Around the holidays, it's estimated that Americans throw out an extra 1 million tons of trash per week – and one of the biggest offenders of seasonal waste is single-use gift wrap.
Use the tips in this eco-friendly gift wrapping guide to cut down your environmental impact this year.
1. Wrap Boxes With Brown Paper Bags
Newspaper is the old standard, but for those of us who don't receive a physical paper – or who just want to make our gifts a little more personal – recyclable paper bags work great. If you've got a stash of, say, Trader Joe's bags taking over your cabinet, cut them flat and use the non-printed side as a canvas. Decorate with a hand-written message, drawing, or stamped design.
2. Reuse Cardboard Shipping Boxes
Using your delivery parcels instead of store-bought gift boxes is one of the easiest eco-friendly gift wrapping swaps you can make. Likely, this year you'll be doing more online shopping than risking crowded stores, which means many items will come in a perfect-sized box that's ready for wrapping. Just don't forget to recycle or compost all of that cardboard after Christmas morning.
3. Upcycle Other Shipping Supplies
Boxes aren't the only thing you can reuse from your online purchases. Throughout the year, save the tissue paper sheets and brown or white packing paper companies often use to ship their products. Then, when the holidays come around, you'll have your eco-friendly gift wrap ready to go. The reflective bubble wrap you may receive in your meal delivery service makes for great festive wrapping, too.
4. Make Your Own Stamps
Of course, not all packages come in a box. Padded envelopes are another popular way to ship small items. Before recycling, repurpose bubble-lined mailers into stamps. You can cut out holiday shapes like stars and gingerbread men, or paint individual bubbles different colors to create fun polka-dot patterns. You can even make it extra sustainable by using crushed up berries for ink.
5. Add Natural Festive Touches
Rather than use a shiny plastic bow, go au naturale with tree branches, cotton buds, cinnamon sticks, small pinecones, rosemary, fallen leaves, or whatever else you can sustainably source in your area. The easiest way to gather eco-friendly gift garnishes is to clip sprigs off your own Christmas tree, but you can also pick some off the ground at your neighborhood tree lot or get scraps from local farms.
6. Swap Paper for Fabric Gift Wrap
Make your eco-friendly gift wrapping part of your present by opting for a scarf, shawl, pocket square, or handkerchief over traditional paper. As the above video shows, it takes just seconds to package items using the Furoshiki method of fabric wrapping – and you don't even need to box the item beforehand, which cuts out another piece of holiday waste.
7. Use Biodegradable Paper Tape
A not-so-obvious source of holiday waste is what holds your packaging together: single-use plastic tape. For eco-friendly gift wrapping, consider using compostable paper tape or washi tape. These biodegradable alternatives are made with wood fibers, pulp, or bark and natural adhesives. They come in a multitude of patterns and colors – including plain brown – and you can even find festive rolls coated with sustainable glitter.
8. Ditch the Tape Altogether
You don't have to be an origami pro to learn the art of tape-free gift wrapping. As you can see in the video above, it's pretty simple to fold your wrapping paper into itself and secure your gift with no tape required. If you do happen to be an origami pro (or if all the holiday cheer has left you optimistically ambitious), there are ways to incorporate fun folds into your wrapping, too.
9. Turn Old Clothes Into Ribbons and Bows
Button-down shirts, flannels, or even T-shirts you no longer need can be upcycled into reusable fabric ribbons and bows. Cut strips as thin or as thin as you'd like, then tie them around your boxes to add some color and texture to your gifts. You can sew around the outside for a more durable ribbon, or leave the frayed edges for a rustic feel.
10. Tie Gifts Up With Compostable Twine
Don't have any clothing you're willing to part with? You're not totally out of luck. Many thin ropes and twines are made from organic cotton, hemp, and other natural fibers that can be reused as eco-friendly gift wrapping year after year or composted after use.
11. Look Through Old Household Items
You probably have many items lying around that can be used as unconventional yet beautiful eco-friendly gift wrapping materials for smaller gifts. The outdated road maps cluttering your glove compartment, books on the shelf you'll never read again, and sheet music collecting dust after your child quit the middle-school band can all be given a second life around the holidays. Think creatively about regifting or look for sustainable corporate gifts ideas this time of year.
FAQ: Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping
Is wrapping paper recyclable?
Some wrapping paper is recyclable, and some is not. If it's metallic, has glitter on it, is textured, or has a waxy coating, it can't be recycled. However, plain, unlaminated wrapping papers are usually able to be recycled. Check with your local waste management agency to see specific guidelines for your area.
Is tissue paper recyclable?
Because most tissue paper is made with low-grade paper, it is not typically recyclable. However, some recycling facilities may accept it, so be sure to check with your local waste management agency. Thankfully, tissue paper tends to hold up well year after year, so it can be reused for many holiday seasons.
How do you wrap a gift?
Wrapping gifts is like riding a bike: once you learn, you'll never forget it – but there may be some ugly moments along the way. Check out the video below to learn the basics of wrapping presents (but make sure you implement our eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas, too).
Watch this video on how to gift wrap a box:
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
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