8 Ideas for Eco-Friendly Gifts This Holiday Season

by Katherine Sacks

Published: 12/12/19, Last updated: 12/13/19

The holiday season isn’t the only time we give gifts, but the pressure is certainly on during the month of December to BUY and GIVE. Gift-giving can be a more thoughtful and less commercial process. And it can certainly be done in a more sustainable way that doesn’t produce a lot of waste or unwanted presents. Use these tips for eco-friendly gifts now, at birthday time, or any time you feel like showing someone you are thinking about them! And don’t forget: research shows experiences bring more happiness than stuff.

Give a Homemade Food Gift

Use reusable containers like canning jars to make gift-sized portions of sustainable foods, like fair trade cocoa hot chocolate mix, homemade pickles and preservesorganic granola or spice blends. To give your eco-friendly gifts a special touch, include a handwritten note with instructions on how to use them. Bourbon-brined cherries would be perfect for a Manhattan lover; caramelized onion-coffee jam is delicious spread on grilled cheese, and spiced plum chutney could be paired with biscuits and clotted cream.

Or Make a Single-Use Plastic Swap

Help your loved ones go plastic-free by gifting them items to swap in for single-use plastics, such as plastic bags and plastic wrap. Use our guide to make reusable produce bags, bowl covers and snack bags, extra points if recycling old fabric to do it!

Make Homemade Wrapping Paper

Whether you are DIY or giving purchased items, refrain from buying new gift wrap if you can. First off, if you have wrapping paper from last year, use it up! Reuse gift bags, ribbons and decorative string from other packaging. The next option is to make your own wrapping paper. Cut open brown paper bags, then use stamps, markers or paint to decorate it before wrapping gifts. Pretty pages from magazines can also make nice eco-friendly gift wrap.


Give Something to Grow

Does your friend love to garden, or always talk about wanting to start growing plants? Buy the gift of seeds from a nonprofit seed savers organization, or simply donate so they can continue their important work. What do seed saving organizations do? They preserve the biodiversity of food-producing plants and often the cultural context in which these plants were bred. In a world where crops are selected for higher production and not higher quality, this work preserves flavors we would otherwise lose. Some examples include Seed Savers ExchangeNative Seeds/SEARCH and Hudson Valley Seed Library. And if you have a green thumb (and plants of your own at home), propagate a few cuttings for your friend to help start their home windowsill garden.

Cook Somebody a Special Meal

Invite someone over for a special feast. For some people, cooking is a mysterious skill or something they feel they cannot make time for. The gift of your time and culinary chops could be just the thing they’d love. Design the menu around foods you know they love or dishes you’ve heard them praise. Pro tip: this is a great way to use up the potatoes, cabbage and winter squash or other food you have in abundance in your kitchen. It’s also a great way to teach them how cooking can reduce your foodprint; choose dishes that use roots and stems to show how you can reduce food waste, or pick a recipe that uses less, but better meat. (If getting out of the house is tricky for them, suggest cooking at their place, and clean up afterward!

Teach Somebody Something

Do you have an enviable skill in the kitchen? Has the person you’re looking to give a present praised your abilities with dumpling making, pizza wizardry or tamale wrapping? Or you an eco-DIY whiz, super-talented at making your own tote bags and beeswax wrap. Maybe you are just like Marie Kondo, and very adept at cleaning out the pantry. Make your loved one a gift certificate for one lesson with you, and teach them your ways. If you slip in some pointers on reducing their foodprint, then all the better!

Make a Donation in Somebody’s Name

Does your friend connect with a certain cause? Make a monetary contribution to an organization that aligns with their concerns, and is helping create a food system that is better for the environment, animals, farmers, food workers and eaters. There are so many wonderful organizations out there. Some of them include:

  • Detroit Black Community Food Security Network: Addressing food security for the Black community in Detroit, through urban gardens and farms, as well as local food policy.
  • Farm Aid: Supporting family farmers, good food, soil and water, and strong communities.
  • Food & Water Watch: Championing healthy food and clean water for all.
  • FoodCorps: Connecting kids to healthy food at school, through hands-on learning in the garden, classroom and cafeteria.
  • Land Loss Prevention Project: Providing legal support and assistance to limited-resource farmers and landowners in North Carolina.
  • Real Food Challenge: Shifting $1 billion (20 percent) of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms and unhealthy food and towards local and community-based, fair, ecologically sound, and humane food sources. 

Gift a Subscription to a Food Website or Online Magazine

There is some truly wonderful food journalism being produced right now. For people generally interested in food, these sources are an incredible way to learn more about our food system and how to improve it. Some have subscriptions (digital and/or paper) available for purchase, and some are nonprofits that accept donations to continue their great work. Here are a few examples. If you’re not already reading them, you should be — maybe it’s time to give yourself a gift!

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