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  • Writer's pictureMaria Karagiannis

Zero-Waste Gifting: Kids

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

As mentioned in my post about holidays and zero-waste living, holidays and gift-giving creates a lot of waste. In  a three-part series of posts (Kids, Adults & Teens, and Wrapping), I will talk about gifting with minimalism and waste reduction in mind.

It goes without saying that children are often the main focus when it comes to holiday gifting. But knowing what to get can sometimes be tricky, especially if you're trying to gift with the environment and simplicity in mind. The good news is there are plenty of options, and here we shall discuss a some of them.


Kids love toys, and every kid wants to wake up on Christmas to a mountain of new toys... but then they only play with a handful of them, or just play with the box, or they get ignored or broken. Toys are not inherently bad, but perhaps they shouldn't be the first thing we think to get a child. Toys are great, and if you really know what kind of toy the child wants, and their parent agrees and thinks it'll be played with, there's nothing wrong with that! I recommend looking for high-quality toys that will be used often and are less likely to break easily, and toys that help with learning and/or imagination. For new toys, I've had good experience with Bella Luna, a company that ships plastic-free and specializes in Waldorf toys (Waldorf toy are generally eco-friendly and focus on nature and/or imagination).

You could also check with the parent to see if they're okay with secondhand toys as gifts. If the pieces are all accounted for and the toy or game is in good condition, thrifted or used toys are a sustainable option that can oftentimes results in less or no product packaging.

When you buy anything secondhand, you're saving something from being wasted or tossed in a landfill - you're giving something a second life and lowering the demand for new items to be created, which lowers the demand for the resources to make new items (particularly oil, which is used to not only create plastics, but to power facilities and fuel shipping and transport of material goods). (Some may argue that creating more material goods is better for the economy and more profitable for businesses, but in the long-run, creating more goods just creates more waste and problems for everyone. Companies would be better off altering their business models to focus more on repairs and servicing, and selling used or refurbished products.) 

Kids have plenty of toys and will get them from all directions, so you shouldn't feel like you have to get them toys. There are plenty of clutter-free and waste-free options for kids' gifts.


Books are a fantastic gift idea for kids, especially younger ones. They aren't really clutter-free, but I would never call a book wasteful. Books (and toys) can be donated or passed on to someone else when the child has outgrown them, and can be purchased secondhand. Books facilitate learning and imaginative thinking, they offer an escape from the mundane real world, and they help children to build vocabulary and other valuable skills.


Giving the gift of experience is definitely one of the most zero-waste options there are. One year I took my three younger cousins to an indoor trampoline place as their present, and they had a blast! Another year we took Alex's little cousins rock climbing. None of them seemed the least bit disappointed at the idea of not having a gift to physically open on Christmas; they were perfectly happy that we were all spending the day together doing something fun and new!

Some other fun ideas are: laser tag, go-karting, mini-golf, a day at a local theme-park, concert, a theatrical production, gift cards and more! There are so many cool things to do - see what's available in their area and plan something!


Kids grow fast, and they're constantly outgrowing their clothes! When asked what one could buy their kids for the holidays, many parents will respond with some sort of clothing item. While the fashion industry is a major contributor to environmental and social problems, there are plenty of ways to sustainably purchase clothing for children! For new clothing, look for organic, fair-trade clothing brands such as PACT Apparel, or brands that are long lasting and durable (check out the Kids section on However, there are plenty of high-quality secondhand kids clothes in excellent condition! Check your local thrift or consignment shops, ThredUp, Poshmark, or Ebay! Just remember to ask the parents what items their children are in need of and what sizes to get!


Other ideas, which may be best for really young children who won't remember or miss what presents they don't open, are savings bonds or money toward their future. They didn't seem like much when I got them as a kid, but I certainly appreciated all of my savings bonds when I was in college and wanted to go spend a month in Greece! Perhaps pair it with an edible gift, like a mason jar of their favorite treat from the bulk section, so it feels like they're still getting something in the moment.

The bottom line: kids don't need as much stuff as we tend to think they do, and they certainly don't need a million toys. We all get bogged down by how much stuff we accumulate, and parents are probably the most overwhelmed with stuff. Kids too! Imagine how much cleaner kids' rooms and play-spaces would be if they only had less to manage. This leads me to my biggest and final piece of advice when it comes to giving gifts to children: ALWAYS ask the parent first!!! 


- secondhand or sustainable toys

- secondhand or cotton clothing

- books

- rock climbing pass

- movie pass

- museum pass

- trampoline park pass

- laser tag pass

- amusement park pass

- go-karting pass

- theater tickets

- gift certificate to favorite restaurant, or for ice cream

- check, cash, or savings bond

- sweet treats


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