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A Zero Waste Guide to Receiving Gifts


Last Updated on January 23, 2024

So, I’m not shy about my birthday. I talk about it a lot in the beginning of October; because, I LOVE my birthday

a zero waste guide to receiving gifts from #zerowaste #goingzerowaste #receivinggifts #gifting #lowwaste #gifts

I had Danielle from No Need for Mars over, and we drank too much champagne. And, by we I mean me… I drank too much champagne. My cake was bought at a local bakery in my own cake carrier which has been getting a lot of use recently. (Finally a way to buy a dozen donuts!)

It was such a fun evening with Danielle! She was so sweet; because she wanted us to pick out a gift together. Zero wasters know it’s really important to make sure that gifts are important and/or useful. 

So, how do you deal with other people that don’t quite understand that gifts should be important and/or useful? 

make a list: 

By making a list you can navigate presents. You can make sure you’re getting something you want and something that adds value to your life.

I got a dishrack, an external hard drive, and tickets to a ball at the winery where Justin and I are members. I am so excited. These are things that I needed and a fun experience. 

Try and focus friends and family towards experiences or investment pieces. I have a full gift giving guide if you’re looking for ideas. 

Most importantly make the list early! Christmas/Birthday lists have to be sent no later than June in my family. In fact, my mom had a plan. Then she decided to go in a completely different direction.

She called me on Monday to let me know to send her a revised list. On Wednesday morning, I called her with an update and she told me it was too late. She handled it on Tuesday. 

Less than 48 hours. Be prepared – have a list. 

open communication: 

It’s really important to be open and to voice your concerns. Emphasize why it’s important that your gifts are fair-trade, made in America/responsibly, or has little to no single use plastic or trash.

You can’t be upset if you haven’t been clear to your family about your values. 

This is why you want to get a list in early. You’ll have plenty of time to talk about what’s on your list, why it’s on your list, and what about it appeals to you. 

When I make a list I always make annotations. To say what I like about it. The dishrack on my list, for example, had a note next to it saying, “I like that it’s mostly stainless steel.

It’s great that it catches the water and will drain into the sink instead of ruining my kitchen grout! I also really like that it has a five-year warranty.”

By listing reasons next to each item I like there becomes a very obvious pattern.

Craftsmanship, warranties, end-life, I’m able to paint a broader picture to help them understand what I desire. 

No one wants to buy you a bad present! So, you need to condition them to what a good present means to you. And, the time to do that is before you’re opening the gift, not during. 

repetition and reinforcement: 

I have been zero waste almost two years now. I wasn’t zero waste for 24. It takes time to build patterns.

My dad still forgets I can’t eat dairy or don’t like soda – things I haven’t liked/been able to eat my entire life. 

Friends and family aren’t going to magically remember how you feel about gifts because you mentioned something about not liking plastic one time. It’s something that needs mentioning and reminding. 

Of course, there’s a fine line between nagging and reminding. Which brings me to my last point. 

be kind: 

Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. People aren’t always going to adhere to the list. Just roll with it and be kind. 

Some people will flat out reject a gift, but I don’t think that’s appropriate. I wouldn’t do that. I would accept the gift and sincerely thank them. Then at a much later date bring it up. Talk about it openly.

But, DO NOT have that conversation in the heat of the moment.

That is a recipe for disaster and someone’s feelings will get hurt. They’re trying to do something nice. They are not trying to ruin your day. 

A gift is meant to be received, but a gift does not have to be kept. 

After you receive the gift, it is up to you what you do with it. You can donate it, sell it, or use it. Do not let sentimentality bring you down. I address this more thoroughly in this post

How do you handle gifts with your family? Have you ever run into any issues? 

RELATED: An Open Letter to My Family on Presents from Eco Cult

*This post may contain affiliate linking you can read more on my disclosure page.

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  1. This is a great idea. What do you do about wrapping paper and the wastefulness of making the gift a surprise? Our family has one huge amazon bag that we reuse and it’s common knowledge that it must come back every year. I’ve been thinking about making some of those just for gifting. Thoughts? What else do you do?

    1. Hey šŸ™‚ I buy offcuts of fabric & wrap presents really nicely in those. You can find great fabric wrapping videos online to make them look beautiful! At Christmas my family know I’d like all the fabric back too, which means I reuse it every year. I also have a load of tissue paper that I’ve had for years which I keep reusing to wrap things. Hope this helps. šŸ™‚

    2. Great question! Most of my family is out of town, so they never wrap the presents. They just send them in the box. I would make some cloth santa sacks to keep the presents in and reuse them year after year. You could also use newspaper!

  2. Aw, thanks sweetie for the shout out! It was a great birthday full of champagne and karaoke!

  3. So my landlord is a really sweet lady, and out of the kindness of her heart, whenever she visits she brings snacks for the kids (which typically they can’t even eat). Today I stopped by to drop off a rent check and ended up walking out the door with a plastic bag full of individually wrapped cookies and candies – she wouldn’t take no for an answer, and since it’s her way of showing kindness I didn’t want to insist too forcefully. But now I’m going through the guilt of breaking my zero waste "diet." I don’t really see her often enough to explain why we don’t want these gifts. What do I do?

    1. A gift is meant to be received. Take it with a smile. If you’re kids can’t eat it, I would pass it on to someone hungry, less fortunate, or homeless. If you want to give it to your kids, I’d want to set a good package free example. So, they know that you don’t like packaged treats. I’d probably take them out of the package before giving it to them.

  4. People I know appreciate food baskets which will not create clutter. I use recyable bags to put items in instead of gift wrapping. Tractor supply bags or you local grocer’s bags are decorative and can be used for storage or travel also.