A Zero Waste Guide to Christmas Gifts

A Zero Waste Guide to Christmas Gifts

What a great time of year Christmas is. If it wasn’t for the festive period, I'm not sure I would make it through the winter.

The problem is, the commercial focus of Christmas can wreak havoc for anyone trying to lead a zero waste lifestyle.

But it doesn't mean that you have to be the Grinch either. To help you on your way, we have put together a guide to navigate gifting at Christmas in a sustainable way.

Before Christmas

Communication is key

OK, let's start with the elephant in the room.

People will want to buy you gifts for Christmas.

And you may not want them to buy you gifts, or you may have your eye on something in particular. If that’s the case, let people know!

Write a Christmas gift list, or mention that you are doing something different this year, e.g. you want people to donate to charity on your behalf.

I can pretty much guarantee that someone will ignore this list and buy you a random present (looking at you Grandma). Don’t panic! Accept graciously and be happy - they obviously love you enough to buy you a gift.

You may even like the present. If so, great! If not, do something about it. Got a gift receipt? take it straight back and get a refund. If not, don't just let it gather dust in the corner. Exchange it for something you will actually use, add it to your regifting pile, put it on eBay or give it away on Freegle or Olio.

Give less

One great way of reducing the amount of gifts at Christmas is getting people on board with Secret Santa.

If you're not familiar, the premise is that each person puts their name in a hat. Each participant takes turns pulling a name out of a hat and they have to give a gift to whoever they pull out. A price limit is usually set so that everyone gets a gift of similar value.

Pulling names out of a hat is rather old fashioned and there are lots of simple online tools that will automate the process, emailing each person the name of who they need to buy a gift for. Give Drawname and Elfster a try.

Secret Santa is great because it reduces the number of presents being gifted. However, be careful. If the budget is set too low or people don’t know each other very well, a lot of the gifts being bought will end up being novelty and one hit wonders destined for landfill after a few days (think beard glitter or desk golf!).

If you are part of a Secret Santa, it's the perfect opportunity to expose them to all the great sustainable products and brands out there and we have lots of ideas in the next section.

Eco-friendly gift ideas

Being sustainable at Christmas doesn’t mean you can't buy gifts for friends and family, it just requires a bit of extra thought and thinking outside the box. There are loads of ideas out there, and here are our top picks:

Experience Days

Get people out of their comfort zone, give them a memory of a lifetime or just pamper them with an experience day. Here are a few suggestions:

For more ideas have a look on experience day websites like Experience Days (great name) and Red Letter Days.

The above suggestions, if you include transport and other costs, can end up being quite expensive. But you don't need to spend huge sums; why not make your own experience days?

  • Arrange a walk - Amy and I have started walking the green chain routes around south east London and they are fantastic. Give the app Go Jauntly a go to find walking routes in your local area.
  • Cycle tour - I always find planning a cycle route a bit tedious so I'd love this gift. There are so many great cycle routes to take advantage of in the UK.
  • Museums - With so many free museums in the UK, why not take advantage of them?

Sustainable Gifts

We wouldn't be able to complete a list on eco-friendly gifts without talking about some of the fantastic sustainable products we stock!

Plastic Free Shaving Kit

Reco plastic-free shaving kit

When people ask me what my favourite zero waste swap is, I always go to the switch from a disposable plastic razor to a reusable safety razor. Why? Because it's a win-win-win. It's better for the environment, better for your wallet and gives a better shave. There isn't one good reason why people shouldn’t make this swap. Granted, there is a small learning curve but that's what our indepth safety razor guide is for.

Our plastic free shaving kit contains our 3R safety razor, shaving soap and 5 spare blades. It is THE perfect gift to start someone on the zero waste path.


As the old saying goes, give a person a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they will eat for a lifetime.

Similar to the experience day idea, giving the gift of a new skill is a terrific way to expose people to something they may never consider signing up for themselves. They may even find a new hobby! Or at the very least you might now have a friend that can repair your bike for free 😊.

Here some of our favourite ideas:

For something more tech focused (think programming, graphic and web design), consider gifting an online course from Udemy, Materclass or Creative Live.

Pre-owned gifts

Some people might think twice about giving a second-hand gift (I'm not advocating giving someone an old pair of sweaty trainers) but it's not as strange as you might think.

Think of how amazing it would be if a gift that you gave lasted so long that it could be passed onto the next generation!

Also, antiques, by their very nature, are normally 2nd, 3rd, 4th... who knows how many hands!

Have you read a great book recently and think someone else would like it? What a great personal gift.

We covered a number of apps in our eco-friendly apps list that you can use to find second hand products, some are below:

Some other great places to source second hand goods are:

  • eBay
  • Gumtree
  • Facebook Marketplace

Donations to charities

Struggling to find a gift for someone that has everything? Donating money in their name to a cause that they are passionate about, be it a charity or a local community project, is a great gesture that avoids unnecessary purchases and instead contributes to a worthwhile purpose.


House plants are definitely in vogue at the moment and you can't go wrong with a nice house plant.

There are countless plants to choose from and you can find something to match any budget. Some of the amazing benefits of indoor plants have been shown as:

  • An improved mood
  • Improved air quality
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Improved attention span!

Edible Gifts

Are you a dab hand in the kitchen?

Why not make some edible gifts like cakes, pies, chutneys, jams etc. ?

Wrapping presents - the eco-friendly way

The whole exercise of wrapping presents in paper and sealing it up with sellotape is a single-use nightmare - not to mention sellotape being from plastic. But don't fret, here are some other options:

  • Reuse old magazines and newspapers
  • Use fabric bags
  • Rather than using sellotape, tie up presents with non-synthetic string, like twine or ribbon. I'm a bit useless at tying ribbons, so if you are like me, here's a master at work:

Are you a fan of origami? If yes, then you'll love this. Furoshiki is a traditional type of cloth used by the Japanese to wrap presents.

Not only does it look super impressive, it means that you can reuse the material again and again for other presents. Here's a master at work showing how it's done:

Prep for Next Christmas

The last thing you will want to do at the end of Christmas Day is think about NEXT Christmas, but now is a great time to stock up your reuse box.

Christmas cards can become next years' gift tags, and old wrapping paper can be given a new lease of life, depending on how presents have been opened!

So there are our tips, got something to add? let us know in the comments!

Andy Smith
Andy Smith

Founder of Reco, a marketplace and community dedicated to find shift from a single-use mindset to a multi-use one. #SingleUseSucks

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