zero waste gifts

5 Zero-Waste Gifts to DIY This Holiday Season

Steve Russell - December 5, 2023

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The holidays too often mean a season of excess, a time for buying products that rarely get used and packaging that ends up as landfill fodder. However, there are better ways to celebrate than conspicuous consumption, especially considering humans have a limited time remaining to stop climate change’s worst effects. There’s no need to participate in the annual bacchanalia of wanton consumerism or head to a single shop to wow your loved ones with your beneath-the-tree offerings. Here are five zero-waste gifts to DIY this season.  

1. The Gift of Growing Things 

Did you get into the pandemic gardening craze? If you did, you probably learned to save your seeds and mastered the art of nurturing them into seedlings. Why not delight your loved ones and fellow green thumbs with the gift of growing things? All you need is some of your harvest, time to sprout your baby plant and a little DIY magic. 

Begin this project with some of your dried seeds. Select a variety the recipient loves and let it sprout over the next few weeks. You might want to plant a few if you’re not too savvy on your technique yet — that way, you can toss the duds and select the best to present. 

While your seed grows into a baby plant, get busy on a festive container. You can repurpose a pot you’re not using or find some new ones — one woman found dozens of plant pots outside a dumpster after her neighbor moved. Another festive idea is to repurpose a coffee can, lining it with plastic if it’s made of metal and using paper to decorate the outside. 

Pro-tip: Do your design work before applying the exterior to your pot. 

When your plant becomes a seedling, place it within and voila. Decorate your gift with a bow, and you’re ready to go. 

2. Become a Knit Wit 

If you know how to knit, you’re in luck this holiday season. You have the secret to zero-waste gifts right at your fingertips as you knit one, purl two. 

What are some great holiday gifts you can knit, even as a beginner? Try these ideas:

  • Hats, scarves and gloves: These seasonal items will see heavy use on cold days. 
  • A blanket: It’s winter. Blankets are rectangular. Enough said. 
  • Pillow covers: Do your mom’s throw pillows look the same as when you were little? Liven up her living room
  • A floor pouf: Is your friend with a new apartment low on seating? Help her dine like the Japanese more comfortably with a cute miniature bean bag pouf. 

3. Recipes You Won’t Find Anywhere Else 

Do you make like Rachel Ray when you hit the kitchen? Why not delight friends and family members with a one-of-a-kind cookbook, complete with their favorite recipes from your dinner parties? 

You might not even have to think of original ideas for everyone if you’re known as the Gordan Ramsay of your inner circle. Delight one family member with their favorite down-home recipes, your BFF with an ethnic version and your cousin who’s always dieting with a list of low-calorie and low-carb swaps. 

You might have to spend a little if you want to encase your collection in a commercial recipe DIY book. However, there’s no reason you can’t create a hardcover and fill the contents with recycled paper if you want to double down on sustainability and make this gift truly zero waste. 

4. Unwrapped Beauty Essentials 

Cosmetics companies follow packaging rules to keep their products fresh and safe, creating a lot of landfill fodder. If you opt for a premade beauty gift set, it will come wrapped in even more of the non-biodegradable stuff, and most of it isn’t eligible for recycling. It could choke aquatic wildlife or linger on earth for generations. 

However, there’s no reason you can’t DIY a great beauty basket that’s custom-formulated for the lucky recipient. Many of the balms and lotions you create will work as well or better than store-bought products without all the icky chemicals you can’t pronounce in the ingredients list. Here are some ideas for what to include: 

  • Lotion: Make something with a luxurious scent for the body. 
  • Face cream: Oils like argan are non-comedogenic for acne-prone skin, while coconut oil is the perfect base for drier complexions. 
  • Shampoo and conditioner: Take care with ingredients like eggs that can go bad — look for recipes that stay safe at room temperature. 
  • Exfoliating scrub: Make two — a rough one with sea salts for the body and a softer version with brown sugar for the face.
  • Massage oil: A few drops of essential oil in a carrier like argan in a pretty bottle completes this gift. 

Wrap your offering up in a pretty repurposed basket and adorn it with ribbons, seasonal flowers, pine branches and cones. If you know how to make natural soap, include a few bars of that, too. 

5. The Great Kitchen Stock-Up

Inflation at the grocery store has affected nearly everyone, but those with small budgets suffer the most. If you suspect someone in your circle struggles to keep food on their table, there’s no better DIY zero-waste gift than a well-stocked pantry. 

Your gift might take the form of a shopping spree. Get them a certificate or take them yourself if they won’t feel too uncomfortable filling their basket on your dime. Otherwise, stock up on these food pantry essentials, arrange them in a festive, repurposed basket and watch their eyes light up when they unwrap your offering: 

  • Salt, pepper and other condiments: Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and salad dressing may not seem expensive, but they’re extravagances when you can only afford the basics. 
  • Non-perishable goods: Try to stay away from unhealthy foods laden with white flour and additives. Instead, look for good-for-you, stable fare like lentil or whole grain pasta, organic tomato sauce, natural peanut butter, snacking nuts and dried fruit. They offer nutrition that lasts for months. 
  • Freezer favorites: Here’s another fun idea for the Martha Stewart clan. When you do your weekly meal prep, double your recipe for your healthy grab-and-go freezer favorites. Even fast food costs a fortune on a small budget, and your recipient will thank you on their next busy work day. 
  • Non-food items: Paper towels and toilet paper never go out of style. Do you know any new parents? If so, disposable diapers are always welcome, even if they typically use cloth, and you can find biodegradable ones. 

Zero-Waste Gifts to DIY 

The holiday season too often means conspicuous consumption. However, the planet needs humans to stop their wasteful ways — and quickly. 

This holiday season, delight your loved ones with these zero-waste gifts you can DIY. You won’t have to spend a dime to make someone smile. 

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.