Recycled Green Gifts for the Holidays

Socks from RocknSocks
Socks from RocknSocks

Looking for thoughtful green gift ideas for the holidays but worried about holiday-related resource use? 

You’re right to be concerned—the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the volume of US household trash increases by 25 percent, adding around one million tons of extra garbage. But it is possible to minimize holiday waste, embrace the spirit of giving and green, and make your loved ones smile.

Green America has a growing list of low-impact and DIY gift ideas

And if you want to find gifts that maximize recycling/upcycling and minimize waste, consider the green companies that made it into the list of top ten finalists for the Summer 2015 round of Green America’s People & Planet Award. Each specializes in recycling in some way.

Green America asked the owners of these green companies to share their best ideas for upcycled products to give as gifts (their own, or other companies’), and for any other tips for reducing waste during the holidays. 

Mr. Ellie Pooh

People & Planet winner Mr. Ellie Pooh produces 100-percent recycled paper products made from 50 percent post-consumer waste paper and 50 percent fiber reclaimed from elephant dung. Since an elephant’s diet is all vegetarian, the staggering 500 pounds of waste per day produced by the average elephant is basically raw cellulose, all of which can be cleaned (It doesn’t smell!) and processed into a linen-like paper.

As a member of the Fair Trade Federation, Mr. Ellie Pooh pays the artisan groups that make its paper a living wage, ensures safe and healthy working conditions, and pays workers a premium for improving their communities.

For the holidays, Karl Wald, owner of Mr. Ellie Pooh, recommends his line of Letter Press Cards, some of which are holiday-specific, and all of which are blank on the inside. Like Mr. Ellie Pooh’s notebooks, loose paper, envelopes, and journals, the cards are produced in Sri Lanka and then printed in the United States.

photo from lur apparel

lur apparel

When asked his advice for greening your holiday gift giving, Mark Heiman, founder of lur apparel,a recycled-fiber clothing company for women, says: “One word: upcycle!”

That’s just what lur apparel does with the cotton scraps it collects from commercial apparel and textile factories, and the post-consumer plastic bottles it recycles into polyester to produce the cotton-poly fabrics of the company’s tunics, dresses, and outerwear. It even recycles the scraps from its own production processes, making them into one of lur apparel’s signature products—the Aphrodite Rope Scarf.

Heiman also invites Green Americans to upcycle on their own for the holidays, crafting new items for loved ones just as lur apparel does on a business scale.

“Instead of going with all-new gifts and purchases these holidays, get crafty instead,” he says. “We all have so much DIY material to work with.”

Heiman suggests giving new life to old clothes by repurposing their fabric into new items—pot holders, pillows, rugs, or anything that can be sewn, stitched, or braided.



People & Planet finalist Recyclebank, headquartered in New York City, runs a “rewards for recycling” program that partners with communities and brands and has boosted recycling rates in 300 communities across the US. Through the program, people earn points when they recycle, and they can trade those points for discounts from local and national retailers. If your community doesn’t offer a Recyclebank recycling program, you can still earn points through interactive features on the Recyclebank website.

Around the holidays (from November 12 to January 4), Recyclebank also runs an online store called One Twine, which donates five percent of its profits to a greener-schools program. The One Twine store offers a recycled-glass bird feeder; a reclaimed-wood iPad stand; recycled drinking glasses; and other upcycled, reclaimed, or creative-reuse products that make great gifts.

People & Planet finalist Temperpack has developed a patent-pending plant-fiber insulation designed for e-commerce companies that ship food. The company’s “Jutebox” is made from 100-percent recycled jute plant fiber derived from burlap sacks used to transport coffee and cocoa beans, and can be composted with any other yard or food waste after use.

While the company doesn’t offer any consumer products for holiday giving, Temperpack co-founder Brian Powers reminds Green Americans to compost all organic holiday waste, and suggests that setting up a home compost garden for a friend or loved one can make an excellent holiday gift. 

RocknSocks Rainbow socks
photo from RockNSocks
Summer 2015 People & Planet Award winner RocknSocks offers 100 percent recycled socks for men and women, made from cotton scraps cast off by textile manufacturers.

RocknSocks is proud to be the first made-in-the-USA sock company that repurposes cotton scraps from textile manufacturing to make its products. The company offers an entirely recycled line of socks for men and women.

RocknSocks intends to use the $5,000 prize from winning the People & Planet Award to take its recycling mission to the next level; it will begin recycling its own damaged or returned socks into a line of “sock-creature” toys.

For holiday giving, founder Misty Reilly recommends RocknSocks’ “Elsa Knee Highs,” a unisex line of knee-high socks available in patterns ranging “from classic to psychedelic.”

Reilly also advises Green Americans to look for products from artisans in their local areas who make new clothing out of old clothes. One of Reilly’s favorites in her local community is San Francisco’s Miranda Caroligne, who makes new sweaters, dresses, shrugs, and skirts out of discarded sweaters.

Finally, for both recycled gift ideas and for recycling waste that you can’t avoid over the holidays, consider People & Planet winner TerraCycle. TerraCycle develops and runs innovative, free consumer recycling programs for hard-to-recycle waste like baby-food pouches, CLIF Bar wrappers, toothbrushes, make-up containers, e-waste, and more. Under the “Send Your Waste” tab on the TerraCycle website, visitors can purchase a “Zero Waste Box” that will facilitate recycling all categories of waste, including any holiday garbage like wrapping paper.

On both the TerraCycle website and their associated Etsy site, you can find recycled products like “monogram” wine-cork sticky-note boards (shaped like capital letters), wallets made from retired mailbags, and coasters made from circuit boards.

Still, TerraCycle’s Colleen Duncan points out that to reduce waste, there are plenty of options for less-wasteful gifts: “If you’re looking to give a gift that doesn’t involve packaging, for kids, season passes to an amusement park or lessons in their favorite hobby are non-material gifts they’ll enjoy for longer than the latest highly packaged toy.”