Sustainability Starter Kits to Give or to Keep

A sustainable starter kit with plastic-free, zero-waste essentials | Litterless

If you’re a friend of mine, you probably mostly get zero waste items for gifts from me now. I would apologize, but I know you love those beeswax food wraps just as much as I do. Or you can give them back to me for my next birthday - that’s just fine too.

If you’re similarly pondering a few sustainable swaps for the folks on your gift list, EarthHero just launched new zero waste boxes, each full of tools for living with a little less waste. The boxes are meant for a gift to someone in your life who’s curious about zero waste, or simply as a way to grab a few essentials for your own household at a little bit lower cost.

A sustainable starter kit with plastic-free, zero-waste essentials | Litterless

Many of the items on offer are ones that we’ve had for years and can’t imagine doing without. I corralled some of our favorite zero-waste tools that are included in the boxes from our kitchen cabinets. Depending on which size box you choose, you might be the recipient - or giver - of stainless steel straws, a plastic-free water bottle like my trusty Klean Kanteen above, a Stasher reusable food storage bag, a Brush with Bamboo toothbrush or two, a set of travel utensils, and more. (After hearing friends rave about them, I’ve officially put a set of Food Huggers on my mental wishlist).

Because the boxes corral items from many different purveyors, they’re a good way to support the small businesses making zero waste supplies, like made-in-the-USA Khala beeswax wraps or compostable Brush with Bamboo toothbrushes.

A sustainable starter kit with plastic-free, zero-waste essentials | Litterless

The boxes come in three sizes, each with a different assortment of products - find what’s included in the small, medium, and large boxes, or check out all of their sustainable starter kits here.

If you’d like, you can take 15% off your purchase at EarthHero with the code litterless2019 through December 31, 2019.

(This post is sponsored by EarthHero, a one-stop shop for sustainable giving. Thanks so much for reading and supporting my work on Litterless.)

Zero Waste Gift Wrapping, Again

How to wrap gifts zero waste style | Litterless

When wrapping a gift for a friend with an autumn birthday a few weeks back, I snapped some pictures of my method. I'm not on top of it enough to have wrapped holiday gifts yet - but when I do, this is close to how I'll be approaching it.

The most zero waste gift wrap, of course, is no gift wrap. But I've found the more that zero waste looks like austerity, the more I push back against it, unwilling to give up some of the things make my life a bit brighter and better. (Gift wrap, mascara, soba noodles. Etc.). Since my goal is changing habits for the long term, not making frantic overhauls that won't last, I've found the space in my zero waste routines to wear mascara, eat plastic-packaged soba noodles, and wrap gifts, and I'm the happier for it.

Of course, that doesn't mean throwing in the towel, buying a few huge rolls of plastic-packaged wrapping paper, and wrapping gifts normally. When have I ever done anything around here normally? (Side note: that shiny wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. !!!). Instead, I rely on reusable and compostable materials to wrap gifts in a way that aligns with my ethos. There are lots of ways to do it - here's how I approached it last year - but this year, here's what I'm thinking:

How to wrap gifts zero waste style using upcycled materials | Litterless

Step 1: Gather supplies, with an eye toward the reused, the reusable, and the compostable. For me, this process starts much earlier in the year: I keep a box in my closet that's full of papers and supplies that come my way that feel ripe for reusing.

The paper shown here was saved from a special purchase at Elizabeth Suzann earlier this summer, tucked away because it was too good to just recycle. I also save the plain brown kraft paper that often comes with online purchases, which can be dressed up with drawings or a special ribbon or even left as is. Other ideas for reused paper that can be turned into wrappings: the pretty catalog you find in your mailbox (before you email the company to get off their mailing list), newspapers (please not any section featuring our orange-in-chief, so depressing), or gift wrapped saved from another special occasion earlier in the year.

Other supplies you might want: compostable paper washi tape, and then some ribbons or twine as the final touch. For that last part, I go with natural twine (compostable!), or otherwise, ribbons I've saved over the years from gifts given to me.

Zero waste gift wrapping using compostable, reusable materials | Litterless

Step 2: Wrap the thing! Easy. If you don't have washi tape, you can also wrap gifts without any tape by being inventive with how you tie your twine or ribbons. Here's a little primer on that method, which I used last year.

Step 3: Make sure the recipient knows how to recycle the materials, if you think you can slip this information in without being preachy and irritating. An excited "And the tape is compostable!" or a "Here, let me recycle that" might do the trick. Taking charge of cleaning up the gift wrap on a holiday evening or morning is a good way to ensure that you can sort and save things properly, rather than letting a relative or host sweep everything pell-mell into a garbage bag.

Of course, this is just one way to wrap gifts, the way that aligns most closely with traditional gift wrapping. There are many other ways to do it, and using your inventive little mind is most of the fun. I've wrapped gifts in tea towels, reusable tote bags, bento bags, reused tissue paper, reused gift bags, furoshiki cloths, reusable cotton bulk bags. (You can find my favorites of those items linked here, in case you're in the market).

For more ideas on how to wrap gifts zero waste style, take a peek at last year's posts on the subject, here and here. Anyone else still staunchly clinging to gift wrapping? Favorite tricks to share?

Previously in Zero Waste: The simplest zero waste travel tip out there, and a guide to the items I use day in, day out.

Mailing a Zero Waste Package

Mailing a zero waste package

Things I've recently popped in the mail: packages to long-distance siblings, a birthday gift to a faraway friend, an old computer sent in for refurbishment, a pair of shoes returned, a secondhand belt to a new home. And that's just in the last few months. Point is, I send and receive packages somewhat frequently, and you probably do, too.

To mitigate the impact, I've learned to be a little savvy both when purchasing things and packing them up: reusing old supplies, taking care to wrap things securely but lightly, asking the seller if they'd mind wrapping my package in something other than plastic. Sending a package is never going to be the most sustainable activity there is, but we can approach it how we approach everything else: thoughtfully. Here's what I've found works for me:

For sending:

-Hoard used supplies. When I receive a package, I tuck it into a box in my closet for future use. Mailing envelopes are easy to store, of course, and boxes can be dismantled so they store flat, too. Then, when I need to mail something else, I check for an envelope that's the right size and use it again! Reusing them as many times as possible is always preferable to recycling them or buying new envelopes made from recycled materials. Just make sure you firmly cross out any past labels and tape over any areas that are showing too much wear and tear.

-Look for secondhand mailers. If you do need to purchase mailers, "new" ones are better than new ones. Look to see if there's a creative reuse store near you - one near me accepts donations of art supplies, crafts, mailing supplies, and more, and sells these secondhand items for a low price. I've gotten secondhand mailers that were never used and still in perfect condition. Choosing secondhand helps keep new items from being produced, which is a win. Admittedly: sometimes I also sneak empty mailers out of the recycling bin at work, but you certainly don't have to go to that extreme.

-Write a note on the mailer. If the mailer is recyclable - entirely cardboard or recyclable paperfill, with no plastic on the inside - a gentle reminder can help the recipient remember to get it to the right place once they've opened it. A friend of mine has taken to writing "Please recycle me!" on letters and packages she sends my way, which I think is genius - and now I've adopted the method, too. A smiley face or little drawing keeps it from feeling too judgmental.

-Switch to paper tape. I'm still working through my last stash of clear plastic tape, but when I run out, I'll switch to recyclable paper tape like this stuff.

For receiving:

-Shop small. Sustainably-minded small businesses will likely have a shipping policy that's more in line with your own. They might pack their boxes with kraft paper rather than styrofoam, use paper tape in lieu of plastic, and group items into fewer shipments. Finding companies whose ethics you trust and sticking to them can be a boon here.

-Ask for the type of packaging you want. When possible, politely ask the seller to package your items thoughtfully. For example, when I'm purchasing a secondhand item from someone directly, I ask if they'd mind shipping their item in an old, reused mailer instead of a new one (and people are always happy to do so!). If you're buying from an Etsy seller or a small business that allows you to include a note with your order, request that they send your items without plastic packaging, bubble wrap, and the like. Because you're the customer, they should be able to honor your request, as long as you're not purchasing something incredible fragile.

-Return bubble wrap and packing peanuts. When you've implemented the above measures and you get a package filled inexplicably with plastic packing materials, don't despair. Or do. But then move on and take them to your nearest UPS Store, which accepts bubble wrap and packing peanuts for reuse.

What else do you do to keep your mailbox in line with your zero waste lifestyle? Share, please!

Zero Waste Gift Wrapping

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Gift wrapping with an eye toward sustainability goes down much like anything else in the realm of zero waste – use a heaping dose of common sense, restraint, and recycled / compostable materials. :) I like the challenge of making beautiful packages from castoff materials, and the added bonus is that they tend fit my design sensibility better than conventional gift wrap, too.

Above are some of the materials I gathered together this weekend to start wrapping a few gifts. The soap and reusable cotton rounds were my contribution to the gift exchange at a zero waste holiday party I hosted this weekend.

To wrap them, I gathered up a few reused and upcycled materials from around the house. Tissue paper that I'd saved from a past purchase, wool yarn scraps from knitting projects, and a few sprigs of eucalyptus. The tissue paper and longer strands of yarn can be reused, while the rest can be composted. Although I have a stash of old ribbons that I sometimes use when wrapping gifts, I've come to prefer using yarn because I think it looks cozy and lovely, and because it can be composted if it's made entirely of natural fibers. Score.

I've been trying to move away from using tape, which is plastic and not recyclable. (But so convenient, no?). My way around it has been to leave the sides of the paper extra long, so that when folded in they can be tied with string and still stay securely.

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After I'd tightened the first layer of yarn that held the package together in lieu of tape, I decorated it with some extra scrap yarn and the eucalyptus. Done!

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There are so many variations you can make on this simple theme. Use reused brown paper, old newsprint, or even catalog pages in place of the tissue paper. Reused twine, ribbons, or baker's twine can replace the yarn if you don't have any on hand. For decoration, I gravitate toward eucalyptus, pine, holly (but careful, it's prickly!), or even branches or twigs - anything that seems cheery and seasonal and can be foraged or purchased sans plastic.

I also like the idea of wrapping your gift in something that can be reused, which can sometimes be a nice additional gift itself. Below, I used a cloth bento bag to wrap a gift, which couldn't be easier - just tie the ends and you're done! You could also tie your gift up in a new handkerchief, cloth napkin, tea towel, furoshiki, or cotton bulk bag, or place it in a glass jar; these are all things the recipient can use again and again.

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Of course, too, you could also choose to skip gift wrap entirely. Pull the present out of your purse or tote or jacket pocket and hand it straight to the recipient, sans packaging. When I do this, I like to hype it up a bit first: “Okay, I have your present! Are you ready?! Are you sure?!" But I guess I do that even with wrapped gifts, too. :)

I'd love to hear how you approach low-waste gift giving and wrapping. And, if you share any photographs of your wrapped gifts on Instagram, tag me in the comments so I can see them! Happy almost holidays, friends.

Gift Ideas: A Few More

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To state the obvious: I care about the planet and overconsumption. But, I also think that giving small and simple gifts is a really sweet part of this season. I don't think these two tenets are incompatible; to reconcile them we just need to step back and re-think what gifts are intended to do. I love the idea that gifts don't have to make someone's whole year - they just have to make them smile. It's a good rule of thumb that lets us reign in the standard holiday madness without losing the tradition of exchanging thoughtful things.

I don't need to give or receive anything huge, just smaller bursts of cheer to share with family and friends. The gifts I give tend toward the handmade and homemade, the edible, and the useful.

(Or, for friends upon whom this won't be an imposition - maybe a few pieces of zero-waste-inspired gear to help get them going, like the Kleen Kanteen that I gave my boyfriend last year to fuel his coffee habit in a sustainable way).

There are many more wonderful ideas for giving sustainably around the web, and I wanted to point you toward a few of my favorite posts elsewhere, in case browsing gift guides is for you, like me, a major guilty pleasure this time of year.

Edible gifts, always a favorite.

Zero waste gifts for faraway friends.

Ideas for charities that could really use your help (Or, let your friend pick the charity you'll donate to as a gift! A close friend of mine recently did that for me and it meant so much).

A list of experiences you can give in lieu of objects.

And, experience gift cards - a beautiful way to give non-object gifts.

Ideas on giving less, but giving more.

Ideas for last minute gifts, from me last year and from elsewhere.

Trash-free gifts for hostesses, travelers, and pet owners. And everyone in between.

And, a few more tangible gift ideas for the zero wasters in your life: jars of bulk foods they love, homemade lotion or lip balm, some tea or chocolates bought in bulk, unpackaged bars of soap, beautiful cloth napkins for the table, homemade jam, a homecooked meal, hand-sewn (or storebought) handkerchiefs - I find you can never have too many, a few extra cotton bulk bags, a furoshiki cloth for endless use, DIY dryer balls, a batch of your signature granola packaged in a glass jar, a spork or straws to tuck in their bag (PS - you can currently find stainless steel straws without packaging at West Elm stores), or something bought just once a lifetime.

My mom knit me the scarf above for my birthday this year - I love it so much.

Gift Ideas: Buy Me Once

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Besides not purchasing it at all, acquiring something secondhand is typically the most sustainable way to source something. But, sometimes this isn't feasible - you can't find what you need secondhand, or maybe you don't want to give a secondhand gift. When I purchase something new, I try to find a version that looks hard-wearing enough that I can have it for years and years. I bet you probably do, too.

Have you heard of the awesome online store Buy Me Once? The owner corrals the most long-lasting products she can find. Maybe a brand is known for being super durable, or having the a lifetime guarantee or a stellar repair policy. I love that idea. I haven't purchased anything from the store, but I often turn to it when I'm trying to research which umbrella / hairbrush / teakettle might last me the longest. It's so fun to browse and check out the reasons that each item was chosen for inclusion.

The concept of "buy me once" can extend beyond that store, too. I love the idea of giving a gift that your user will keep more or less forever and never have to purchase again. For my birthday this year I received the enameled cast iron pot photographed above, and I'm so looking forward to cooking with it for decades to come (my mom has been using hers for twenty years!).

If you go this route, you can include a little note explaining how to care for the object. Gifts with good longevity needn't be expensive, necessarily - see the suggestions below for ideas at different prices.

A few more ideas:

-A locally made wooden spoon or cutting board with a little jar of homemade wood butter to keep it well conditioned

-Find a cast iron pan at a local secondhand store and re-season it to perfection

-Give Darn Tough socks, made in the USA and with a lifetime guarantee

-Purchase camping gear or travel gear (I love my new suitcase from Away Travel, which is well priced and offers a lifetime guarantee) and explain how to care for it to keep it in good shape for years

-Or, browse the Buy Me Once website to get more inspiration

This post isn't sponsored - I just aspire to have more things in my life that are bought once and never again, and think their site is such a great resource.

Zero Waste Hostess Gifts

Though I'm on board with giving experience gifts over objects when I can, I'll admit that sometimes doing so just isn't practical as a replacement for the gift of an object. Tangible gifts are still important; generosity is a way to share love, gratitude, and appreciation, and experience gifts don't always work in a given situation. For example, when giving hostess gifts! If you're heading to dinner at a friend's house, you can't just plan an adventure and whisk them away.

So, I've made a list of a few ideas for hostess gifts that are simple, thoughtful, sustainable, and don't necessarily scream "zero waste" or "eco-friendly." Though I want my gifts to be all of those things, really they also need to be reflective of the people I'm giving to, not just my own values and preferences. It's tempting to give everyone I know reusable, sustainable homewares (like cloth napkins, stainless steel straws, or cotton produce bags), because I think these things help create a better world, and I love that they replace disposable goods. But, with a little thought I've been able to think of gifts that suit my own values and sensibilities without pushing them off onto others - the gifts below inhabit the middle ground between those two, largely by virtue of being very useful in nature. I love the rule of thumb that a hostess gift should go away - be simple, unobtrusive, and use-up-able, instead of adding a new vase or knicknack to the fight against clutter, and useful gifts like these follow that guideline well. All that said, here are a few of my favorite ideas:

-Herbs from your garden, fresh or dried, maybe packaged in a small glass jar. I'm not the only one who would love this as a gift, right?

-Chocolate in a reusable jar - best gift ever! For my birthday a friend gave me this jar filled with homemade chocolate pomegrante seed bark. It was such a stunning, thoughtful, kind gift, and of course though the contents disappeared right quick the jar still comes in handy daily - currently, as storage for dried bulk chickpeas!

-Beeswax food wrap, which beautifully takes the place of plastic wrap. This is a sustainability-themed gift that doesn't scream "I'm trying to change your lifestyle!" to the recipient, and I think almost anyone would appreciate it.

-A small plant, or, hey, in season local flowers! Though flowers at the grocery are usually shipped from afar and wrapped in plastic, during the months when your farmers' market is open you'll be able to find local blooms that you can buy without plastic (just bring along your own vase and put them straight in!). Or, of course, if you have a garden, pick flowers from there - in spring, a jar filled with flowering branches would be such a sweet gift, right? And, just a note, I like using ball jars as vases when giving flowers, because they'll be easy for the recipient to use again and again in many different ways.

-Their favorite produce, local and in season: who wouldn't flip for berries from your garden, or be so happy about a basket of heirloom tomatoes from the farmers' market? Just be sure to adhere to your hosts' tastes, and don't bring anything too complicated to prepare unless you know they'd be up for it: save the fava beans and kabocha squashes for your foodie friends, and for others stick to classic favorites like seasonal fruit and crowd-pleasing vegetables.

-A homemade pantry staple, like cake mix in a ball jar, a bottle of homemade vanilla extract, a jar of jam, or homemade almond butter. Yummmm.

-Food! Bring the salad, a side dish, loaf of your signature banana bread, a jar of homemade cold brew coffee, or a swingtop bottle filled with lemon infused water - something you can all share while you're there, or that your host can keep on his or her counter and savor in the days after you leave.

-And, a few other ideas: loose leaf tea from the bulk aisle, beeswax candles, a little treat for their pet (you can often find them package-free at local pet stores), a glass jar of bulk coffee beans, or a growler of local beer!

These ideas aside, what really matters is that you show up, with love and your kind, helpful self. So, go on, get out there! And, I'd love to hear what your go-to gifts are these days - what have you been bringing to friends' houses lately?

Photograph via.