Finding the right gift for friends or loved ones can often be a challenge. But gift giving can get doubly difficult when either you or the person you are shopping for, is very environmentally conscientious. After all, a lot of the gift giving way involves novelty and finding that special personalized gift.
You can check out an interesting assortment here already, plus check out all of our Holiday Gift Guides that cover everything.
Shopping for an environmentally aware loved-one
When shopping for someone who is a true eco-warrior, it can be as easy as putting yourself in their shoes. When looking for something to buy them, ask yourself whether they need it, will love it, and will have no ethical objections to it. If the answer to all three is “yes,” then it’s a great, thoughtful gift. If it is not useful and environmentally conscious, then they may not appreciate it, even if they are polite when they receive it.
If you’re really struggling to come up with a gift which meets all three criteria, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. A charitable donation
If your loved one supports or speaks passionately about any particular charities, then a charitable donation in their name might not go amiss. There are many ways you can do this. You could simply donate a certain amount of money to a cause they approve of and include the certificate in their card. Or you could buy them a subscription or sponsorship package, whereby they get access to grounds or events held by the charity, or receive updates from a person, animal, or cause they have sponsored. This way they can be more in touch with their charity of choice, still benefit from their present but have most of the value go towards those who truly need it.
2. Something biodegradable
Another option is to get them something that does not place much of a burden on the planet. It can be hard shopping for all your eco-friendly needs, and some products are consistently bad for the environment, hard to find alternatives for, and when you find the alternative, it is expensive. So it is a wonderful thing to receive biodegradable options. Biodegradable baby wipes and nappies, eco-neutral soaps and detergents, and card-based disposable plates and cutlery are all great ideas. You could even go a bit wacky and get them some edible gelatin dinnerware, or some hemp clothes. Try and provide six months to a year worth, to make the present’s impact last. It will really improve their life, and help the planet.
3. Something reusable
If your friend is against all landfill waste and all consumerism, then a great swap for biodegradable goods is reusable goods. We use and dispose of countless different items every single day. Take-out boxes, cardboard coffee cups, female sanitary products, tissues, baby nappies, etc. But almost all of them have a reusable alternative. Talk to your loved one about how far they would be willing to go to save the planet, and consider any of the following swaps:
- Writing paper for a whiteboard booklet
- Take-out boxes for personal glass Tupperware
- Cardboard coffee cups for reusable travel mugs
- Female sanitary products for reusable pads or cups
- Tissues for handkerchiefs
- Disposable diapers over cloth ones
4. Something digital
Of course, the ultimate zero waste product is one made entirely from pixels. There is so much digital content available right now that if you don’t want to give a potentially wasteful present, you can always turn to digital media. Musical albums are a wonderful option, as almost everyone loves music of some kind or another, and supporting their favorite artist may be important to them. Digital film files, or an online music or television streaming service are also wonderful options. Or perhaps you could buy them some digital artwork from one of their favorite painters, supporting an artist and presenting them with some meaningful commissioned art? Finally, another great gift option is a device on which to use this media. An e-reader, or a tablet, or a streaming box may be a great way of gifting digital content now and in the future.
5. An experience
Another great non-physical option is to gift an experience. Almost everyone has something they love doing. Some of these activities are free, but others may cost regarding travel, materials, equipment hire, venue hire, etc. So if your loved one has a hobby that is expensive, or something they have always wanted to try but could never afford to, you could buy them a session of it. Examples of this include a holiday abroad, diving lessons, or a music festival. Or, if it is something cheaper, which they indulge regularly, you could buy them an annual subscription or membership. Examples of this include a gym, an arts group, or access to trails.
6. A plant or animal
Not a great gift for someone young, inexperienced with living things, or who may not have the time or space. But if you have a loved one who already keeps, for example, fish, snails, or stick insects, you could consider adding an animal to their collection. If they have green fingers, perhaps you could gift them a rose bush, or a small tree to grow on their own. If they have long talked about getting a pet, you could help them with the setup costs or the initial vet bills. Or if they already have pets, you could consider giving them something which their pets will use.
7: A qualification
Some people are definitely more of the go-getter, career-loving, studious types. So if your loved one is not big on physical gifts, a bit of a minimalist, or really into their work, then maybe a qualification would be a good option. You don’t need to look at putting down money on a degree, though! A first aid certificate, patisserie course, basic accountancy diploma, etc., are all available as online courses or short weekend courses. They will not cost you too much but could be a great start or addition to a career.
8. Nothing at all
Perhaps even after all this, you are feeling a little stuck. The person you are shopping for will definitely be unhappy if you bring home a meaningless knick-knack, an ornament, or another piece of unethical clutter. But none of these more environmentally aware gifts seem right for them either. They have all the biodegradable and reusable stuff they need, you’re not clued into any charities they want to support, and a plant or animal is out of the question. But, likewise, they have no digital goods, qualifications, or experiences they are desperate for either. If you’re really stuck, remember: when it comes to someone who hates waste and consumerism, no gift is better than a bad gift. Just explain why you could not give them a gift, and they are sure to understand and respect your decision.
Shopping as an environmentally aware gift giver
When shopping as an environmentally-aware gift giver, you may find your task is suddenly getting a bit more difficult. If you put yourselves in the shoes of the person you are shopping for, you could probably find something they would love, use, and not object to. But when giving gifts we should not have to sacrifice our own ethics. If you want to make a less eco-conscious loved one happy, but not burden the planet, there are definitely ways of finding a middle ground.
1. A new twist on a conventional gift
When it comes to gift giving, sometimes you have to reach a compromise. They have to accept what you can offer, or you have to give something you don’t wholly approve of. When it comes to matters of faith or fashion, these compromises may be hard, but possible. But you do not always need to make this compromise when it comes to being eco-friendly. Because there are eco-friendly versions of almost everything out there when you look around for them. You can look at our first list for some great ideas that might make an amazing gift for someone who is not as much of an environmentalist as yourself. A gym enthusiast will love a full annual subscription, a gardener will have great fun with a selection of new seedlings, a new mother will appreciate some safe and eco-friendly baby toiletries, and an IT student may be interested in having one of their modules paid off. You’re still giving them what they want, just without compromising value.
2. Something they really need
If you can’t find something that has an eco-friendly alternative, or where the alternative may not be appreciated by them, you might need to compromise a little bit and get them something which isn’t completely aligned with your values. But a great way of doing this and making sure it is worthwhile is to get them something they really need. You may not approve of using your own vehicle, but if that is the only realistic option for them, then covering some new tires on their bike or an MOT on their car could be appreciated. Their degree may be in something you consider wasteful or exploitative, but if they need to get a degree and make a living, then it would be considerate to put some money towards it. This way at least you know your gift will be used, reducing waste.
3. Something they will get some mileage out of
Another compromise that is not too hard to handle is to get them something they will use again, and again, and again. It is one thing to say they should not drink so much take-out coffee, but if this is something they intend to continue doing, then getting them a reusable travel mug could help save the planet, and even save them money at some shops. Likewise, you may feel their love of fashion is a bit too wasteful, but then you could get them some biodegradable clothes produced ethically and sustainably, or an item of clothing with unlimited repairs, such as certain shoe brands offer. Or perhaps you could get them some items to extend the life of their household gadgets and goods, such as dryer balls which soften clothes by pummeling them, or fridge gadgets that keep food fresher for longer.
4. Something digital
It’s not just environmentally aware gift recipients who will love digital things. The digital world is very much a part of our everyday lives, and our friends and family from all walks of life probably consume digital media, on some level, every single day. So if you want to give a gift with virtually no carbon footprint and literally no landfill potential, give a digital gift. Some great ideas for everyone include:
- An album, or a collection of albums, by their favorite artist
- A digital copy of one or more movies
- A digital copy of one or more games
- A streaming service for music or movies
- Add-ons or upgrades for games or gaming systems
- A mobile phone contract
- Mobile phone extras
- A subscription to an online service
- An app-store voucher
5. Food and drinks
Everybody loves food and drinks, and everyone has their favorites. If you are not too convinced about your options this holiday season, a food or drinks gift is sometimes a great way of getting around giving gifts you ethically do not agree with. You could get your loves ones a luxurious, absolutely ethical, gourmet food item. Or you could get them a gift card for their favorite restaurant. Or you could make them something yourself. Or you could give them an IOU for a meal out at their favorite place, or your favorite place, and go together and enjoy it. Besides, there’s something about food where, so long as you don’t get it horribly wrong, everyone is always happy to get it.
So, you’ve gone through both lists, and you are still scratching your head. There is nothing at all that seems right, that they will like and you will be happy giving. But, at the same time, they’re not the sort of person who will accept not getting a gift, or you will feel bad about not giving them one. It may sound cliché, but a money gift is rarely frowned upon. It might not be very warm or personal, but if nothing on these lists inspires you, there probably isn’t a personal option for this gift-giving situation. Just don’t give a gift-card unless it’s for a place they love, because cold hard cash is always welcome, but gift cards can wind people up.
Wrapping and presenting in an eco-friendly way
Wrapping and presenting gifts can be an incredibly wasteful practice. A lot of wrapping materials are non-recyclable and loaded with artificial dyes and plastics that make them non-biodegradable too. We tend to use a lot of raw materials when wrapping, too, adding all sorts of stickers, labels, and ribbons which will end up in the bin on Christmas day or the birthday.
But we don’t need to wrap gifts in a way that isn’t eco-friendly. There are plenty of adorable, simple, and affordable ways of presenting an attractive gift without using wrapping paper, tape, and plastic bags.
1: Bare naked presents
This might be a wise option if you are completely against the wastefulness of modern gift giving and do not want to perpetuate it one bit. There is no real reason why we wrap gifts up, other than perhaps the convenience that the receiver might look in your bag and see the gift before it is time. But all you need to do is keep is somewhere private or secret before presenting it, not wrap it up at all.
2. Biodegradable paper
A cool option for people who like the traditional present wrapping methods, but are not keen on the materials found in store-bought wrapping paper; you can always buy biodegradable, eco-friendly wrapping paper online. You could opt for a more elaborate option, or you could buy a plain one and choose to decorate it yourself. Either way, it’s just like a conventional present, but eco-friendlier.
3. Fabric wrapping
If you are not keen on the idea of shopping online for your eco-friendly paper, and/or you want to wrap your gift in a new and interesting way, you can always opt for fabric wrapping. This is where you cut a length of fabric and carefully use it to wrap up your present, resulting in a beautiful, uniquely wrapped gift. You can even use this to support your local community by buying fabric from a local store, thrift shop, or small business owner. That way you are saving a lot of fuel and man hours, and reducing your impact on marginalized communities abroad.
4. Getting rid of tape
Tape is a difficult one for many environmentally aware people. It is clearly plastic, and the glue is made out of god only knows what, but it is so useful. And alternatives to it, such as blue tack, or staples, are not always clear about their resource use, carbon footprint, or toxic impact on the planet. So what are we to do? Well, before the invention of tape people usually did one thing when wrapping something: they tied it. Choose some natural twine, or some natural material ribbon, and use it to tie your parcel firmly together after wrapping it.
5. Bags and boxes
If wrapping seems like a pointlessly annoying hassle and you never quite get it to look right anyway, then perhaps a bag or a box is more your gift-giving style. With a bag or a box there is no paper, folding, tape, or neatness to worry about. Of course, you will want to make sure that your bag or box are eco-friendly, but there are many options for this nowadays. You can get fully biodegradable gift bags and boxes, use a fabric tote bag or a reusable box, or even go traditional and use a fabric stocking.
6. Card alternatives
Giving a gift usually involves giving a card, or at least sticking a label on the gift to let the person know it’s theirs. Like with all paper products, you can always get a biodegradable, eco-friendly one made from reused paper. Or you could get creative and make your own reusable name tag with a message on it.
7. Reusing your wrapping
Finally, remember that there are always reusable options for everything. If you give your partner their gift in a cloth stocking, then you can use it again next year. If you use ribbon to wrap presents, you can bet anything it will be reused somehow. And when it comes to the wrapping your own gifts arrived in, make sure to recycle, use it for scrapbooking, or save it for regiving, to prevent wastefulness.