The Perfect Gift List for a Beginner Environmentalist

by - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

amazing gifts for a beginner environmentalist

So you have a family member or friend who is starting to really think about the environment. Maybe they are outraged by the unlawful shrinking of national monuments for the sake of fossil fuels. Maybe they had a baby and are thinking more seriously about the future. Maybe they saw the video of the sea turtle or the photos of the gigantic garbage patches. Maybe they don't even realize they give a shit yet, but they are just starting to notice how off things are.

There are a million reasons people start to care, and they are all good. We need everyone to care.

If you know and love someone interested in making some changes, it might be hard to know what they want or how you can support them. Are they cutting down on meat? Becoming minimalists? Do you have a baby zero-waster on your hands?

 There are lots of helpful gifts you can give them to get moving in the right direction. And can you think of anything better to celebrate than someone brave enough to step out of the mainstream and help save the world!? Even if they are just starting to think about it, that's pretty awesome.

Ok, so approaching green gifting takes three steps:

1. Buy Less

 No one buy everything on the list! One thoughtful gift is plenty, especially because almost everything on the list can be kept for a long, long time.

2. Buy Used

 Want to gift cloth napkins and have some sewing skills? Head to Goodwill for cloth and make them yourself. Buying secondhand (or finding things through community sharing groups like the Buy Nothing Project) is one of the greenest things you can do, because it prevents things needlessly being sent to the landfill.

3. Buy Local or Fair Trade

 Yes, you can find reusable bags anywhere, but there is a pretty wide spectrum of responsibility and ethics behind those bags. Look for things that use ethical materials (always steer away from synthetics), ethical labor (fair trade or made in a country with high labor standards), and ethical use of fossil fuels (have you ever though how much is wasted by shipping water bottles or straws across the world?) Local is better for the environment and better for your world. It's always worth it.

Some of this seems banal or almost too practical to be gifts, but wouldn't you rather spend your money on something that gets used instead of something that gathers dust?

This blog does have affiliate links for Amazon and Etsy, but I strongly recommend you see if you can find the same stuff locally. Amazon is the Walmart of the internet, and you can keep your money in your own community, doing way more good, if you shop local. 

Last but not least, someone is going to read this list and say "but where is the family cloth?" No friend, this list is for rookies, for people who don't have the simple basics you need to shift away from plastics and disposables. We want people to start with what they can keep up with and move from there. Don't get mad everyone isn't diving in; let's all just be psyched that they are even sticking a big toe in the pool. Maybe they will get to a family cloth, but just switching to paper-wrapped recycled or bamboo toilet paper is still a huge and important step.

This blog firmly believes that no one can get it 100% "right", but we all can do something, and we all can do more. Let's focus on changes we can make and attitudes we can shift.

Ok, preaching done- who wants some gift ideas?

1. Reusable Water Bottle

People who care about the environment tend to be deeply committed to their reusable water bottles. Americans used 50 billion water bottles last year (38 billion of those were not recycled). So even if the person only cares a little, they probably care enough to use a great reusable water bottle. Plus, you can save them SO MUCH money!

Two tips- focus on what is easy to clean, because the easy to clean ones are the ones that last. Secondly, steer away from plastic bodies if you can. Even the best plastic has proven to leech nasty chemicals after time, and we want this to last.

Here are a few of my favorite water bottle options (and if you see them secondhand, snatch them up)- Lifefactory (we use them AND our kids use them) and  Liberty Bottleworks (Made in Washington, aluminum, and you can get replacement parts). I know a lot of people are big Yeti fans, though most aren't made in the US- I would recommend Laken instead, as their manufacturing is more transparent,

If you are going plastic, I recommend Nalgene's simple bottles (not Contigo or Camelback). These are easy to clean, BPA-free, and still made in the US.

2. Recycled Paper Goods

Have you ever bought someone toilet paper for a gift? How about paper towels? They may not be the most glamorous gifts, but getting someone started on recycled paper basics can be a big help that saves them money! I mean, if you buy them bulk toilet paper, they can save that money for something fun or unexpected. Why don't we all buy each other basics for holidays?

If you want to see my best options for basics, check out this blog.

In fact, you can get any and all paper products recycled. Everything from gift wrap to printer paper to tissues. If you want paper inspiration, check out this blog.

3. Cloth Napkins

What nasty trickster convinced us all that we needed to use a disposable napkin everyday? They are so small that they never cost an extra load of laundry, and they are such a simple switch any novice can pull them off. Plus, they can be really pretty and fun.

We have the impression cloth napkins are for fancy events, but they are actually best for low key everyday use. You can break someone's habit and help them switch over.

You can find thousands (15,000 to be exact) of cloth napkins on Etsy. My favorites are ClearSkyHome, GreenLittleNest, and ohlittlerabbit. If you just want to gift something simple to start a collection, check out moocowmomma's collections. CHOWwithMeKitchStudios, and foxyandwinston are worth checking out too.

I received napkins as a gift once, and I absolutely loved it. We still use them ALL the time. Seriously, cloth napkins are the best.

4. Seeds

So simple, so perfect for someone you know who is really thinking about where their food is really coming from. Gardening can provide food, but it also promotes real moments of calm. And it is hard not to feel damn proud of making the food you eat.

Not everyone has room for a garden- maybe gift a few potted plants? They are proven to make people happier AND filter the air! Indoor herbs can also be a big winner.

Go to a local nursery and hear their recommendations, look for classes (if your person would like that), or pair this gift with something from the Gardener Wish List.

5. Unsponge and Dish Brushes

Those ScotchBrite sponges are usually made with plastic and wrapped in plastic. They don't have a long use life, but they don't decompose either.  Not great. You can get a recycled version, but the best option we use are these unsponges, which are made of cloth, can be washed in the laundry, and reused again and again. We got our first ones last year, and they still look and work as good as new. I LOVE the unsponges from marley'smonsters. These are the best- but there are plenty on Etsy so feel free to browse the 400 available.

Unsponges can't do all the work alone, so gift them with a great scrub brush. I like dishbrushes with wood or bamboo handles- no reason to use plastic when a healthier material will do. This one is so cute. Tiny yellow bungalow has zero-waste and stylish brushes and scrubbers too.

Another cool thing for cleaning- these hemp eco-clothes. Reusable cleaning clothes, that I think are supposed to remind you of Norwex or microfiber clothes, but they use hemp instead of microfibers (that shed uncleanable plastic into the ocean). Want more eco-friendly cleaning ideas that might make great gifts? Try something from this blog.

6. Bar Soap

Bar soap is a simple gift that can perfectly fit their taste, support a local business, AND cuts down on plastic waste! Skip Bath and Bodyworks (the gift that says "I don't know you") and get your loved one something made nearby that smells amazing and saves the world. Bar soap beats liquid hands down, so your budding environmentalist might be all about the saved plastic. If you want something you can get online, Kiss my Face's olive oil soap (wrapped in paper) is my favorite face soap.

Bar soap yields over 100,000 finds on Etsy, so narrow it down by geography and see what is being made near you. Or ask at local shops and grocery stores. I would LOVE this gift, as I love trying new soaps.

7. Toothbrushes

Ok, toothbrushes could be the lamest and most amazing gift ever. We all get enough gifts that we never use, so why not buy something that is guaranteed to get use? Buy your loved one an ethical brush and a few more self-care tools.

Plastic toothbrushes put all sorts of nonsense chemicals in your mouth (and it isn't regulated particularly, so it is worth it to be wary), you have two better options- bamboo or Preserve's recycled foodsafe plastic. toothbrushes.

One BIG tip- If you are trying to gift without plastic (GO YOU!), really look at the reviews of the bamboo toothbrush you choose. LOTS of people complain of buying a bamboo toothbrush only to have it arrive in plastic. If you shop somewhere mainstream like Amazon, you can find that information, so take the time to do so (but try a shop like The Refill Revolution or Tiny Yellow Bungalow instead- it takes hutspah to run a small business and even more to serve the Earth at the same time).

8. Reusable Grocery and Produce Bags

Really, how are we all not using reusable bags by now? Still, produce bags aren't as common and might be a great choice for your loved one. If nothing else, a reusable tote makes great, zero-waste wrapping for gifts.

I have a few favorites, but mostly I have a few simple tips (me? be bossy?? Unimaginable). Try to steer away from synthetic fabrics, as you are still spreading plastic around.  If you are going to use them, go recycled!

 For grocery and produce bags, I recommend keeping it simple; a cotton tote- you can get thousands of them (21,000 just on Etsy), so you can gift a sassy one or support one of their favorite businesses or organizations. These extra large ones make a lot of sense, These mesh ones are pretty cool too. Produce bags have tons of mesh and natural fiber (from OrganicCottonMart and ohlittlerabbit) options too.

Want to give the absolute coolest reusable bag? I am obsessed with these embroidered taffeta bags from Lauren DiCioccio. Come on! Tell me this isn't the coolest gift for an eco-nut? I saw one in the Seattle Art Museum shop years ago, and I still want one.

9. Dryer Balls

Those dryer sheets are instant garbage. They basically have nothing going for them, so instead, try these laundry balls, which you can use for hundreds of loads. I got these a few years ago as a Christmas gift and LOVED it.  You can see my list of dryer balls here. Don't want to poke around? Ok, buy these.

10. Reusable Straws

Giving up straws is one of the easiest things many of us can do to cut down on our plastic use. Seriously, all you have to say is "no straw please" but some people need to use straws or just really like them. Luckily, you can gift them glass straws (like these ones from Hummingbird glass) or steel straws that they can reuse again and again.

11. A Co-op Box Subscription

So many places have farm subscription boxes or co-op boxes now. Our small town we grew up in even has one. If a person you love wants to live a greener life, this is an awesome way to hook them up with local food. Plus, the boxes can be really inspiring when there are new foods to try! The more a diet hinges on plants instead of animals, the better it is for the environment, so you can help to shift that focus.

You can't go wrong with consumables, and the more local, the better. Think about what local goodies are available and maybe you will get inspired too!

12. Reusable Coffee Cup

Have a coffee lover in your life? Get them a reusable cup. You can find all sorts of great designs and ideas out there, but the most important thing is that it helps them get disposable cups (one of the big 4 sources of plastic pollution) out of their life.

I am not a coffee drinker (it tastes like dirty water!?), so I am not an expert at this, but here are a few Etsy cups I thought seemed really special. I also think these mason jar lids could make life simpler (great for kids too!).  Or, help a Keurig-loving baby environmentalist by getting them a reusable pod.

Think they are covered on cups? Why not gift them fair trade coffee! You can even buy it in bulk some places. The ethics of coffee can be very sketchy, so getting them something they can feel good about would be a simple and perfect present.

13. Laundry Soap

Laundry soap from grocery stores are almost guaranteed to have plastic packaging and sketchy ingredients. You may not have ever thought of laundry soap as a gift, but getting a nice laundry soap and avoiding plastic can be a huge gift for someone trying to be eco-friendly!

You could make them laundry soap yourself (what a neat gift!!), you could find homemade soaps on Etsy, or you could set them up for refillable laundry soap from The Refill Revolution. No matter what, this is a thoughtful, practical, and memorable gift!

14. Epicurean Spoons

I love Epicurean. Such a great brand where you can find cutting boards made of recycled materials and spoons and turners made of wood composite, resin, and recycled paper. We have used these turners for years, and they still feel smooth and work like new. A perfect option that isn't too expensive but will be useful for a very long time.

15. To Go Utensil Kits

Being environmentally-conscious in practice means living slowly and being prepared. So often we end up using things like plasticware because we don't have another option. A small set of bamboo utensils, like these from RePEat, can be a perfect gift to avoid that much more plastic.

16. A Donation to an Environmentalist Group

If the person you love is trying to be a minimalist or already has these things (because the beauty is you mostly only have to buy them once), why not support what they care about by making a donation to fight for biodiversity, or ending plastics, or planting more trees. So many options and really, if they care about this stuff, this will please them to no end. If you want a list of possible options, check here. 

17. Sign Up to Help the Earth Together

If you know that this is really pressing on a loved one's heart lately, the best thing you can do is commit to being part of the solution with them. Are there groups near you planting trees or taking care of native plants? Sign up for a work day. How about beach clean-ups or even adopting a highway to clean up litter?

It doesn't have to be something huge. Just commit to doing something with them. You will probably make amazing memories and get to feel that warm fuzzy feeling from helping someone!

The Perfect Gift List for a Beginner Environmentalist

amazing gifts for a beginner environmentalist

Ok, I hope this helps! Be sure to poke around for tons of ideas for holiday gifts that can help the world!

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  1. These are some really great gift ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is actually amazing and perfectly describes my best friend... definitely needed this thank you!!!

  3. I like this list! For gifts and for myself lol :-)

  4. Buying Recyclable, used are really great options to save the environment . I prefer buying less and most important things only since it helps me managing less mess and even supports environment.



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