Eco-Friendly Promotional Products: Things to Know Before Buying

Caring about our planet is a trend that doesn’t go away and each year becomes more and more widespread. Unfortunately, not all products that claim to be green are actually eco-friendly.

Not to scare you or anything but our current situation looks like this.

Every year more and more waste pollutes soil, air, and water.
Industrial waste became a global problem decades ago, air pollution rises at an alarming rate. According to World Health Organization (WHO) study, outdoor air pollution alone kills around 3 million people each year. Only one person in ten lives in a city that complies with the WHO Air quality guidelines.

Caring about our planet is a trend that doesn’t go away and each year becomes more and more widespread. Millions of socially active people go green, and words like sustainability, recycling and reusing are not new concepts to most of us. This trend also touched promotional products industry, and you can find many eco-friendly giveaways on the Internet.

Using eco-swag is a great opportunity to show your company's values and demonstrate your concerns with global problems. Unfortunately, many ideas that seem green are not actually ‘eco’ and can even bring more damage to our planet. If you want to raise your brand awareness with eco-friendly promotional products, it is imperative to know the difference between the two.

So what are some truly great promotional products in this category? How to distinguish them from companies who just want a little more PR? First, let’s give a definition of an eco friendly promotional product.

‘Products that do not harm the environment
whether in their production, use or disposal,
and that work just as efficient as their analogs
can be called environmentally friendly'

Now that we’ve figured that out let’s look at some of the not-really-green promotional items, that might spoil your reputation to an environmentally aware client.

I have discovered that talking plastic is not an easy task, so I’ve converted our research and development team’s difficult definitions into simple concepts.

‘There are no 100% biodegradable plastics.’

Fact #1 Plastic degrades in 200 years. Plastic bags and packages are going to just pile up in ginormous waste dumps, so using them is absolutely not eco-friendly.
Carton and paper cups are not a good idea.
Wait, why are we talking about paper cups in a ‘plastic’ section? Because they are covered with a layer of plastic coating. Otherwise, they would just leak. Even packs of juice contain tin foil and plastic. Want to go eco here - stop using them on your trade shows and as for gift giving - use good old mugs and tumblers - reusable everyday reminders of your care.

Fact #2
Degradable plastic stated to be eco-friendly but will start breaking down at the temperature of 122 Fahrenheit (50 Celsius). So probably we should collect our waste and pile it up somewhere in the desert. It also will not rot and vanish - it degrades to smaller particles that can easily be blown away from disposal field and harm environment even more.

Fact #3
Recycled plastic can do more harm, and here’s why. It is recycled at extremely high temperatures and while undergoing the process huge amount of waste is thrown into the air. Energy demands for recycling the plastic are much higher, and if that’s not enough a reason - here’s a thing: not more than 30% of recycled plastic is used when making new items. Otherwise, the product will have defects and generally will be of a poor quality.

Disposable and recycled water bottles harm the environment. Photo by Lacey Williams

A product that can not be called eco-friendly by default is a product with a lithium polymer battery. Batteries recycling or utilization is a complex, difficult, not environmentally friendly and even dangerous process. Batteries are a necessity in a 21st century, but in terms of eco-friendly promotional products, everything with a battery is a ‘no’.

Eco power bank
Made of cardboard or a bamboo. Great natural solution...for a casing. First of all, this one has a battery, so, no. Not a good idea. And come on, bamboo? Don’t you care about pandas anymore? That’s the only thing they eat and someone wants to chop it down to make an illusion of an eco-friendly promotional product? Humanity is better than that.

Disposable power bank
This is even worse. Instead of making a product to charge your device for 2 years, you’ll charge it once and throw it away. The only disposable thing in such power bank is a case.

Disposable power bank is not the best idea

Actually, any promotional product with a word bamboo in it is not an eco-friendly swag. Why? Well, how eco-friendly is cutting out bamboo forests? Will user state it is eco-friendly? No. Will users state they have a gadget from the natural material? Yes. But let’s not confuse these two.

Solar energy
The two words sound so good and trendy. Feels like just by saying them you somehow make the world a better place. Gadget, powered by solar energy can be a great promotional product. Let’s just keep in mind the definition of the green promotional item, and more specifically - the second part of it: ‘work just as efficient as their analogs’. When talking about solar - this is the part to consider.

Solar power bank
Could have been a great idea, if you’d lived in the desert or in a post-apocalyptic society with no other energy sources left. Most of the promotional solar power banks will take a huge amount of time to charge your gadget and that is not efficient for a 21st century. As a result, your giveaway won’t get enough exposure, being used once a year while camping with a family.
Smaller solar powered items could work. For example, solar calculator could be suitable green present for office workers.

Good news is that we have many other options to state your green position with a promo swag.

Eco-Friendly Bags
One of the greatest eco and socially mindful examples is this string bag project. Not only it’s a great reusable eco-friendly stylish bag, it also helps blind people earn their living. ‘Avoska Gives Hope’ project was recognized as the best social project in Russia.

String bag is a great eco-friendly swag

Of course, you can always go with the conventional promotional eco bag, which is a must for any trade show. Just make sure it is made of natural materials.


Bring life to your customer's home and office with plantable promotional gift. It can be a personalised flower pot, a 'grow your own garden' pack or a seed bomb.

Nothing is more environmentally friendly than a plantable promo swag. Photo by Daniel Hjalmarsson

Your client will enjoy a favorite drink and see your branded swag daily. Different shapes and sizes, colors, logos and slogans. They could also be plantable and turn into beautiful flowers. Eco-friendly? Definitely yes.

Seed paper
Boost environmental awareness with swag printed on seed paper. Notepads, brochures, business cards, you name it. This paper contains seeds of different trees, flowers, veggies, and fruit. So after reading the info, a client can plant it. Great idea, 100% eco and also reduces paper waste.

Seed paper is a wonderful idea for a greener swag

There is no way to avoid progress and its side effects. Noone wants to live in pre-electricity times, work in the fields and grow crops...except for downshifters.
It’s not an easy task to choose living a greener life on a daily basis because even the simplest things like paper cups and packages contain harmful plastic. Don’t be tricked by big words like ‘eco’, ‘disposable’, ‘carton’ when it comes to gadgets with batteries - they are not on the ‘green list’. But there are always option to please even the most environmentally concerned customer - bags, seed paper printed swag, coasters, solar powered gadgets, etc.
Maybe you’ll settle for a lesser of two evils, or will go with truly eco-friendly products, it’s up to you. Point is now you know how to distinguish between the two.

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