How To Deal With Non-Zero Waste Gifts?

Zero Waste Christmas Video

Hello everybody! I got a few questions on Instagram about the notion of Christmas and what to do with gifts and so on. I thought I would address that today. Something I always do around situations where gift giving is in order, is that I express wishes and preferences beforehand. I try to do as much as I can to let the people close to me know that the matter of waste and trash is something that I care deeply about. Trust me, letting people know about your passions and interests will increase the likelihood of reduced trash.

But what if you still get something that is wrapped in plastic, or is made of plastic even? For me it is extremely important to be grateful no matter what, and no lifestyle is worth burnt bridges, as least that is my opinion. I try to pick my battle carefully when I am in situations where trash is produced, because sometimes it is going to happen, to everybody. I try to save the wrapping paper if possible, and I try to, at least, sort the waste so something goes to recycling rather than landfill.

Regarding the gift, I know some people suggested that you could use the non-zero waste gifts to give to other people, however that is not the approach I necessarily want to promote. Of course depending on the size, price and personal thought that is put into the gift, the acceptable next movie changes, but overall, I consider it a bit rude to pass something on immediately after receiving it yourself, just because it doesn’t suit your beliefs. It is easy to seem spoiled or a bit bratty I think. This statement is mostly related to presents with some personal value. On the other hand, if there is talk an item which to both parts proves unimportant, I see no problem returning it, donating it or giving it away. But for me, the most important thing here is avoid hurting the gift-giver’s feelings, so therefore: if there is any chance the gift-giver will get hurt because you did not keep the present, keep it, find use for it. If neither of you are attached to the item then find it a new home.

I hope this made some sort of sense, at least a little bit. This is my personal opinion towards gifts and zero waste and although it might not be shared by everyone, I hope you can see where I am coming from. Be respectful and be kind. Only good vibes from here.


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  1. Gifts are one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult part of reducing my waste and consumption after having a child. I have tried to explain our choices and how we live, but family members believe it is their right to spoil my child with gifts. I cannot express how quickly well meaning gifts from friends, family and schoolmates accumulate into loads of garbage (this includes stickers, balloons, toys and worst of all dollar store junk). It comes with every holiday and more (halloween, christmas, valentine’s day, easter, end of school year, birthday, birthday parties…). It is positively overwhelming.

    I have been working with my child on the first ‘r’, refusing, but it is a hard lesson for a five year old to learn. She is doing amazingly and really seems to get it. I have found when she becomes overloaded with gifts, she no longer enjoys them and becomes overwhelmed with cleaning up toys rather than playing with them. She is beginning to see this too and has been really great with saying ‘no thank you’ to things she doesn’t need, but not perfect of course.

    I have asked family members to restrict themselves to one thoughtful gift, not necessarily zero waste (with so many relatives, this is still a lot of gifts). When this request is not respected, we go through all her gifts and she sorts through what has meaning to her. We donate the rest to charity together. I am immensely proud of her choices so far, but wish we didn’t have to do it on every holiday. It has created a rift with some family members, though the relationship wasn’t a great one in the first place.

    After this long-winded explanation, I think what I am trying to say is that I don’t think it is always bratty or spoiled to politely say no thank you to or pass on a gift, especially if that person is aware of your belief system. I completely agree with your sentiment that sometimes it is not worth a battle or the loss of a relationship. I just wanted to express that when people in your life are aware of your choices and wishes and choose to ignore them, it is sometimes correct to assert yourself.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post. Gifts are a tough one, and I am continuing to sort through all the etiquette, social values, and guilt associated with them.

    We are not zero waste yet, but have greatly reduced both our consumption and waste as a family. Zero waste blogs, like yours, have been incredibly helpful and inspirational. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great advice! After reading Marie Kondo’s book on tidying up, I’ve settled on the conclusion that it’s better to give away something that may bring more joy to someone else – so if someone gives us a big plastic something for the holidays that we just don’t want, I will pass it on. Maintaining relationships with others is important too, though!

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