This post was originally published in December 2020, and has been updated in September 2022.
As Christmas is just around the corner, it’s probably about time I wrote a gift guide, but of course this doesn’t have to limited to the festive season! You can take what you need from this and use it any time of the year you need to.
Affiliate disclaimer: Where possible I have added links to products to help you find them – they may be affiliate links and if you buy through them I might get a commision – just so you know! Thanks!
Christmas time is probably the most wasteful time of the year, due to wrapping paper, plastic wrappings and ties, product boxes, delivery packaging, crackers, flocked artificial trees, and so much more. So much of this is unnecessary, and some gifts even get thrown out only a few months later.
So how can we help change this? Well, one way to start is to be more considerate about who we buy for, and what we get them. Do you really need to gift someone another body wash set that is mostly unrecyclable, when you could get them something package free? Or some clothes from a fast fashion brand that doesn’t care about their workers or the planet?
Instead of buying things that won’t last or they don’t need, see if you can find something durable, and you could even ask them what they really need or would like, and you could even make it into a joint present from someone else too!
Here’s my list of zero waste and sustainable gift ideas, either for the upcoming holidays, or just for a birthday just around the corner.
- Fountain Pen – I’ve wanted a fountain pen for ages, and I got one from Parker last Christmas and it’s one of my favourite things now. Sure, it takes a little while to get used to using it compared to a ballpoint, but having one pen for life is a great way to reduce waste.
- Fountain pen refillable cartridge and ink bottle – One way to make your fountain pen sustainable and as zero waste as possible, is to get a refillable cartridge and an ink bottle. Although it can be a little messy to refill the cartridge (be prepared to get ink on your fingers from the neck of the bottle), you can get different colours of ink bottles and extra cartridges so that you can use the same pen with different inks too.
- Recycled notebooks – Notebooks use up so much virgin paper, and usually the cover is made from leather, faux leather, or plastic, and so none of these components are recyclable. The notebooks from FA VO is made from 100 gsm recycled paper and 350 gsm recycled softcover, or from Port West which are 100% post consumer recycled paper and natural paste dyed cover, which are great alternatives if you regularly buy notebooks!
- Pencils – Making virgin wood pencils means that forests around the size of 90(!) tennis courts are cut down every minute to supply wood, a lot of which come from our rainforests too. One way to lessen the impact on the forests is to use recycled pencils. Port West make one from recycled timber if you’d still prefer wooden ones, or you can get ones made from recycled newspapers such as from Paper High and 1environ on Etsy, which make loads of HB, coloured, and seed pencils too.
For at-home/On the go
- Coffee cup – If you or someone you know gets on the go coffee often, I couldn’t recommend a reusable cup more. Disposable coffee cups are mainly made of plastic and so are very hard to recycle. By having a reusable cup, you’re not only preventing waste, but you can also save yourself money as many cafe’s will give you a discount for bringing your own cup! KeepCup so some wonderful ones made of glass, or you could get an insulated metal one such as from brands like Chilly’s and Yeti.
- Reusable water bottle – Similar to the situation of coffee cups, thousands of plastic water bottles are bought and thrown away every day, but this can easily change by having a reusable one. I find insulated ones are the best as they can keep your drinks hot or cold for longer – I have one by TreeTribe that has lasted me a good couple of years now but the ones by Chilly’s work fantastic too.
- Natural rubber yoga mat – Many yoga mats are made of foamy plastics, but sustainable mats made from natural rubber are becoming more popular. They can a little heavier and grippier, but I much prefer mine over a foam one any day.
Mine is by Yoga-Mad, which is made from natural dry rubber and cotton, and as a bonus, I got it second hand too! (Edit: Since originally posting, I cannot find the rubber mats anymore as I believe they’ve been discontinued, but they do seem to still make their SureGrib Natural Latex mats.)
You can also find loads of different ones on Etsy too, such as hemp ones from KhaliKhutta which are handmade in Nepal.
- Reusable straws – Although of course just going straw-free is an option, buying reusable straws made of either metal, glass, bamboo, or even silicone, is a great sustainable alternative for those who rely on them or simply enjoy using them.
- Vintage tableware – I know some people gift others with new tableware, but a great alternative to brand new items is vintage! Vintage items have so much character and are a lot rarer, but if they turn out to be too expensive for you, second-hand tableware can be cheaper and still hold a lot of meaning. Etsy is a great place to look for these, as well as handmade stoneware too!
- Zero-waste cookbook – I’ve talked about this book before, but More Plants Less Waste by Max La Manna is genuinely one of my favourite and most useful books I own. It has loads of recipes in it from plastic-free crumpets to curry, and homemade toiletries such as deodorant, toothpaste, and face scrubs made from old coffee grounds.
Another amazing one I love is Linda McCartney’s Family Kitchen, which has so many great plant based recipes, I especially love their lasagne!
Both of these cookbooks have plastic free covers which I absolutely love, because it means it lowers their impact on the planet too.
- Tea strainer and loose leaf tea- As someone who lives in a family who drinks a lot of tea, and I have many friends who do the same, getting a strainer and loose leaf tea can be a great way to cut down on the plastic packaging and microplastics while still enjoying a good brew. I love these tea strainers from T2 as they fit perfectly on top of your mug, or if you’re more of a tea bag kinda person, YogiTea do so many different flavours and are organic, although they aren’t completely plastic free just yet.
- Refillable lighter -If someone you know loves candles or burning incense sticks, a refillable lighter can be a great present for them. You can get loads that are vintage or have funky designs, so there’s one to suit everyone for sure.
Electronics and accessories
- Biodegradable phone cases – Buying a plant-based phone case is a great way to reduce plastic waste while still looking stylish. Pela does an amazing range of cases for Andriod and Apple phones, as well as Apple Watches and AirPods too. They also offer a plastic-free screen protector which binds to the glass of your phone screen! Although they can be a little pricey, they are so worth the money from my experience with them.
- House of Marley headphones – If you’re looking for a pair of sustainable headphones as a gift, I couldn’t recommend the Positive Vibrations 2 more. They’re made with sustainable resources, are wireless but can also be used with a wire if wanted or the battery died, and they’re noise cancelling. I’ve had a pair of these for about 2 years now and they’re genuinely one of my favourite gadgets, I use them almost every day while I work, watch tv, or even while I travel since they’re foldable!
- Votch Apple Watch straps – Since getting an Apple watch, I wanted to get a strap to go with it that looked a little more smart and stylish. Votch do these amazing ones made out of AppleSkin which is made of residual fibres from the apple juice industry, which is great if you want a “leather” looking strap.
Beauty and toiletries
- Shampoo and conditioner bars – Not only are these great for living more sustainably, but they are also perfect for travel since they compact and don’t go against liquid regulations. These can last for months, and there are so many options for different kinds of hair. Lush and Ethique each do fantastic selections, but you should also check out Etsy if you’re looking to shop smaller.
- Makeup – Sustainable and ethical makeup can be a little expensive, but they can be so much better for the planet and yourself. Some great brands are :
Lush – who do package free/naked lipsticks and perfumes
Urban Decay – do a great range of cruelty-free makeup palettes
Superdrug – if you’re from the UK, you’ll recognise this brand and know that they do a huge range of their own products which are all cruelty-free and mostly vegan
Kat Von D – do a huge range of vegan make up such as eyeliner and concealer
Bare Minerals – do a great set of vegan makeup and skincare products
Barry M – 100% vegan products and a really great affordable option.
- Bath bombs and bubble bars – These can be a great plastic/package free alternatives to bubble bath, and products like bubble bars can last for months. Lush is my favourite brand for both of these since they’re always plastic-free, cruelty-free, and always vegetarian or vegan – but there are loads of small businesses on places such as Etsy that you should check out too!
- Perfume – Many perfumes are tested on animals, so finding a cruelty free brand is always fantastic. My favourite brand is Eden as they’re all 100% vegan and cruelty-free, and you can even send the bottles back to get them refilled. Lush also do a range of solid perfumes too which is great for travelling.
- Skincare – Many skincare brands still test on animals, and the norm is to be packaged in plastic. Although finding something packaged in completely recyclable materials or to be refillable is hard, it’s not impossible.
One of my favourite brands is UpCircle – all their packaging is recyclable, they provide refill options, and their products are made from old coffee grounds, fruit stones, and chai spices. Everything is vegan and cruelty-free, from their Facial Serum to their Soap Bars. They also recently released a SPF cream, which is great is you’re looking for something plastic free to protect you from the sun.
Another great skincare brand I love is Green People. Although their packaging is made of recyclable sugarcane plastic tubes, these are a great brand if you’re looking for SPF skincare, especially since their suncream is Reef Safe!
- Waken Mouthwash – As a sustainable alternative, Waken use only aluminium and FSC approved paper in their packaging and 100% natural flavours, and even sell their own stainless steel mouthwash cup. They do four flavours: Peppermint, Spearmint, Strawberry & Mint, and Lemon & Mint, each in their own pastel coloured bottle. Edit: Since originally posting this, Waken have changed the packaging for their mouthwash to a mix of sugarcane and post consumer recycled plastic. Although in theory it’s a mixed material, the brand says both the plastics are HDPE and so can still be recycled.
Clothing and jewellery
- Lucy and Yak – Fashion can be a tricky thing to find ethically, with everything to factor from fast fashion, garment worker care, and garment materials. Lucy and Yak is one brand I really like due to how transparent they are. They produce some of my favourite clothes, which some are made from organic cotton and recycled plastic bottles, my favourite pieces are Camden and Alexa trousers, and Luna dungarees. They are so so comfy, and I couldn’t recommend them more.
- Vivobarefoot – This is a brand I’m eager to try out, Vivebarefoot make amazing barefoot shoes that are meant to not only help your feet, but also the planet too. They are made of recycled plastic bottles, a bio-based insole, and some are completely vegan. They also have a side project called Revivo, where your old Vivo shoes can be sent back to them, and they will refurbish the pair to be resold at a cheaper price, so they are keeping them out of landfill and extending their life.
- Allbirds – Another great brand is Allbirds, who sell not only shoes but clothing too. All their products are made from high-quality wool, recycled plastic bottles, castor bean oil, eucalyptus tree fiber, and sugarcane. They are really focused on helping the planet and helping people reduce their carbon footprint, they are a great brand to check out if you’re looking for a more sustainable alternative to everyday sneakers or running shoes.
- Ara the Altar – One of my new favourite jewellery brands, Ara uses 100% recycled solid gold and silver in all their adornment products, along with natural linen and organic cotton pouches to store them in. Each piece has individuality as everything is hand made, and you know that it’s made with good intent to the planet.
- Behaviour Change Cornwall – These bracelets are made from ghost fishing nets that have been found across the beaches, coves, and harbours in Cornwall, which means they’re keeping more plastic out of our ocean! Each bracelet is named after the closest beach or cove that the fishing nets are found, and even comes with a little certificate to say where and who found it.
That’s all I have for this time around, but I’m sure I’ll be updating this post again in the future! I hope you enjoyed this and it helps with some future gift ideas!
Looking for more sustainable ideas? Check out my other posts!
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