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  • Writer's pictureAtiqah Nadiah Zailani

Zero Waste Gift-Giving

Eliminating, substituting, and/or reducing our waste from giving gifts to our loved ones.

Gift box

Aaah, the joy of receiving and unwrapping gifts! We love it so much that a whole new business has popped up: subscription boxes, in which we buy ourselves (or other people) gifts that get mailed in a nice box every month or every quarter.

While I have my reservations about the wastefulness of such subscriptions, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to give ourselves or each other gifts! In fact, I previously wrote a piece on gift-giving for minimalists, but I did not talk about how to give gifts waste-free. This is me trying to make-up for that oversight.

The thing is, gifts do not need to come in a box swaddled with ten thousand layers of wrapping paper, tissue paper and plastic pellets. There are much better ways to give gifts that are meaningful and yet produces no waste.

Below are some principles of zero-waste gift-giving and some suggestions to get you going.



Give the Gift of Experience

The best way to give a zero waste gift is to present people with the gift of experience.

Rather than a pretty little thing wrapped in a bow, take the person out for a movie, or a game of laser tag, or cook them a lovely dinner. Honestly, the options are endless: go boating on the lake, attend a weekend class, ride a rollercoaster, watch a musical …etc.

The best part is: you too get to share in the fun, not just your giftee!

laser tag

Give for utility

If material gifts are still your go-to option, take a second to ask yourself if this item you’re about to get for them is something your giftee actually wants or will use. Did they mention needing it or wanting it at some point? Is it something they can easily incorporate into their lives? Or is this something that has a high risk of being put at the back of the closet or under the bed, merely collecting dust?

While gifts should be beautiful and meaningful, there’s also no harm in them being utilitarian. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should only buy your mother pots and pans, and your father different colours of the same tie. It does however mean that you should give it some careful thought. Ensure you’re not just giving others more clutter. If at a loss, refer back to the tip above on giving experiences instead of things!

Give for life

If you’ve got the perfect idea for a gift that your giftee will for sure love and use, then look into buying a high quality version of that gift. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive one out there, but it should be well-designed and last a while.

As much as possible, buy from companies that take care to provide warranties and repair services. Even better if the companies have designed the product for proper reuse or recycling, and have take-back programs (like Patagonia!).

buy me once website

Alternatively, use as a guide on which brands and products to pick up

Avoid companies that design for disposability and for obsolescence, where your products are intentionally made useless or nonfunctional within a few years (*cough*Apple*cough*).

Give naked

No, not you, but the gift. Where possible, give your gift without excessive packaging. The gift shouldn’t look horrible, but neither does it need three layers of gauzy paper and a bow that will only get ripped within the first few minutes.

lush naked packaging

Take a cue from Lush - go without packaging or wrapping

Some products can be given as is, while some may need to be covered for the element of surprise or for aesthetics. In that case, opt for easily recyclable materials (like paper) or reusable materials (like fabric). Even better if your giftee can reuse those materials when he or she is giving gifts to others! (In fact, my cousin and I basically use the exact same paper bag when we exchange gifts with each other, and this always gets a laugh out of us)

Give items from zero waste stores or secondhand stores

If at a loss still, metaphorically kill multiple birds with one stone by shopping for gifts at a zero waste store. You will typically get quality goods (because they’re meant to last a long time), you will not have excessive packaging or no packaging at all and you will be encouraging your giftee to adopt excellent waste-free habits!

Click here for a list of zero-waste stores in Klang Valley - hopefully one is near you!

zero waste store


Alternatively, shop at a secondhand store to repurpose and give an item a second lease at life! While secondhand items unfortunately have a negative image in this country, there's actually plenty of interesting and good quality items available! I have actually found my dream snowboarding jacket for an astonishing bargain price, and two leather bags in great condition for a fraction of what you'd normally pay.

Give it a chance and keep an eye out for the diamonds in the rough!



flower gift

Below are some suggestions for zero-waste gift giving to the lucky person you’re hoping to surprise:


  • Tickets to a concert or the theatre

  • A day at an amusement park

  • A game of laser tag or Escape Room

  • A spa and massage package

  • All kinds of lessons: cooking, scuba, dancing, pottery, calligraphy, etc

Memberships or subscriptions

  • Gym membership

  • Digital newspaper or magazine subscription

  • Amazon Prime subscription

  • Kindle Unlimited subscription

  • Netflix subscription


  • Classic food or fruit baskets with no or minimal plastic, disposable packaging

  • A meal at an organic and ethical restaurant, or one dedicated towards a good cause

  • Homemade baked goods

  • Homemade baking ingredients in a jar (like a Brownie in a Jar, or Cookies in a Jar)

  • A zero-waste picnic out at the park

Gift certificates or credit

  • iTunes gift card

  • Gift cards from your online store of choice (Lazada, Shopee, Amazon etc)

  • Touch N Go top-ups

  • Grocery store or supermarket gift cards

  • Topped up prepaid card, or just straight out cash

Zero Waste Starter Kits

Mother Nature

  • Plants or succulents

  • Seed bombs

  • Gardening tools (that they don’t already have)

  • A bag of compost (key to soil health!)

  • Self-watering pots

The extra mile

  • Perform a song or dance for them

  • Write a poem dedicated to them

  • Complete their chores for them (especially great for busy mothers!)


  • Money to their favourite charity on their behalf

  • Time by volunteering together at their favourite charity


Gifts are a special occasion, and should be given its fair share of thoughtfulness. Give somebody a gift they will love (and I don’t know about you, but I’d be thrilled to receive anything on the above list!) while being mindful of our impact at the same time.

Happy gift-giving!

flower gift received



Achievement Award: Give them an experience they’ve always wanted to try!

Points For Effort: Give useful, functional gifts that come with no or minimal packaging.

Um, Maybe Not: I’m gonna give people whatever I feel like giving them! That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.

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