, straw and straw cleaner all in a simple cotton pouch. Take this kit to work, or on the road, or to restaurants, and you’ll not only save plastic utensils from the landfill, but you’ll send the message that the world is ready for reusable alternatives. 

100% Organic Cotton Produce Bags

Upgrade a market haul with some handsome organic cotton produce bags. No more wrapping colorful veggies in flimsy plastic. Use the produce bags in the bulk sections too; the pre-labeled tare weight makes for a smooth check out process. Rewash and reuse many times over. 

Something local

A locally knit sweater has more character than a trendy cabled sweater from Lands End, and it supports the local community of artisans. 

Baked goods

Nobody’s gonna throw away a good cookie.



Donate in their name

Find something they really care about and make a small donation. There are charities and organizations for almost every cause under the sun. 


Emulate the promise of a new year with a new houseplant and the consequent opportunity to keep it alive for more than a month. 

A National or State Park Pass

The 61 national parks peppering this country are the greatest gifts to the people of the US, and all should have the chance to appreciate and support them. State parks too, while less known by the masses, offer easy access to nature.

Online classes

Give the gift of lifelong learning. The internet is exploding with quality online classes at a low cost, where you can learn everything from copywriting to cooking. Good options are Udemy and MasterClass.

Buy an experience

There is so much to do on this giant chaotic planet, and a guided or planned experience gives a focused taste of one of its offerings. Check out AirBnB experience for some local and creative adventures. 

Write a letter

Assuming you like the recipient, a letter really is the best gift. Whether you reminisce on shared memories or you enclose some motivation and wishes for the coming year, a personal letter speaks to the holiday spirit more than anything. 

Do you need more zero waste holiday gift ideas? Take a look at our finely curated Pinterest board for more wasteless inspiration.

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