The 7 Best Zero-Waste Gifts for Your Eco-Friendly Loved Ones

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  • A great gift is usable all year long. Swap short-lived flowers for a potted plant, disposables for reusables, or a CD they'll scratch in a week for a year of digital downloads.
  • Memories are made of experiences, not stuff. Give the gift of a great adventure or a donation to their favorite cause.
  • Yummy food never goes to waste. Just be mindful of the packaging.

We wish you a sustainable holiday and a reusable new year.

After years of being inundated with single-use items and disposable everything, many folks are looking for ways to cut the waste in their lives. Not only are zero-waste gifts better for the planet -- they're better for your finances, too. For every single-use item you throw away, another must be bought.

If your loved ones are eco-minded (or you are and you'd like to spread the love), consider picking holiday gifts that keep the plastic and packaging to a minimum. Here are some ideas to get you started.

1. Potted plants

A living plant in a pretty pot (ceramic, not plastic!) makes a wonderful gift, and the options are endless. If you want something festive, you can go traditional with a poinsettia plant. They're inexpensive at most garden centers, and with a little care, poinsettias can easily be kept year-round (the red foliage will come back each winter).

For the eminently practical friend, use container-friendly herbs or other edible plants. You can buy them at the garden center or even from most big-box stores and supermarkets. Or, if your gift recipient likes a little DIY in their life, skip the grown plants entirely and include easy-to-grow herb seeds like basil or mint.

2. Baked goods

If your loved ones are anything like mine, baked goods are definitely a zero-waste gift -- there won't be so much as a crumb going to waste! To keep your own waste to a minimum, bake all at once, preferably on a cool day so the heat of your oven is a welcome addition. And you can pack your delicious gifts in containers that can be easily recycled and / or are reusable.

3. Memberships / subscriptions

Pretty much everything requires a membership or a subscription these days, so why not give the gift of not having to deal with that nonsense? Many places will let you gift a subscription to their service or provide a digital e-gift card (skip the plastic gift cards if you can).

Stick to memberships to places they like to go -- the aquarium is always fun! -- or digital subscriptions for media they enjoy. Avoid anything "...of the Month" that will generate excess packaging or products that may not get used.

4. An experience or adventure

A great experience is worth 1,000 candles that somehow smelled way better in the store. Maybe it's dinner at their favorite restaurant or an afternoon of rock climbing. Bonus points if it's something you can do together to create memories that will last long after that ugly sweater has lost its last googly eye.

5. Reusable household essentials

So many of the things we use every day are actually single-use or disposable -- but they don't have to be. You can find functional, practical, and downright fun versions of many everyday products that are also easily reusable. Here are just a few popular ideas:

  • Reusable straws (metal work best, bamboo are great for water)
  • Reusable cotton pads and makeup wipes
  • Stainless steel or glass water bottles
  • Reusable produce and grocery bags
  • Beeswax food wraps

6. A donation to a worthy cause

There are countless organizations working hard to help improve our lives and our planet, any of which would make a great holiday gift. You can donate on your loved one's behalf, and most organizations will offer some sort of certificate you can print to show you donated in their name. (Want bonus points? Print the certificate on recycled paper, or go all out and pick up some plantable seed paper!)

Don't forget that most cash donations are tax-deductible. Alternatively, dip into your credit card rewards to donate without denting your holiday budget.

7. Buy-It-For-Life upgrades

Some things in life are going to need replacing no matter what. But in some cases, investing in a high-quality product at the outset can give you decades of reliability. If your loved one has something they use regularly that could use a decent upgrade, do a little research into the best buy-it-for-life brands that will stand the test of time. Or, if they already have the item, look for a high-quality maintenance kit so they can keep it in top shape for years to come.

If they won't use it, don't buy it

All of us are prone to viewing gifts for loved ones in our own filters. But no matter how much we love something, there's no guarantee that our friends and family will love it, too. The least zero-waste gift is one that is never used. Before you blow your holiday budget, make sure you're buying the gift they actually use -- not the one you think they should use.

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