When the leaves start to turn yellow, and the weather begins to cool its the time of the year when we know we’re on the downward slope to Christmas. Or for those of you in the southern hemisphere the BBQs come out and the beach calls. As we approach this Christmas, we may also stop and pause to think that it's been quite an extraordinary year for the planet. So, we’ve prepared this guide full of 21 zero-waste Christmas gift ideas & tips for the season of giving.
In May 2019, a research study calculated that somewhere between 400,000 and 1 million people die each year in the developed world due to diseases resulting from plastic waste1.
All this amid fires in the Amazon, melting glaciers and growing climate concern.
Single-use plastic is a scourge. And sadly even if plastic does make the recycling bin, there’s a decent chance it's not recycled. Even if you do your bit, what happens next is not always what you expect. Despite getting collected, much gets sorted out. If it does not get turned into new versions of itself, it finds its way into incinerators or landfill.
And yet Christmas is a time for cheer.
There has been some progress. The UK is calling a climate crisis, and the EU is banning all single-use plastic by 2021. And we applaud Greta Thunberg's unique and compelling impact in raising awareness around these issues.
So what to do? There’s no doubt that things need to change. And that they are changing, but quite possibly not fast enough.
And so this Christmas our hearts and minds will turn to loved ones, cheer and celebrating what we have. Yet the season of giving is also a compelling time to keep the future of the planet top of mind. For without it we won’t have much cheer.
Therefore as much as you feel able, we encourage you to shop for eco-friendly gifts this season. Choose zero-waste gifts that aren’t likely to stick around for 100s of years. Or in other words pretty much anything plastic.
Christmas also makes for a great time to make eco-friendly and conscious choices. And to start a conversation about what we might also need to give back to the planet, how to reduce waste, and how to protect it for future generations.
Or as near plastic-free as we could find. We hope you enjoy our selections and gift guides!
We can all do our bit to avoid new “virgin plastic” production. Thus for an easy plastic-free choice for the ubiquitous Christmas centrepiece, the tree, choose the eco-friendly type provided to us by nature.
Of course, buying a tree and having it take pride and place in the living room over the time of the season still results in waste on the other side.
Even better and more fitting of a zero-waste Christmas, with the advent of the internet, you now can even rent a tree. A slew of companies now offers to deliver a living tree to your specification, rent it to you over the period, and pick it up at the end of the season. A quick google search should tell you if you have a Christmas tree rental service close to you.
The advantage here, of course, being that no tree needs to die Xmas. Many companies will also rent you decorations, meaning you won’t need to worry about buying new to replace last years tired, lost or dog eaten favourites. You can also buy a living tree and plant it in the garden afterwards, making for perfect family memories into the new year.
If you already have an artificial tree packed away in the cupboard, don’t discard it. Instead, use it for as long as possible over this and next holiday season, perhaps dressing it up with some plastic-free decoration ideas below and complete with eco-friendly gifts underneath.
Most Christmas trees are grown specifically for the purpose. All they take is the sun, water and care throughout the year to provide the authentic Christmas tree experience. Further, once real trees have finished their time taking pride of place amongst our Christmas celebrations, we can easily recycle them. Natural trees, unlike their plastic counterparts, biodegrade naturally.
To make the best choice for the environment, buy a locally produced tree, reducing the carbon emissions required in getting it to you.
If you’re in the UK, choose sustainably grown trees that are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
Some of you might not fancy a real tree, all those dropped leaves to clean up and the waste at the end. Or maybe you just don’t have space. These eco-friendly wooden trees make an excellent zero-waste alternative at Christmas. Made from Estonian Birch, they’ll never even require watering.
They’d make for great office trees to bring a plastic-free feel into the work environment. And the best thing is that you can use them again and again.
The seller also promises to plant a real tree for each tree sold.
The best holiday cards for the environment and zero-waste are undoubtedly e-cards. These days you can do all sorts of fun things, including adding family photos and videos. Popular e-card companies include Jacquie Lawson and Paperless Post. You’re sure to find one to suit all the family.
For real in the post varieties choose eco-friendly recycled paper. Not least a lot of non-recycled holiday cards with a gloss or sheen do include a thin plastic coating. And of course, look out for those that don’t come wrapped in plastic film for less waste.
The cards we’ve featured even come with a gentle nudge to have the recipient consider where their origins. Printed without cartridges to reduce e-waste in their production, and hand made from recycled card, they make for an excellent choice for envelope stuffers at Christmas.
Not only spreading cheer but also prompting a thought towards our waste and environmental impact on the planet. Attach these recycled cards to eco-friendly wrapping paper, and you’ve got the perfect wrap.
Not quite right? Etsy has a fantastic range of eco-friendly Christmas cards for all the family crafted by independent sellers. Click below to have a look:
Some of the best zero-waste Christmas gifts are those that keep on giving long after the leftovers have gone. Consider giving experiences that create memories, and don’t come wrapped in plastic. Many zero waste experiences come in the form of gift cards so there’ll still be something for the family to unwrap.
For the outdoorsy sort consider rock climbing, kayaking or a bushcraft course. Or an outdoors or camping excursion into nature. Music lovers will always appreciate tickets to see their favourite artist in concert. Or gift sports fans tickets to games or a session with a professional on the golf course, tennis court or football field.
Memberships to knitting clubs, galleries or museums are all good shouts.
Thinking about the interests of whoever you are giving too, what they enjoy or what they might like to learn. And with a little hunt find an experience with gift cards they love that creates memories rather than more stuff.
An excellent way of reducing waste at Christmas is to go for a plastic-free secret Santa.
For those not familiar with the concept, the basic idea is that you dish out in secret a person in your group to buy for. Popular in the workplace as well amongst groups of friends secret Santa works just as well for family gatherings or guests on the 25th.
If you’re altogether a bit before the big day you can put all the names in a hat and have everyone select one. Alternatively, someone can allocate them at random via email or WhatsApp. They, of course, might know who is buying for who, but no one else will. And then you simply buy a gift for your allocated person.
Buying for a single person in the group not only makes shopping easier and cheaper, but it also reduces the amount of stuff friends and family buy to give at Christmas.
You can even place a price cap on eco-friendly gifts, say up to $25. Or anything you like really and suits your group. And then for a plastic-free Christmas set some guidelines to ensure everyone participates. E.g. no plastic packaging, sellotape, plastic goods and toys etc.
If you set a low price point, you’ll even encourage people to create gifts themselves such as baking or upcycling things around the home or from second-hand stores.
A plastic-free secret Santa is a brilliant way to get everyone thinking about their consumption, saving a bit of cash all around whilst still maintaining the warmth and excitement of giving.
When giving physical gifts avoiding plastic is not always easy.
When buying clothes as gifts, make sure to look for organic cotton or wool, for example as even that funky t-shirt is likely to contain plastic if it's blended with acrylic or nylon.
Toiletries and beauty products can be equally tricky as most come in single-use plastic containers. For inspiration, check out our:
Hopefully, there’s something in there for just about everyone.
A great deal of Christmas wrapping paper contains plastic. If it’s shiny, that’s the clue that it almost certainly has plastic.
There are several ways that you can avoid plastic when wrapping Xmas gifts for loved ones. Grabbing a roll of natural brown wrapping paper is a perfect alternative. You can jazz it up with potato prints which are easy to make and a perfect craft activity to do with the kids in the run-up to the 25th.
Alternatively, consider 100% cotton Christmas printed fabric. If you cut it carefully, you can reuse it year after year. Wrapping paper never lasted this long!
Or have a search for other printed materials with a Christmas theme:
Typically they make colourful Christmas ribbons from PVC or several plastic variants. Whereas we all love a bit of colour and shine, another zero-waste tip at Christmas is to choose natural alternatives.
For a plastic-free Christmas ribbon choice, colourful natural wool is a great option. If you’re inclined, you can even plait it for extra thickness and a more personal touch.
For a more organic look, a natural string can fit the bill for anyone of several plastic-free gifts over your choice of eco-friendly wrapping paper.
For our pick, we’ve chosen natural raffia. The seller makes this selection from renewable Raffia plants harvested in Madagascar. In bright reds, blues and yellows, you can add a little plastic-free colour to any gifts wrapping, and have a plastic-free conscience.
Nature can also provide us with all we need to decorate the zero waste way at Christmas—thinking about plastic baubles for the tree? Think again.
Consider instead making gingerbread men and icing them up with Christmas colours for a unique take on zero waste decor or gifts. A small hole punched gently in the top as they are cooling and a little natural string and voila - you’ve created your own beautiful and edible tree decorations.
Ditch the plastic baubles this Christmas with these beautiful hand-painted glass alternatives. As they’re hand-painted, you can even personalise them with the name of a loved one or Christmas message making these perfect zero waste Christmas decorations to gift too.
Candles can make any festive setting feel that much more special. And are essential for holiday season twinkle and are a must include in any zero waste Christmas gift guide. As such, we’ve picked out these colourful scented candles, made from soy wax, a more environmentally friendly ingredient than most of the mass-produced candles out there made from paraffin. Paraffin is a by-product of oil, and although not strictly plastic they’re both ultimately petroleum-based products.
This set of 4 comes in reusable tins which when the candles burn out can be reused around the house or even refilled with more eco-friendly soy wax [Amazon link]. The set includes four scents, lemon, lavender, Mediterranean fig and spring flavour.
Grabbing holly if you have some near you or if you don’t some foliage from hydrangeas, magnolias or any long-lasting greenery and simply wrap it in a circle tying with string where necessary. And there you have it, no need for buying a wreath and a wonderful natural creation of your own completely free from plastic waste. They also make great gifts for neighbours.
Grabbing a length of tartan cloth is a simple and easy idea to add colour to your Christmas decorations and table this holiday season. The seller we’ve featured makes this sustainably printed tartan from 100% natural cotton. You can cut it into a long strip for the perfect table runner or into stars and hearts to decorate the tree and around the home.
The Christmas table can feel that much more special, not to mention plastic-free, with the addition of the best that nature has to offer. Collecting pine cones and giving them a little glisten with eco-friendly glitter is a great start.
Grab some small paper bags and place some soil in the base to hold them upright and then decorate with twigs and greenery—a few of these cute ceramic stars complete this entry in our zero waste gift guide. Add a little imagination, and you can make a beautiful eco-friendly table setting.
Christmas can be a time for excess. As the season approaches, mouths start to water thinking of tables laden with food and drink and celebrations. However, with that excess can come a great deal of waste.
Where you can plan to buy locally and sustainably, stocking up on flour for deserts, preserved fruit, nuts and other essentials from a local bulk food store can help cut down on plastic packaging waste from a last-minute supermarket dash.
Buy loose in-season veg from markets or supermarket aisles rather than prepacked. This way you’ll be avoiding all those plastic trays, wraps and bags towards a waste-free Christmas. Even better, in-season veg will have travelled less distance to get to you, helping reduce their food miles.
And a little pre-planning can also help to ensure you don’t overbuy. Food waste is increasingly a global issue and Christmas is likely to be the worst time of year if we’re not careful.
To go plastic-free and cut down on waste this Christmas the run of a mill cracker just has to go. Those little plastic trinkets that no one uses are simply not going to do.
If you have the time making your own can be an entertaining way to get into the spirit and involve the kids in the lead up to Christmas. The first step if to save up some toilet roll in the run-up to Christmas. Then it’s pretty simple, grab some eco-friendly natural Christmas paper [search on Amazon]. Or you can personalise it by buying plain paper and printing with potato prints.
Then it’s merely a matter of choosing some gift ideas for trinkets and little plastic-free gifts to contain within. Ideas include metal key chains, miniature honey soaps, mini glass bottles filled with Christmas pudding spiced vodka or an alcohol-free spiced apple, clove and clementine syrup.
You can then search the internet for some Christmas cracker jokes and include them on hand-printed recycled paper alongside the fillings.
Then it’s merely a matter of wrapping the paper around the toilet rolls and tying together with some natural twine or raffia. You can buy Christmas cracker snaps [Amazon link] separately and include down the middle if you are after that authentic bang. Finally rather than including paper hats consider the all-natural woollen ones you can reuse year after year in the listing below. Alternatively, go for material gift bags.
Or you can have a look at the option on Etsy who have loads of handmade and crafted sets to buy:
Buy Christmas hats as gifts that will last. These red and white Santa hats make perfect gifts ideas for long-lasting Christmas wear. Perfect for cold boxing days walks and photo opportunities in front of the Christmas tree. Gift them instead of throwing away paper hats and reuse them every year.
If you’re hosting larger numbers outdoors or worried your china plates might be at risk of too much cheer, ditch the plastic plates. Many paper plates these days come in compostable varieties, and they’re certainly a better choice than those containing plastic.
For the Christmas BBQ, day after a picnic or in fact any eating occasion where real plates aren’t quite right, grab a set of Bamboo plates and cutlery. Eco-friendly, biodegradable and compostable they also look more natural fitting nicely in with the remainder of your plastic-free Christmas gifts.
We love these solar-powered mason jars for gift ideas or you. Light up your patio, deck or garden with these solar powered led lights and mason jars. They’re great for Christmas and sitting outside with a blanket and Christmas hot toddy.
Solar-powered the led lights can provide a warm glow for around 10 hours when the sun is shining. Packaged in paper and complete with a rechargeable battery, you’re good to go.
The top ring of mason jar does include some plastic fitting for the solar panel and battery, so this is not 100% plastic-free. However, they’re better than many of the plastic lamps and LEDs out there, and we think they warrant a place here. Not least we’re a big fan of using mason jars for storage and even growing herbs in our quest towards zero waste.
Finally in our list of plastic-free tips and ideas for Christmas, once all the guests have left and you’re ready to sort out the leftovers, wrap them up and store them for later the plastic free way.
Wrap leftovers in beeswax rather than cling film to avoid food waste. And grab some long-lasting stainless steel food storage containers to safely store your leftovers in the fridge or freezer, preventing it going to waste. There can be a lot of food waste at Christmas, buy consciously only the items that your family are likely to need and eat this holiday season.
|Williams, M.; Gower, R. and Green, J. with Whitebread, E.; Lenkiewicz, Z. and Schröder, P. (2019) No Time to Waste: Tackling the Plastic Pollution Crisis Before it’s Too Late, London: Tearfund|
|Plastic Waste Inputs from Land into the Ocean. Jenna R. Jambeck, Roland Geyer, Chris Wilcox, Theodore R. Siegler, Miriam Perryman, Anthony Andrady, Ramani Narayan, Kara Lavender Law. Science, vol. 347, no. 6223, 13 Feb. 2015, pp. 768–771, doi:10.1126/science.1260352|
|Barra et al. 2018. Plastics and the circular economy. Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel to the Global. Environment Facility. Washington, DC.|