You can give the gift of saving money and saving the planet at the same time. These sustainable gifts will help reduce waste and keep single-use plastics out of the dumps and oceans. Even better, they can be used over and over, eliminating the need to buy disposable items.
There are dozens of websites where you can buy an eco-friendly gift. While we’ve included retail links, don’t forget that your local discount stores and farmers markets often have great selections with affordable prices.
Browse our list below for ideas and links on where to find them, plus more eco friendly and thrifty ideas.
Food & Drink
Eating out or in can be easily made more sustainable with these eco friendly gifts, since it is where a lot of consumer waste occurs. Take out containers and single use water bottles make up almost half of the waste in the oceans. Even better, these items can save money each time they’re used.
1. Reusable Bottles/Cups
Look for reusable bottles that fit where you need them to (car, bike, hand) and keep the desired temperature. Check that they are BPA/BPS free. This is a great sustainable gift. People spend an average of $5 a week just on bottled water. These range from $3 to $20.
2. Vegetable Storage Bag / Reusable Silicone Storage Bag
Reusable produce bags can keep fruits, vegetables, and other food fresh longer. It’s estimated that Americans waste $240 Billion of food each year, almost $1,900 per person. You can get these super cute ones, three for $15. Pack meals in reusable silicone bags and never buy plastic bags again. They are dishwasher and microwave safe.
3. Reusable Coffee Filter
Coffee is near and dear to our hearts and we like drinking it guilt free. There are reusable filters for every type of coffee maker. Instead of using disposable plastic pods, get your favorite coffee and put in reusable cups, with a pack of four costing $11. If you have a drip filter, a coffee sock, made of organic cotton and just needing to be rinsed out after using, can last for way more than a year ($14).
4. Beeswax Food Wraps
Cling wrap seems like a necessary evil, but it’s not. Beeswax food wrap keeps food just as fresh, and with proper care, a sheet can last a year. And remember what we said earlier about cute? These are a perfect stocking stuffer, costing a little more than a box of cling wrap and lasting much longer. Often made with organic cotton, they’re totally safe for kids’ stuff and can be hand washed.
5. Reusable Dishcloths
Face it. The pandemic made buying paper towels a contact sport. Join the cult of the Swedish dishcloth. They dry quickly and can be used forever (makers claim that a single cloth does the job of 17 rolls of paper towels). They’re biodegradable, don’t grow germs like sponges, and are as good as new after washing. The most popular pack of 10 costs $19, but remember, that’s 170 rolls of paper towels you’re not buying.
Gifts for the home are wonderful ways to remind people you care about them during the holiday season, and that you both care about the planet.
6. Dryer Balls
A pack of six wool dryer balls costs $10 and will save buying fabric softener and dryer sheets for three or four years. Some have essential oils on them to give a lovely scent to the laundry.
7. Window Solar Charger
Using sunlight to charge devices instead of paying power companies? Sounds good. Realistically, charging all of your devices may not cost that much each. But add it together and you can save enough for a few dinners out. Portable solar chargers start around $20 and the window versions start at $38.
8. Programmable and Smart Thermostats
Programmable thermostats have been around for years. They allow residents to set the optimum heating/cooling times so less energy is used when no one is home. They’re a great first step. People can save between $50-$100 a year setting them.
Research shows though that 40% of owners never use them. That’s where smart thermostats enter. These wi-fi connected thermostats learn heating and cooling preferences, and operate with minimal interaction. Smart thermostats start at $60, meaning they make their cost back in just over a year.
9. Rechargeable Lighter
Lighters used to be “rechargeable” by being filled with lighter fluid. Those fell out of favor and disposable lighters — which can’t be recycled — now dominate. A rechargeable lighter doesn’t use fire to light things, but an electric arc. A single charge can last for months. Rechargeable lighters start at around $13 and last for years.
10. Smart Sprinkler Control
Here’s a big savings for someone who has a sprinkler system. The EPA estimates that a household with an ignored irrigation system can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water each year. Make a big difference with a smart sprinkler control. These use weather apps to ensure the yard isn’t under- or over-watered, plus much more. Most can be controlled easily via an app. Smart sprinkler control systems start around $100.
11. Rechargeable Batteries
Maybe giving batteries as a Christmas present sounds a little Grinchy, but these are one of the best sustainable gifts. An 8-pack of rechargeable AA batteries costs $15, and can last several years with just a little care. A similar pack of non-rechargeable batteries costs $8, and when it’s done, it’s done.
12. Hydroponic Greens Garden
Growing greens at home in a hydroponic garden is pretty easy. Hydroponics means soil and a yard aren’t necessary. You can spend anywhere from $20 to thousands on hydroponic systems, so getting a starter kit first is a good idea. Not gonna lie, this garden combined with a fish tank ($100) is topping my list for Santa. No more buying bags of greens at the grocery store!
We don’t really stop and think about the environmental impact of self care. Yet it is one of the easiest areas to make green, with no loss of quality or time. An eco-friendly item in the bathroom is the perfect gift, since every time it’s used, they’ll think of you.
13. Shampoo & Conditioner Bars
Using bar shampoo and conditioner gets rid of the nasty plastic packaging. We are used to using hand and face soap bars. This takes it to the next level. There’s a huge variety in prices, from $3 to $15 or more a bar, but they last 50 to 75 washes. That’s equal to at least two bottles of shampoo.
14. Low-Flow Showerhead
Low-flow showerheads get the same great shower feeling with anywhere from 40 to 60% less water. That saves on water and electricity bills immediately, making these great sustainable gifts. They cost (for a decent one) from $22 to $100.
15. Reusable ‘Cotton’ Swabs
Another not very sexy but very eco-friendly stocking stuffer, is the humble reusable swab that mimics what a Q-tip can do though it’s not made of cotton but rather medical grade materials. The makers claim that one reusable swab saves 1,000 disposable ones from getting into the landfill. They come in sweet little cases made from recycled material, and are easy to use and clean, costing under $12 each.
16. Silicone Baby Bibs
Silicone is one of the environmental material heroes. These wipe off easily, keeping them out of the laundry. Imagine not having to buy and wash bibs all the time. Some also come with deep front pockets to catch drips and drools. Look for 100% silicone so there’s no harmful BPA or scary chemicals in them. These cutie pies cost only $13 for one, and they last for years.
17. Reusable Makeup Remover Pads
Reusable makeup remover pads are another great stocking stuffer. They replace the disposable ones, or the cotton balls, paper towels, or wipes people usually use, and can also be used to apply makeup. They often come in a little laundry bag, and are compostable. Reusable makeup remover pads cost $15 and last for a couple of years, only a little bit more than a disposable pack that might last a month.
18. Reusable Razor
Razors used to always be reusable, but maybe not very safe. Today’s reusable razors are both. These are also a great sustainable fashion statement, with sleek design and low priced replacement blades. These are a great gift for friends, starting around $30. They last for years with replacement blades (10 for $10), much cheaper than using a disposable razor each week.
19. Silicone Toothbrush
Let’s get rid of another disposable item — the toothbrush. About 500 million end up in landfills (or worse) each year, just in the United States. There are toothbrushes made out of bamboo or other recycled materials, but instead get one that will last for years. A silicone toothbrush is anti-bacterial, only costs $10, and you replace the bristles, not the whole thing.
20. Reusable Odor Eliminators
These charcoal filled bamboo bags absorb odors from stinky shoes, gym bags, and lockers. They won’t have to buy air or shoe fresheners again. Just be gentle when you give them, okay? A pack of two costs $11 and lasts for two years.
More Eco-Friendly Gifts (That Cost Pennies)
It isn’t hard to make a thoughtful, unique gift for people. Here are some options that will warm their hearts and keep your bank account happy too.
21. Family Recipes
We can get sentimental during the holidays, especially when it comes to eating and drinking. Collect traditional family recipes from the cooks (and bartenders) in your clan. Bonus points for getting some stories about the food from the older members in your family. That’s a gift too.
Handwrite or print recipes out and bind them together; use a beloved photo or drawing for the front page; and update the recipe collection every year or so. Promise you, it will be treasured.
22. Jar of Cookie Mix
Speaking of recipes, the internet is full of cookie mix in a jar recipes. They’re easy to put together for several people, and can be really pretty when you layer the ingredients in a clear jar. Write or print the recipe out and attach it. Recipients will need to provide the wet ingredients, but otherwise you’ve done most of the work.
23. The Gift of Music
While actual mixtapes might be hard to make (who has a cassette player these days?), putting together individualized mixtapes for friends and family on streaming services is one of the most thoughtful things you could do. We did this as the wedding favor for a remote wedding, and are still raking in the compliments.
24. Family Crossword Puzzle
There are websites that let you create crossword or word search puzzles for free. Why not make ones that have your family’s or friends’ catchphrases, memories, mottos, and oops, embarrassing reminders. And no carbon footprint!
25. Gift of Time
Maybe all people really want is just some easy hanging out time together. Make a commitment of a once a month visit, a weekly walk, or a Sunday morning phone call, and keep it. It won’t just be a gift to the other person.
The Extra Sustainable Step of Giving
Take an extra couple of minutes to think about how you are giving the gift. Are you using a bunch of fresh wrapping paper, tape, and bows? Instead, if it can be boxed, why not decorate the box and save paper.
You can emulate my grandmother and refuse to ever use tape on a gift box, but secure it with ribbon or twine. Choose cloth ribbons that can be reused. You’ll be following truly sustainable practices.
The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on lifestyle and culture topics. She is the former owner of a coffee shop in St.Petersburg, Florida, and has hosted an arts show on WMNF community radio for nearly 30 years.