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I am always amazed at how many plastic toys pollute our oceans and shores.

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Many of them must have been gifts.

If, like me, you have seen how disastrous plastic is for the marine environment, you might be looking for ways to minimize your plastic footprint. In day to day life, there are a ton of small-scale solutions: washing and reusing plastic bags; using a reusable glass or stainless steel water bottle; using Pyrex and other glass containers instead of Tupperware (Pyrex can go in the oven! Tupperware can’t…). And, the list goes on.

When the holidays roll around, we often find ourselves awash in plastic. Plastic toys packed in plastic boxes or wrapped with plastic, and plastic gifts of all shapes and sizes. Ugh–the wooorrrst is when you have to pry apart that hard, thin plastic that just cuts you… Wrap rage!

In a crunch, it can be easy to grab some plastic trinket as a last-minute gift.

But remember: A gift reflects how you feel about the recipient.

And remember: plastic is cheap.

So, the challenge I have presented myself with, which I invite you to join me for, is to navigate the holidays while avoiding plastic as much as possible. So, how would that work?  I’ll discuss my tips for avoiding plastic in two ways: 1. Meal preparation; 2. Gifts.

Are you cooking holiday meals? Bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store is a great way to avoid plastic bags at checkout. But you can also use reusable bags within the store. Buying loose produce, like lettuce or peppers or broccoli? Just throw ’em in your reusable bags instead of using those thin plastic bags on rolls in the produce section. You’re gonna wash the produce before using it anyway…right?


But you can also bring reusable bags when you are shopping for gifts! Going to the toy store? Or buying clothes? Bring your own bags! No plastic bags at checkout.

Now for the heavy stuff: avoiding plastic gifts.

As an uncle, I know well the temptation to buy kiddos a bunch of plastic gadgets. Almost every toy I can think of marketed to children at the holidays is plastic.

But there are tons of great plastic free gifts for young people! Check it out: Does your niece or nephew have a rock, mineral, or crystal collection? Get them an awesome crystal! Do they collect seashells? You know what to do. Do they like to read? Find out what, and buy them a book. Heck, you could even get brave and buy them a book you loved at their age. I hear so many adults today lamenting that kids don’t read. I don’t believe it. I think we just need to do a better job of buying awesome books for kids.

Wanna know my secret, favorite plastic-free gift for all ages?


That’s right! Give someone the gift of an experience rather than some trinket that just takes up space and never gets used.

Look at bands coming to the area of the people you are buying for. Are any of their favorite bands coming to town? Heck, you could even call them and ask them if any of their favorite bands are coming soon. Just work it into a good, old-fashioned conversation. If they don’t have tickets yet, you can hook them up.

Concerts are an obvious one–but there are many options. Do they like A Prairie Home Companion? What about This American Life? Or Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me? For the theatre-lover, you can gift them tickets to a great play. Depending on what the person is into, you could get them tickets to sporting events, a comedy show, the ballet, the symphony, speeches / lectures, avant-garde performances, whatever. The great thing about tickets is that you can take care of the whole family at once, as long as you find a play, concert, game, Disney on Ice type of performance, etc., that they would all be into. We went to a couple Harlem Globetrotters games when I was a kid, and it was a blast every time. I carry those memories with me to this day, unlike the many plastic toys I received.

Yet another great plastic-free gift option is a digital gift card (instead of a physical, plastic one). Lots of online retailers offer them these days. Amazon, for example.

Finally, you could always go with a gift you made yourself. If you knit, make ceramics, can your own jam, etc., there are tons of homemade gifts that recipients are delighted to receive. Homemade jam is a perennial favorite of mine. Or, you could always support local artists. Buying for the chef in your family? Seek out hand-made wooden utensils. Locally made clothing, mugs, etc.

For fans of the show Parks & Recreation, you might consider buying something wooden and awesome from Offerman Wood Shop, owned by Nick Offerman who played Ron Swanson on the show.

These are some of my favorite plastic-free gift ideas, but what about you? What are some of your favorite ways to give meaningful gifts that are plastic-free? Share your idea in the comments below, and we’ll get a whole bunch of ideas floating around!