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12/20/2013 10:51 am ET | Updated Nov 18, 2014

Help Your Friends Become Environmentally Friendly Without Being A Pest

The holiday season is stressful for most, but especially cringe-worthy and frustrating for greenies. Wrapping paper is stripped and pitched in an instant. New electronics hum as they sit plugged into outlets, overcharging on battery juice. And mom wants to use her pretty new snowmen paper plates instead of glass ones for Christmas dinner. Sigh. Deep breath.

Fortunately, this tide of wastefulness is reversible, and it can start with gift selection. Planting reusable, non-disposable presents into the hands of less eco-minded folks is one way to ignite sustainability across the board -- especially if the gifts are hip, cool and delivered without an in-your-face attitude.

So this holiday season, trying gifting a few items that won't hit the landfills anytime soon. These gifts are not only affordable and fun to shop for, but can be good for your health, too (I'm looking at you, BPA-free plastics and Teflon-free cookware). Take a look below for some of our top picks this holiday season.

  • Reusable Water Bottles (Price Range: $10 to $30)
    Flickr Creative Commons
    Say goodbye to plastic water bottles and cups with the gift of a reusable water bottle or thermos. They now come in all shapes and sizes and are sure to delight anyone that's on the go with a beverage.
    Stainless steel water bottles are BPA-free, trendy and usually dishwasher safe. Kleen Kanteen is the oldest stainless steel producer and a popular option with a range of colors and design. SIGG, a well-known Swedish brand, offers both aluminum and stainless steel options, too. SIGG came under fire in 2009 for BPA found in the inner linings, but FDA testing assures they're now BPA-free. And Nalgene, a popular plastic brand, has been largely BPA-free since 2008.
    The manufacturing of plastic, disposable water bottles is extremely wasteful. That industry uses an estimated 17 million barrels of oil each year -- enough to power one million cars for a year -- and requires three times as much water to make the bottle than to fill it. And contrary to popular belief, bottled water is no safer than tap water. Nearly half of bottled water comes from tap sources.
    (Photo by Marceline Smith/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Electronic Reading Devices (Price Range: $50 to $500)
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    Who doesn't enjoy reading and taking delight in that first page-turn? Though we know there's something about the smell of a new book, e-readers generally carry less of an environmental footprint than paper books and make great alternatives for friends and family.
    E-reader options are plentiful for book worms today. Popular options include Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and Apple's iPad, though Amazon's Kindle is priced most affordably at $69. Cost, lighting, size and battery life are just a few things to keep in mind when deciphering between e-readers.
    When analyzing whether e-readers or books had a larger environmental footprint, books faired worse according to a New York Times blog. In 2008, the U.S. book and newspaper industries were responsible for the loss of 125 million trees. And specifically, the book industry has the largest per-unit carbon footprint in the entire publishing industry.
    (Photo by Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
  • Mason Jars (Price Range: $8 to $15)
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    Let’s face it: Mason jars are simply awesome. These glass jars have been gaining popularity among foodies and hipsters alike in recent years, and for good reason: Great for canning, storage, food transport, pickling and as decoration, everyone in the family can use these durable glass jars.
    You can buy them locally or from stores like Michaels craft store or Bed Bath and Beyond. Jelly jars make a cute option at a smaller size. Alternately, try transforming your old jars this holiday season and giving them away as a DIY present.
    Complement this gift with some soy tea candles (turns out that soy candles are actually better for your health) and twine and hang from a sturdy surface for a creative decor option. And if you’re really looking to get those creative juices flowing, Buzzfeed provides 41 other ideas for Mason jars.
    Mason jar lids can contain BPA, so be sure to look for brands like Ball and Weck or ones that note they're free of this chemical.
    (Photo by Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)
  • Seeds And Garden Materials (Starting at $2)
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    Gardening is cost-effective, provides organic plants free of pesticides and is known to help fight stress. With these benefits in mind, giving garden basics and tools are great gifts to help loved ones eat local and sustainably.
    Everyone can fit a garden into their lifestyle, whether it be a backyard garden or garden plot. And if you live in an urban environment, opportunities still abound for rooftop, balcony or indoor herb gardens. SeedsNow sells organic, non-GMO seeds and plants, as does Organic Seed People. Check with your local garden store about other options.
    Try giving tools to those with outdoor gardens, like pruner sheers and weeders. And for an indoor herb garden, sleek pots and trays will engage any newcomer.
    (Photo by Reese Lloyd/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Creative Food Transport And Storage Items (Price Range: $5 to $25)
    Flickr
    Is a special someone still transporting their lunches in plastic baggies? If that makes you cringe, try gifting them neat food storage containers. They come in more designs than ever before and make great gifts for moms and foodies.
    Bento Box containers have compartments that allow you to organize and conveniently separate food. BNTO canning adapters by Cuppow, small compartments that can be inserted into the top of canning jars, are great for transporting healthy snacks like hummus and carrots or apples and peanut butter. And for the sandwich lovers, try gifting them a Lunchskins reusable sandwich bag that come in multiple patterns. Reuseit offers a long list of other unique storage contraptions.
    Convenient, unique food storage will encourage people to pack their own food, which can save them money and cut down on waste. No matter how unique one's food habits may be, there's a food storage item out there for them. Try to find stainless steal or glass options, and look for BPA-free items when using plastics.
    (Photo by Rubbermaid Products/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Reusable Grocery Bags (Price Range: $1 to $14)
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    It's no secret that plastic bags aren't great for the planet. They're made from petroleum (it takes 12 million barrels of oil to create the 100 billion bags used in the U.S. each year), take 15 to 1000 years to decompose and often wind up in the environment. Sea turtles, for example, mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and can choke on them.
    Instead, invest in a few reusable bags. They help reduce waste, are good for the environment and often get you discounts at the grocery store -- all reason to join the reusable bag movement.
    Plus, they come in more designs than ever before. ChicoBags are made of woven polyester and are recyclable, and Baggu bags are easily transportable and are made of ripstop nylon. Etsy also offers a unique range of bags that range in price from about $4 to $40.
    (Photo by Mike Ransdell/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Images)
  • Tools To Cut Food Waste (Price Range: $5 to $30)
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    A 2013 U.N. report states that a third of all food is wasted annually. In the U.S., that's a loss of $165 billion, and it's mostly because people pitch their food prematurely because of date labels, assuming sell-by dates indicate spoilage when they actually don't. Gifts that help cut food waste are great practical presents for parents and grandparents.
    Hanging produce baskets allow you to see what food you have so that you don't buy duplicates, while also providing a decorative addition to the kitchen. Dana Gunders, staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, recommends buying fridge thermometers (about $5 at your local grocery or hardware store) to ensure fridges are kept below forty degrees Fahrenheit, which is the recommended storage temperature to keep bacteria from growing and food spoiling. She also recommends apps like Green Egg Shopper and Love Food Hate Waste that allow you to manage your grocery shopping and optimize recipes.
    (Photo by Sparky/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Handkerchiefs And Dish Towels (Price Range: $7 to $45)
    Flickr
    Say goodbye to paper waste at home by investing in some handkerchiefs and dish towels. A great gift for mom and dad, these cloth materials are a sustainable alternative to tissues and paper towels while adding flair to outfits and homes.
    As BlogHer suggests, there are multiple eco-friendly designs of handkerchiefs out there. Hank and Cheef offers organic cotton ones with nature design patterns, and if you just can't pull away from the feeling off pulling a tissue from a box, Hankettes offers their organic cotton hankies in a box. Dishtowels come in all shapes and sizes, too. Don't forget that they can also serve as potholders, dish racks or an alternative to plastic wrap.
    Yes, blowing your nose into a damp cloth that you'll have to carry around all day seems disgusting, but it will save you money in the long run and is much eco-friendlier. As Grist states, the U.S. is the largest paper consumer in the world, cutting down 12,430 square miles of forest each year. Tissues and paper towels are not recyclable because of the gunk on them, and their fiber is typically too short to get recycled.
    (Photo by lisaclarke/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Bamboo Mats And Rugs (Starting at $25)
    Getty Images
    Forget conventional rugs and shower mats that acquire stains and dirt over time -- and need to be washed. Instead, try giving bamboo mats to mom, dad or someone who's always washing their mats. They're strong and durable, and give any room a unique look and feel. Better yet, they absorb water and dry on their own.
    Amazon offers an elevated bamboo mat that allows water to evaporate quickly and is great outside of pools, showers and kitchen sinks. Cork bath mats also dry quickly, don't require washing and are anti-fungal, a characteristic essential to people with allergies.
    (Photo by MyLoupe/UIG via Getty Images)
  • Whiskey Stones And Reusable Ice Cubes (Price Range: $5 to $30)
    Flickr
    Stop refilling those ice trays and drop those whiskey stones into a glass. They're a great gift for dads, brothers and boyfriends, and are sold at an affordable price -- about $20 on average.
    These soapstone rocks offer a great alternative to typical ice. Not only do they require less mess and refrain from diluting your favorite whiskey or bourbon beverage, but you can save water used to fill up ice trays.
    For the kids, fun-shaped reusable ice cubes make great stocking stuffers, like these scuba diver and fruit-shaped cubes. Of course, look for BPA-free, stainless-steel ice cubes as often as possible. (Photo by Patrick Truby/Flickr Creative Commons)
  • Surge Protectors (Price Range: $10 to $30)
    Flickr
    Okay, we realize that receiving a surge protector for Christmas isn't the top thing on everybody's list, but they're especially helpful at cutting back on electricity -- especially for those with a lot of appliances.
    Standby power refers to products that still consume electricity even when they're turned off, like microwaves and landline phones. The average American home has 40 products on standby at a time, and that adds up to about $100 a year.
    Surge protectors allow you to save energy by turning off multiple electronics at once with the simple click of a switch. Some surge protectors, like the Belkin Conserve Surge Protector and the Titan Controls 734150 Apollo, have timers that can hit the switch for you after certain intervals.
    (Photo by StateFarm/Flickr Creative Commons)

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