How to Make a Low-Waste Gift Basket

Create a sustainable gift basket that's festive and low-waste.

Overhead view of different types of gift boxes

netrun78 / Getty Images

  • Total Time: 1 - 3 hours
  • Yield: 1 sustainable gift basket
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $20 and up

Gift baskets get a bad rap. Many are packed haphazardly with stale snacks or impersonal items the recipient won't use or doesn't want. They're perceived as cheap and cheesy—as in corny, in addition to sometimes containing cheese. Too often, they're thrown together at the last minute by an acquaintance or the family procrastinator, and it shows.

But consider their pros: Gift baskets are infinitely versatile and customizable. They can be as inexpensive or posh, as personal or generic, as the gifter wants. And guess what? Gift baskets can be incredibly sustainable, considering you have full control of the contents and packaging.

Here's how to put together a really good, thoughtful gift basket—and an environmentally friendly one, at that.

Zero-Waste Gift Ideas

Person putting together a personal care gift basket

Natalia Sereda / Getty Images

Low-waste shopping for yourself is tough enough, nevermind low-waste shopping for someone else. Often the absence of plastic and excess packaging makes a product look barren or, at the least, unfestive—fine for you, but perhaps not the best way to make a gift impression. Here are some ideas that make zero-waste gifting exciting.

  • Food: Locally made bread or pastries wrapped in reusable beeswax wraps, hand-decorated cookies, honey, or homemade salsa, jam, or nut butter in upcycled jars.
  • Beverage: A jar of fresh coffee beans from your neighborhood roastery, cocktail fixings (whole fruits, purees, and herbal syrups), a refillable growler of beer from your favorite brewery, a custom blend of loose-leaf tea.
  • Beauty and personal care: Bath bombs and salts, candles and incense, facial massage tools, a wooden hair or beard brush, reusable undereye patches, a natural loofah (luffa) sponge.
  • Books: Thoughtfully selected books from secondhand and independent bookstores, such as online at
  • Plants: Seed packets for spring gardening, cuttings from your own houseplants, gardening gloves, a ceramic plant pot.
  • Cold-weather layers: Fun socks, sustainably made winter accessories, a cozy blanket.
  • Handmade items: Soaps, candles, knitwear, ornaments, jewelry.

What You'll Need


  • Scissors


  • Gifts in various shapes, sizes, and textures
  • Basket or basket alternative
  • Filler (raffia or paper preferred)
  • Wrap (optional)
  • Ribbon or twine (optional)
  • Tape (optional)
  • Dried fruits, flowers, and/or foliage for decoration (optional)


  1. Choose a Gift Basket Theme

    Pasta- and sweets-themed gift boxes

    MurzikNata / Getty Images

    Maybe you want the theme of your gift basket to be a particular type of product. Alcohol is a common one for the 21-and-over set, for example. You could also curate a basket of sweets, coffee and coffee-related things, or self-care items for an epic DIY spa night. Your theme could even be broader—like travel, either centering around a specific destination (macarons and a nice wheel of brie for the Francophile, say) or travel in general.

    If you're at a loss or don't know the gift recipient well (it happens!) choose a color and make that the theme of your basket.

  2. Buy Gifts From Small, Local Businesses

    As much as possible, source your gifts from small, local vendors instead of chain stores. A 2021 poll from CNBC and Momentive revealed that only 25% of respondents planned to do more of their Christmas shopping in-person than online. Many of the online shoppers, according to the survey, were Amazon Prime members.

    Holidays are an especially important time to support your local economy instead of funnel more money into the pockets of billionaires. And besides, buying local takes the issue of mileage out of the sustainability equation. Remember: The less an item travels, the lower its embodied greenhouse gas emissions.

  3. Think Outside the Basket

    Your standard woven basket or wooden crate works great for displaying assorted gifts—they're all-natural (ideally), infinitely useful, and often conveniently shaped. But if you think the gift recipient would appreciate another style of container, or you have something else on hand, feel free to deviate from the norm.

    How about a fun serving bowl or ceramic baking dish for kitchen-themed items? Or a planter for garden gifts? Lay out wine and snacks on a cutting board and secure it with chunky ribbon. You can even make your own "basket" with a cardboard box and some wrapping paper.

  4. Assemble Your Gift Basket

    Christmas gift basket with wine and sweets

    netrun78 / Getty Images

    Playing with the display of your items is half the fun of putting a gift basket together. Often, it's a game of Tetris trying to figure out which gift fits where.

    Start with your basket filling: Raffia and shredded paper (crinkle-cut is cute; recycled even better) are some sustainable options. Then stack your gifts vertically with the tallest items in the back. Try to arrange so that textures, materials, and shapes seem varied—you don't want to end up with an eyesore like a cluster of glass jars or too many abutting square items.

    If you find yourself struggling to keep items secured, try staking the smaller items in by taping wooden skewers to the backs of them. Place some more filler around the items to wedge them in place.

    What Is Raffia?

    Raffia gift basket filling is made from the leaves of the raffia palm (Raphia) native to tropical regions of Africa. It is very rarely treated with synthetic dyes or other chemicals, which makes it 100% biodegradable, compostable, and safe for the environment.

  5. Wrap

    You'll often see gift baskets wrapped in cellophane, a thin and flexible film made in modern days of polypropylene. Traditional cellophane was made from natural sources—primarily wood—but plastic wrap has largely taken its place.

    Today, you can buy compostable and biodegradable cellophane made from plants. Otherwise, you can wrap your basket with recyclable wrapping paper or, even more creative, a scarf or tablecloth. You could also forego the idea of wrapping your gift basket in general.

    If you choose to wrap it, roll your cellophane or paper out on a table and place the basket in the center. Stack two sheets of paper or cellophane, one horizontal and the other vertical, if your container is too big for just one sheet. Fold in the sides as you lift the long sides around your basket, pulling tautly to hold the gift together. Secure with a piece of twine or ribbon where the wrap cinches (at the "neck"), taping down any awkward corners so they aren't visible.

  6. Add Decoration

    Cinnamon sticks, dried citrus slices, and spruce sprigs

    p_ponomareva / Getty Images

    Now for the finishing touches. Decorating your gift basket makes it even more thoughtful, especially when the decoration is handmade or foraged from your own backyard. Some examples include sprigs of holly, pinecones, dried or fresh flowers, even a sprig of fresh spruce plucked from your own Christmas tree. From the kitchen, dried citrus slices and cinnamon sticks make creative and fragrant decoration when tied together with a festive ribbon. A handmade gift tag, card, or ornament would also be a nice touch.

Tips for Sustainable and Ethical Gifting

Here are some general sustainability tips to keep in mind when shopping for gifts.

  • Choose practical gifts that the recipient will actually want and use.
  • Shop local and locally made to reduce the miles your gifts travel, therefore reducing emissions from shipping.
  • Shop small; support your local economy.
  • Avoid harmful chemicals in personal care items you gift. You can search brands, ingredients, and individual products on the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep cosmetics database to see a score, from one to 10, of how harmful they are.
  • Try to avoid plastic. Look for packaging and gifts that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
  • Opt for reusable or recyclable packing and wrapping, such as shredded paper or raffia filler and newspaper or cloth (for example: a tea towel, tablecloth, or scarf) as wrapping "paper." If buying new paper, look for the Forest Stewardship Council certification.
  • Gift services in addition to or instead of goods.
Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do you fill empty space in a gift basket?

    Packing paper, paper shreds (bonus points for recycled paper), tissue paper, and raffia can be used for filling the empty space in a gift basket.

  • How many items should go into a gift basket?

    How many items you include in your DIY gift basket is entirely up to you, but at least four of varying shapes, sizes, and materials can help the gift look full and diverse.

  • What should you use instead of cellophane wrap?

    Instead of wrapping your basket in plastic wrap, try wrapping paper, newspaper, a scarf, a tablecloth, or nothing at all.

  • What can be used instead of a gift basket?

    Gift "baskets" can take many shapes and forms, such as kitchen items (baking dishes, mixing bowls, colanders), tin buckets, plant pots, cutting boards, and zhuzhed-up cardboard boxes.

View Article Sources
  1. "Small Business Saturday 2021." CNBC|Momentive.

View Article Sources
  1. "Small Business Saturday 2021." CNBC|Momentive.