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Top 11 Eco-Friendly Green Gift Ideas that Are Unique & Cheap

By Myscha Theriault

green gift bagsGreen gifts have a great reputation for being clever and unique, and they help you lower your carbon footprint while encouraging others to change their habits too. But they often get a bad rap for being expensive and hard to find, and it’s tough to know if your recipients will love green products as much as you do.

The good news is that you can see how great these gifts are and dispel the myths about how much going green costs at the same time. With the right advice, you can save money while saving the planet.

Ready for some awesome ideas? Let’s dive in!

Keeping Clean

1. A Drying Rack

When you get rid of your dryer appliance, you save money on your electric bill and help the environment at the same time. The trouble is, no one wants to hang clothes outside during the winter. The solution? Buy someone you love a drying rack!

Sure, it sounds like an incredibly practical gift and it’s not very romantic, but you can be confident that it will be used regularly. I have one, and I use it with every single load of laundry. You can easily find a nice rack for about $10, and if you’re looking for more of a show-off gift, some high-quality racks made with premier materials can cost around $50 (e.g. Moerman drying rack with 79 feet of space).

drying rack

2. Flip Flop Doormats

When it comes to great products made from recycled materials, it doesn’t get much cooler than this: It’s a doormat made out of re-purposed flip flops. It’s not just responsible, it also looks really, really cool. The material is useful for wiping dirt and draining water, and you can easily find plenty of options when it comes to color and texture. If you need a unique gift for that green person in your life, this option is a very useful, and clever one. The Flip-Flop Doormat goes for around $30.

flip flop doormat

3. Soap Nuts

I stopped buying commercial laundry detergent, even the natural kind, when I discovered soap nuts. They’re exactly what they sound like: nuts that fall from soapberry trees. They’re 100% biodegradable, and they work great for cleaning your clothes. I’ve been using soap nuts for the past six months, and my clothes are just as clean as they’ve always been. And you can get about twice as many loads for the same price as laundry detergent, so they’re not just great green gifts, they’re budget changers too! Maggie’s Soap Nuts costs around $34 (for 200-400+ loads of laundry).

soap nuts

For the Garden

4. Seed Packets

Purchasing seed packets on sale at the dollar store is certainly one affordable way to go, particularly if you are putting together a themed gift basket and want to include other garden goodies as well.

But if you want to step up to the next level or supply gifts for a group event, consider ordering them from a specialty company and having a message printed on the outside. We gave these personal, green gifts as our wedding favors, and we chose an annual so guests could plant the seeds at home and have something to remind them of the party year after year, whenever the flowers bloom. Here’s an example from Seed Needs.

seed packets wedding favors

5. Potted Herbs

Most people appreciate receiving plants as a gift, but you can take this gift idea a step further by choosing a plant they can put to practical use several times a week. Providing a beautiful and useful gift really shows you took the time to think it out.

Rosemary bushes can grow quite large and make a more useful housewarming present than the traditional ficus. They also smell fantastic whenever you brush against them. Thai basil and sage are two other kitchen plants that can step up to the dinner plate on a regular basis.

rosemary plant

6. Burt’s Bees Miracle Salve

I love this stuff. While it’s a nice green gift for anyone, it’s particularly well-suited for the independent adventure traveler. It comes in a flat tin and takes up minimal bag space. It’s also a solid salve, so you don’t have to include it in your one-quart liquids bag at the airport. It’s a great addition to your other travel supplies.

Burt’s Bees is a popular lip balm, but the miracle salve is a hidden gem for people who spend a lot of time outdoors. You can use it to treat split ends, and moisturize hands and trouble spots like elbows. One 2 oz tin can of Burt’s Bees Miracle Salve costs around $5.

burts bees miracle salve

Outside the Box

7. A Vermicompost Bin

What do you get for someone who has it all when it comes to going green? Something extreme, like a Can-O-Worms vermicompost bin. Vermicomposting is a system for composting your food scraps using worms in the compost. I know it sounds gross, but I’ve been doing it myself with the Can-O-Worms system for almost a year, and I love it.

When you just throw food in the trash, it just gets hauled to the landfill like any other garbage. But about 20% of garbage is food, and when it decomposes at the landfill it releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that’s a big part of global warming. And check out this stat:

For every ton of food scraps separated from the trash before it gets to the landfill, the atmosphere gets saved from six tons of carbon dioxide that would have been released.

That’s where the vermicompost bin comes in. Worms eat everything from eggshells and coffee grounds to veggies and fruit scraps. They even eat tea bags and coffee filters. My own vermicomposting system stands right in my kitchen. It doesn’t smell at all, and I regularly have awesome compost to use in my home herb garden and houseplants.

can-o-worms

8. Ecosystem in a Globe

I have wanted one of these for years and I have to say, I’m done dropping hints about a gift. I’m just going to buy one for myself.

The EcoSphere is an entire ecosystem that’s completely self-contained in a glass globe. It was first developed by NASA, and now that it’s in the mainstream market, it’s pretty much the coolest gift ever. It’s a fully self-supporting system: The shrimp eat the microorganisms in the sea water, which grow due to the algae and other bacteria. Everything remains in perfect balance.

The EcoSphere usually lasts about two years. But the makers say it’s not uncommon for systems to last much longer, like seven to ten years. Now that’s a green gift that lasts.

ecosphere

Friendly Fabrics

9. Bandanas

You can always find bandanas for under a buck, and they’re not just for cowboys, Springsteen fans, and Punky Brewster. A set of six bandanas can serve as casual dinner napkins for the gift recipient. They’re more budget-friendly than expensive cloth napkins and more earth-friendly than throwing away disposables.

Bandanas also come in handy for travelers. You can use them as dish cloths on the road, face masks for open-air rides on dusty roads, washcloths for the shower, and – my personal favorite – a clean, reusable wrap for food like muffins and fruits. They can even come in handy for minor medical emergencies.

It’s a great “zero waste” strategy. Bandanas take up very little room in a pack, and they dry quickly after washing. Give your gift a classy presentation by folding the bandanas neatly in a stack, tying them up with hemp string, and attaching a rustic homemade tag to complete the theme.

bandanas circle

10. Fabric Shopping Bags

There plenty of chic reusable bags on the market that make nicer gifts than the typical one-dollar cheapies. Flip and Tumble makes a fun one that folds into its own pocket and looks like a hacky sack when you’re done. It’s perfect for tucking in your purse or coat pocket so you always have one to use for those unexpected store stops when you don’t have your larger shopping bag stash in the car.

flip and tumble

When in Doubt: Wine

11. Wine

Organic wine is about as simple as it gets for a quick host or hostess gift. One of my favorite affordable organic wines is Our Daily Red. Whole Foods frequently carries it on what I like to call their “wall of wines,” their display with various wines that are priced at less than seven dollars. They also offer a 10% discount on wine if you buy six or more bottles, and they throw in a free fabric wine shopping bag to boot. So when they have it on sale for $6.99 and you buy six of them for the discount, we’re talking a seriously affordable gift here. Believe it or not, there are easy ways to save money when buying good wine.

wine wall

Final Word

Not every green gift is an affordable one. Plenty of the most environmentally-friendly items come with a pretty steep price tag. But when it comes to going green and getting good value, these eleven picks are just the beginning. Finding a few more just takes a little research and a lot of creativity.

What green gifts have you received and loved, or what are your favorite finds that you think more people should give?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Myscha Theriault
Myscha Theriault is a syndicated columnist with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, best-selling author and professional blogger whose work has appeared on such web sites as Forbes, MSN, the Los Angeles Times and AOL. Print interviews include Better Homes and Gardens, the New York Times, Women’s World and All You magazine. She is the founder of Trek Hound, a site for independent travelers, We Be Sharin', a home living web site, and The Lesson Machine, a site for teachers both Stateside and abroad.

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Comments

  • Mary

    I got a new laundry drying rack last year for the holidays. It is the most used gift that I have ever got not to mention how much money it has saved us over the year. It is a great gift. I wonder what my husband will come up this year that will be better. I am going to forward him your blog. I would like to try some soap nuts and I really like the flip flop door mats too.

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