The Ultimate Low To Zero Waste Gift Guide

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How to navigate zero waste gift-giving, from how to give nothing and how to ask for nothing to all the plastic free to zero waste gift ideas we could think of for all sorts of occasions and people!

If you’re someone who shows love through gifts, not giving anything can be stressful, if you have loved ones who show affection through presents, being asked to give nothing can be stressful, and if you’re expected to give a gift, finding something that is low or zero waste to give can be hard.

That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate low to zero waste gift guide!

We’ve included gifts that’ll cost you nothing, gifts you can DIY, and gifts you can buy and gifts for different occasions and ages.

Before choosing a gift from this list, firstly consider the person you’re giving it to and whether it is something they will actually use and something that will add to their life and work for them and not end up as clutter or at the back of their cupboard. To make sure the resources that have gone into the gift are best used, it needs to be tailored to them and their lifestyle.

But first, we talk a bit about giving nothing and how this doesn’t mean you have to give nothing at all and how best to ask friends and family for no gifts.

1. Nothing!

If the gift-getter has specifically asked for nothing, respect their wishes and don’t get them anything. This can be hard for a lot of people due to norms and culture, but this doesn’t mean you have to ignore the person’s achievement or celebration.

You can still show your love and provide a sense of occasion through your presence and through acts of service. Simply spend time with the person and tell them how much you appreciate them through words and making time to spend time with them.

Acts of service can involve things like:

  • making them a meal

  • doing some gardening

  • repairing or mending something of theirs or getting something of theirs repaired or mended

  • spring cleaning the house

  • helping them plan the event (you’ll find ideas for plastic-free decorations here)

  • washing the dog, or

  • helping them tick off something that’s been on their to-do list for ages.

Pretty much, it is just doing something for them that they’ll appreciate being done for them.

How to ask for nothing

Asking your friends and family to give you nothing can be tricky. You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings and there are always people who'd like to give something.

So, let people know that gifts aren’t required and tell them why you would rather not get any presents, but also provide some specific suggestions that people who will give you a gift no matter what can use. For example suggest an experience rather than a physical gifts, a donation, second-hand items, or plastic-free practical gifts.

For example, on the event invite, write something like: "Hi everyone, I’m looking forward to enjoying a special day with you all. I would like to ask one special favour, if I can. You may or may not be familiar with my enthusiasm for all things eco-friendly, but I’d love your support in having a low waste event. If you are planning a gift, please consider something made of natural products like wood, bamboo, organic cotton, organic/natural ingredients, something reusable/non-disposable, something pre-loved, or not even an item at all but an experience. Your support will be much appreciated. I hope this is not too much to ask!"

Another option is to set up a gift registry on a site with sustainable products or a registry of experience gifts you would like using an experience gift voucher site - friends of ours did this for their wedding recently and they’re definitely going to have some fun this year using them all!

Or, just forward this blog post to them so they can choose a low to zero waste gift from our list! ;)

2. Plants, flowers & seeds

Plants are great! We need to plant as many as possible. They give oxygen, draw in carbon dioxide, clean the air, provide food, encourage bees and other pollinators, and are beautiful. Feed your friends’ plant obsession by gifting them more plants or inspire someone to get growing by planting the seed with some easy to care for foliage!

While some people love plants as a gift, others hate them because it is something they have to look after, so think about which category the gift-getter falls in before getting them a plant. If they’re the hate them type, probably better to stick to flowers or choose another gift from this list.

You can find florists that don’t wrap plastic around their flowers, or ask them if you can get some flowers without it, or forage your own flowers from your garden or around the neighbourhood (within reason!).

Also consider where they will be able to house the plant and if they have the right conditions for it and how easy the plant is to look after and buy accordingly!

Gift options include:

  • pot plant

  • pot to plant something in

  • plant you have propagated yourself or a cutting they can propagate themselves

  • terrarium (bought or handmade)

  • flowers wrapped in paper

  • foraged flowers or flowers picked from your garden

  • seeds

  • seed pencil - a pencil you can plant when you’re done with it! You can get them here (AU) or search Etsy (worldwide)

  • seed card - a card you can plant! Flora and Fauna (AU) has a large range of gorgeous cards or search plantable card on Etsy (worldwide)

  • herbs or a herb garden like Biome’s UrbanGreens Grow Kit (AU) or Well.ca’s hydroponic herb planters (US/CAN)

  • sprouting jar - you can get kits to make microgreens on Etsy too, as well as from Well.ca (US/CAN) and Biome (AU)

  • food plant

  • raised garden bed/planter,

  • grow your own natural dye garden kit like this one (US/CAN)

  • bee-friendly plants or a Life Cykel Save the Bees Pollination Kit (AU) or a bee house (AU here or search bee hotel on Etsy), or

  • compost from your composter or worm tea from your worm farm.

3. Experiences & adventures

Gift them an epic experience they’ve always wanted to do but wouldn’t spend the money on themselves, buy an experience you can do together, or simply plan an awesome day you can spend together!

Ideas include:

  • workshops like DIY beeswax wraps, soap making, cheese making, kombucha making, candle making, natural dying, visible mending or bread making

  • go second hand shopping together

  • a winery tour

  • brunch, lunch, high tea, or dinner

  • go on a hike, walk to a waterfall, or spend the day at the beach

  • book a spa day, massage, facial, or mani pedi

  • a hot air balloon ride

  • a picnic

  • go on a day trip together

  • plan a weekend away

  • surfing lessons

  • go snorkelling or scuba diving

  • take them to a sports game

  • visit a museum or art gallery

  • a mushroom foraging tour

  • concert tickets

  • theatre tickets, or

  • a painting or pottery class.

4. Food or food-related gifts

Food makes a fantastic gift when it is a treat the gift-getter loves or it is something special they can use in their cooking. Be sure it is something they will/can eat (consider dietary requirements!) and something that won’t go off before they get around to eating it so it doesn’t go to waste.

It can be gotten zero waste buy getting it in a reused glass jar or produce bag and gifting it in a decorated reused jar or reused wrapping paper or scrap paper or newspaper.

Great food gifts are:

  • special spice mixes

  • a picnic basket of goodies

  • a jar of chocolate balls

  • a palm oil free chocolate bar (you can find our top picks here)

  • cookie mix in a jar

  • hot chocolate mix in a jar

  • soup mix in a jar like these (US/CAN)

  • fancy loose leaf teas or ground coffees

  • jams and preserves

  • fruit or vegetables from your garden

  • a veggie box subscription

  • homemade cookies or cake or a homemade meal

  • good quality, useful, second-hand kitchen appliances like a blender, dehydrator, stovetop coffee maker, etc.

  • homemade hummus, pesto, sauce, kombucha, preserved something, cheese, nut milk, tofu, cider, beer etc (with instructions on how they can make their own in future!), or

  • the tools or a kit to DIY one of the above themselves (if they’ll actually use it!) like:

    • a nut milk bag (AU here)

    • cheese cloth (AU here, US/CAN here)

    • a scoby for kombucha

    • a sourdough starter to make sourdough

    • Greek yoghurt making kit (AU here)

    • tofu making kit (AU here or on Etsy here), or

    • grow your own mushroom box (AU here).

If you’re in Melbourne, you can use our Where to Shop Waste Free in Melbourne Map to find out where to get most of these zero waste.

5. Zero waste products

This category is not for everyone and zero waste products should not be forced on people who won’t end up using them, but they are great for people who are just starting to live a zero waste lifestyle and are making the initial swaps to help them reduce their waste. You also need to be careful giving zero waste tools to someone who is actively reducing their waste as it may be something they don’t need or already have.

So carefully consider if it will be useful and used before buying.

Options include:

  • produce bags (US/CAN here, AU here)

  • reusable coffee cup (our 5 favs)

  • plastic-free water bottle (our 5 favs)

  • knitted cup cosy for a jar (loads of options on Etsy)

  • Guppyfriend washing bag (AU here)

  • Stay Tray reusable drinks tray (for offices or people who get multiple drinks in single-use cardboard drink trays often) (AU here)

  • reusable food container (find their perfect match)

  • hankies (loads of options on Etsy or make them yourself)

  • beeswax wraps (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • eco-friendly toothbrushes (we’ve listed the best options)

  • fabric napkins (bought - again Etsy is good - or homemade)

  • wooden or bamboo cutlery or spork (if they will need it when traveling) (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • chopsticks for their cutlery pack (easy to find at second-hand stores)

  • a wooden scrubber (AU here and US/CAN here), loofah (AU here and US/CAN here), or crocheted cloth (like these on Etsy) for waste free cleaning and bathing

  • unpaper towels (you’ll find these on Etsy too)

  • a worm farm, Bokashi bin or composter (read this article to decide which is best for them), or

  • DIY natural cleaning kits like those sold by Biome (AU) (or make up your own).

6. Donations

Make a donation to their favourite charity or a cause they care about. Facebook even has an option to ask your friends to donate to a charity on your birthday.

You can also adopt an endangered animal on someone’s behalf through institutions like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) or give them a Kiva gift card. Kiva crowdfunds loans “to expand financial access to help underserved communities thrive”. It does an amazing job of uplifting communities worldwide and when you get your loan back, you get to loan it to someone else. The gift that keeps on giving!

7. Memberships & subscriptions

Pay for a subscription to something they already have and use or get them a subscription to something you know they want or a membership for somewhere they love going, for instance:

  • a membership for a local museum, art gallery or theatre company

  • a local wildlife sanctuary or zoos membership

  • a gym membership

  • a movie cinema membership

  • a subscription to a food box or health box (Biome (AU) is launching a palm oil free, vegan, ethical lifestyle subscription box soon!)

  • a membership for their fav sports club

  • a music service subscription like Spotify

  • an audio book subscription like Audible

  • an online magazine subscription, or

  • a veggie box subscription like Ceres in Melbourne, AU and Imperfect Produce in the US.

8. Natural, low waste beauty products

More of a beauty product that a person uses is always needed! You can DIY one for them or buy a product they use in glass or tin. You can also get unpackaged soap bars from a lot of places.

Ideas include:

  • DIYed coffee scrub, body lotion, bath bomb, lip balm/scrub, hair mask, or face mask

  • unpackaged natural soap bars

  • reusable cotton or crocheted face wipes (loads of options on Etsy)

  • a wooden hairbrush (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • DIY zero waste beauty kits like those sold by Biome (AU) (or make up your own)

  • natural makeup (this is our fav AU brand and this is a highly recommended Canadian brand), or

  • DIY skincare ingredients they can use or you can use to make something together (AU here).

9. Baby shower gifts

We found this wonderful example of what to say on a baby shower invite when trying to make it low waste: “We would like a sustainable and eco-friendly life for our baby. We will be attempting to avoid and minimise the use of disposable and plastic items, including toys. One little request for all our guests: instead of a card for baby and mother, bring a book with your message in the cover! Your book will be welcomed, well-loved or brand new. Especially if it was a title cherished by you.”

See more above on asking for no or specific gifts! You can also create a gift registry on a site with sustainable products like Well.ca (US/CAN)

Here’s some low to zero waste gift ideas for a baby shower:

  • second hand books

  • cloth nappies/diapers (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • bamboo or cotton reusable breast/nursing pads (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • reusable baby cloth wipes (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • paper or wooden mobile for above the cot

  • wooden growth chart

  • plastic-free baby bottle like the Kid Kanteen Baby Bottle (AU here, US/CAN here) or this glass baby bottle (US/CAN) or these glass ones (AU)

  • natural material bibs like ones made from hemp (US/CAN) or bamboo (AU)

  • reusable swim nappy (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • handmade clothes

  • wet bag (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • baby wrap/baby carrier like the Moby Wrap (US/CAN) or Etsy has loads of options

  • wooden mercury-free bath thermometer (US/CAN here)

  • cotton muslin swaddling blanket (US/CAN here, AU here)

  • natural nappy/diaper balm/salve (US/CAN here, AU here)

  • biodegradable bamboo eating set with a mug, plate and cutlery (AU here, US/CAN here)

  • zero waste pamper pack for mum

  • baby gift set bundles like from Flora and Fauna (AU) and like this glass feeding bottle set (US/CAN)

  • experiences like baby’s first swimming lesson or something for mum like a massage, baby first-aid workshop voucher or cloth nappy workshop

  • weekly cleaning service over the first few weeks or a voucher for a house clean

  • cloth nappy laundry service like Botanic Baby (AU)

  • home-cooked frozen meals or a voucher for home-delivered meals, or

  • acts of service like home cooked meals, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, or free babysitting when needed.

10. Gifts for children

Steer clear of plastic toys and toys that require batteries. Instead go for something made of natural products like wood, bamboo, organic cotton, organic/natural ingredients, something reusable/non-disposable, something pre-loved, or an experience.

Some great options are:

  • subscription to a toy library

  • good quality second-hand clothing or toys

  • wooden toys like these (US/CAN), these (worldwide) or these (AU)

  • second-hand books

  • handmade clothing or toys

  • hand make a busy board like one of these

  • activity toys like a:

  • trampolining experience, sports lessons or swimming lessons, art or music lessons, water park experience, movie experience voucher, or other experience, or

  • zoo or museum membership.

11. Other

A few more low to zero waste gift ideas that don’t fit in any of the above categories:

If you really can’t choose just ask them what they want or need or to give you a list you can choose something off of so it is still a surprise. Or get them a gift card or voucher for an eco store so they can choose their own gift and buy what they need.

Anything we’ve missed? Add your go-to low or zero waste gift ideas in the comments below!

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