The Ultimate Low To Zero Waste Gift Guide
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.
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 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
raised garden bed/planter,
grow your own natural dye garden kit like this one (US/CAN)
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!
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
go on a day trip together
plan a weekend away
go snorkelling or scuba diving
take them to a sports game
visit a museum or art gallery
a mushroom foraging tour
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:
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.
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)
eco-friendly toothbrushes (we’ve listed the best options)
fabric napkins (bought - again Etsy is good - or homemade)
chopsticks for their cutlery pack (easy to find at second-hand stores)
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).
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.
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)
DIY zero waste beauty kits like those sold by Biome (AU) (or make up your own)
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
paper or wooden mobile for above the cot
wooden growth chart
wooden mercury-free bath thermometer (US/CAN here)
zero waste pamper pack for mum
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
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.
A few more low to zero waste gift ideas that don’t fit in any of the above categories:
thrift store finds like board games, photo frames
ethically made, eco-friendly fabric clothing (if they don't have a capsule wardrobe) - Biome now sells Australian slow fashion
something handmade like a knitted scarf, hat, jumper or blanket
a second-hand book or Biome has a great range of sustainability focused books (AU)
a refillable bamboo pen (AU)
knitted laptop sleeve made from material that would have gone to waste
chore cards/wish cards, or
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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