When it comes to gift-giving this holiday season, ‘twould be best to give nothing at all but experiences and bits of wisdom. But if you happen to find yourself wandering a big-box store (or you know that’s where Aunt Edna does all her shopping), are there green gift options? We set out to investigate, hitting up the big-box trifecta: Target, Wal-Mart, and Kmart.

After wandering every aisle of each store and chatting up sales associates, we came to several conclusions:

  1. Shopping is exhausting!
  2. As irritating as piped-in holiday music is, it beats the pants off of creepy silence.
  3. There are way too many plastic toys out there.

 

Wake Up and Smell
the Planet
, by Yours Truly.

Fortunately, we also realized that there are a few gifts you can probably find at most big-box stores. Books, for one. At all three stores, we were able to flip through eco-titles ranging from An Inconvenient Truth to The Omnivore’s Dilemma to (hint, hint) Wake Up and Smell the Planet.

Speaking of subtle hints, big-box shoppers can also encourage drivers to start bike commuting by giving a new bike or bike accessories, or help foster a love of the outdoors with a gift of camping supplies.

Sweet CFLs.

Green-minded home goods can make for practical gifts, too: Think glass Tupperware to replace phthalate-leaching plastic, a low-flow showerhead, or energy-saving power strips and timers for lights and appliances. Stuff stockings with rechargeable batteries, CFL bulbs (singles are less than $1 at Wal-Mart), or gift cards good for movies, restaurants, or music.

Looking for more tidings of eco-comfort and joy? Here are some other green-gift options we found. But first, a few disclaimers: We don’t endorse any particular brands. Options may vary at your local stores, and this list may not be complete (see: shopping is exhausting!). There are many more items available online at Target’s “eco-friendly” store, Walmart.com/green, and Kmart.com. And finally, we feel compelled to say that if you are indeed going by car to a big-box store, try to share a ride and bundle your errands to minimize driving.

It’ll be a blue, blue Christmas with this tee.

That trademark red bull’s-eye is spot-on if you’re aiming for eco-friendliness; this is where we found the most big-box options. (Not to mention that Target just pledged to phase out PVC.) Head here if you’re looking for recycled-paper greeting cards or men’s tees with a message, like “Conserve Water (Shower Together).” The massive toy section also had a great selection of wooden options from companies like Cagola and Kapla — amongst the aisles and aisles and aisles of plastic ones.

A cut above the rest.

We also found:

  • Gaiam cork yoga blocks with a hemp strap
  • Gerber organic-cotton baby onesies
  • greenroom recycled-paper notepads
  • Tru Bamboo cutting boards
  • Target Home organic-cotton bedding and dish towels
  • gift sets of Burt’s Bees natural products
  • soy candles by Method and other gift sets of Method green-home goods

 

Bag that nagging question.

Considering Wal-Mart’s big green initiative, we were surprised to find relatively few eco-friendly items — and disappointed that the ones we did see, like kid-size organic-cotton tees by Faded Glory, were mixed in with all the other merch, with only a small tag to ID them as green offerings. But a short chat with a knowledgeable sales clerk reminded us that most of Wal-Mart’s green efforts are behind the scenes, like tracking suppliers’ energy efficiency, pushing vendors to cut down on packaging, and cutting energy use at new stores. He did, however, point us to one highly visible green initiative available at every register: reusable totes emblazoned with the words “Paper or plastic? Neither.”

We also found:

  • George Baby organic-cotton babywear like hats, sleepers, and body suits
  • HomeTrends bamboo-blend sheets
  • ALCO bamboo kitchen items, like cutlery trays, coasters, and canisters

 

Stuffed pets or PET stuffed?

Eco-pickings were pretty slim at the Kmart we visited. In fact, when asked about green gift options, one sales associate suggested we try Wal-Mart! We did, however, come across one particularly interesting find: plush pet toys made from EarthRite Fiber, a polyester filling made from reclaimed PET plastic bottles.

Well, that about wraps up our big-box gift guide — and speaking of wrap, we couldn’t find any recycled-paper gift wrap, so we suggest getting creative with old newspaper or magazine pages.