Gift Guide for a Greener Holiday Season

Contributing Writer Emily Ninestein, ’21

Gift-giving is undoubtedly one of the best parts of the holiday season. There’s nothing like the warm-and-fuzzy feeling you get when you give someone you love a heartfelt gift. Unfortunately, gift-giving can also be a major driver of consumerism and contributes to increased waste. (Did you know that Americans throw away 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Years than any other time of the year?) The good news is, this effect is totally avoidable! The members of Environmental Club have banded together to create this Guide to Green Gift-Giving so that this holiday season, you can give gifts that fill up hearts without filling up landfills. 

Here are some of our best ideas of homemade or sustainable gifts that you can give this year:

Homemade CookiesThis one is a classic. Who doesn’t love receiving a batch of homemade cookies? Especially if you like baking, this gift is fun for the giver and the receiver! For an added sprinkle of sustainability, try making vegan treats, like these Peppermint Chocolate Cookies from Sophia Caputo: 

My favorite vegan holiday treat- Peppermint Chocolate Cookies 


1/2 cup vegan butter, softened (I use Earth Balance)

1/3 cup sugar (any kind will do)

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2–3 tablespoons non dairy milk (I prefer oat)

1/3 cup chocolate chips (vegan for dairy-free option)

1 – 3 candy cane(s), crushed


  1. Preheat the oven to 350
  2. Mix the softened butter with the sugars and add in the vanilla and peppermint extract
  3. In another bowl, mix the cocoa powder, flour, baking soda, and salt 
  4. Slowly stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture 
  5. Add chocolate chips 
  6. Slowly stir in the milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough is sticky enough to form and roll into balls 
  7. Space out your 1 tablespoon balls on a baking sheet and squish them down
  8. Top with your crushed peppermint and more chocolate chips if you desire
  9. Bake for 10-12 minutes and let cool for 5

Pro-tip: You can eat cookies fresh for 3-4 days and freeze them for up to three weeks to prevent waste!

PlantsA potted plant or succulent will bring cheer to someone’s home long after the holiday season! Especially if you use Caroline Stone’s idea and gift useful herbs (find out what your gift-ee’s favorites are, and decorate the pots to make your gift even more special!).

An ExperienceOne of the best sustainable gifts to give. This can be anything from an at-home picnic or spa day to a trip together – for example, Emma Velardi is taking her mom to see Niagara Falls for the first time as a present to her! The memories from your gifted experience will be cherished for so much longer than any material item would. (Bonus points for nature-based experiences, like visiting a National Park.)

A List A list doesn’t sound like an exciting gift, but it totally can be! Give a list of favorite inspiring quotes; give a list of cool places to visit; give a customized Spotify playlist; or, as Emily Ninestein suggests, give a list of things you admire about someone/a list of compliments. This isn’t an expensive or difficult gift, but it’s one that can be heartfelt and really fun to receive! 

Artwork If you have artistic talent, the holidays are a great time to bust it out. Artwork can be a super personal and heartfelt holiday gift – and you can even try to make it out of recycled materials for sustainability bonus points! Don’t count out art like poetry or photography.

A Home Cooked Meal – This is a great idea for parents or family members! Surprise your loved ones with their favorite meal, or try this delicious vegan recipe from Sophia Caputo:

Go-To Vegan Alfredo Sauce 

3/4 cup raw cashews

1/2-3/4 cup water

1 medium clove garlic 

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast (if you don’t have you can add vegan cheese to taste)

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + more to taste

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper + more to taste

If you want to add some spice you can add crushed red pepper to taste 

Blend in a blender and heat up in a pan over the stove, add to your favorite pasta

A Solar Powered Charger A cool and sustainable from Riley Markert, a gift idea that will help the environment, and is more cost effective than a normal charger!

A Homemade Reusable Bag – Get creative when you’re finding materials to make a reusable bag, which is a super useful and sustainable gift idea from Riley Markert! Sustainability bonus points for being a reusable alternative to single-use plastic.

A knit scarf, hat, or cup cozy – A great idea from Rachel Gao. If you don’t know how to knit, it’s never too late to pick up a new skill! Find tutorials and instructions online – the possibilities of what you can make are endless. You could also crochet or sew if that’s more your style.

Homemade Jewelry Way more heartfelt than anything you can buy at the jewelry store – and way better for the planet! Plus, when you make it yourself, you can customize it to exactly what your gift-ee likes. 

Embroidered Clothing Customize thrifted clothing with embroidery to make it personal and unique! If you’re confident in your skills, you can also offer to embroider clothing your gift-ee already has and give it a fresh new look.

Handmade Cards – Handmade cards just feel so much more special than mass-produced ones: you can customize the image and the message of a handmade card to say exactly what you want it to. They’re also a great use for scrap paper! If you aren’t artistic, a handwritten letter can be a very touching gift, especially for those you don’t talk to often.

Homemade Crafts – Anything homemade can be very heartfelt and mean a lot to the receiver. If you celebrate Christmas, one idea is homemade ornaments. Or, if you have more books than you know what to do with, try this fun and festive craft idea and make a book wreath to give to a friend! 

Another great way to give more sustainable gifts is to support local and small businesses by buying your gifts from there! Here are some suggestions of some of our favorites: (Click on the links to visit the homepages!)

Nino’s Italian Bakery of Syracuse  – “A great place to buy someone baked goods for the holidays.” -Caroline Stone

Recess Coffee – For the coffee lover! Suggested by Riley Markert.

BLK MKT Vintage – Lucy Ferrick’s suggestion for vintage collectibles.

Books End  – Sophia Caputo’s suggestion: a used book store for those who love to read. 

Small shops on Etsy – A great way to find unique homemade gifts and support small businesses/artists. Thanks, Rachel Gao!

Thrift Stores  – A great way to find unique and sustainable holiday gifts, or clothes to upcycle as gifts! 

Wildflowers Armory  “A bunch of small businesses put their products in this business, they have homemade jewelry, candles, dog collars, paintings, vintage antiques and more!” -Sophia Caputo

Pastry Palace – “An amazing bakery you could buy some sweets as gifts from!” – Evelyn Tao 

20 East – A business full of local art, food, flowers, gifts, etc. They support local vendors and share their talents. A great place to buy local gifts during the holidays!

Ten Thousand Villages – Kira Pawletko’s suggestion for sustainable gift shopping. It’s not a local business, but they have local locations and help support local artisans around the world. Plus, their gifts are unique, fair trade, and handmade!

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