Eco-Friendly & Reusable Gift Wrap Ideas

Eco Friendly and Reusable Ways to Wrap Gifts

I love the Holidays because this time of year is all about gift-giving (and experience sharing) but unfortunately, there is a dark side to holiday giving that many people don’t even think about: the amount of extra waste produced by the gift wrap, bags and ribbon.

Christmas Waste?

Consider this, In the US alone, we use 4 million tons of gift wrap and decorations each year and this just gets added to landfills after the holidays! This is a 25% increase over normal waste volume between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Over two billion cards are sent and enough ribbon is used to tie a bow around the Earth… and this all ends up in landfills. (1)

A Better Way to Gift Wrap

The good news is that we can still enjoy the holidays and the wonderful time with our families without the need for the additional waste. There are many ways to package and wrap gifts in an eco-friendly way and to give the recipient an additional gift with reusable packaging.

In fact, the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra is a great reminder when it comes to gift wrapping.

Reduce the Number of Gifts

An incredibly simple way to reduce the amount of waste each year is to reduce the number of gifts given and focus on a couple high-quality gifts rather than many gifts for each person.

I’m also a big fan of giving experiences instead of material gifts whenever possible and baseball tickets, zoo or museum memberships, or trips to rock climb or go to the movies don’t take much wrapping material and also promote family bonding and life-long memories.

As I explained in a previous post:

We follow the “4-Gift Rule”: Something they want, Something they need, Something to wear, Something to read.

Our kids typically get:

  1. The “Want”: One Material Gift– despite my preference for experiences, we do get one gift for each child that is strictly something they want. Often these end up being experience gifts as well like craft supplies or a sewing machine or the gorilla gym that has been a favorite in our house for years. Sometimes they are also educational gifts like a Roominate set, a Perplexus puzzle or bulk legos.
  2. The “Need”: Experience Gifts– Each child gets at least one experience gift per year, and often we get them several more experience based gifts as well. Since family experiences are so important for us, we consider these gifts a need so we prioritize and budget for them.
  3. The “Wear”: Clothes– I’ve been working on creating capsule wardrobes for my kids (post on that coming soon) and for holidays they often get one clothing item they need like a new coat or hiking boots. This may also be something fun, like dress up clothes, if they don’t need any new clothing.
  4. The “Read”: Memory Books– We try to take the kids to the library often since they get to choose so many new books without them taking up room on the shelves, so our kids get a different kind of book as a gift. Each year, I keep a folder on my computer for each child and throughout the year add pictures from field trips, birthdays, daily hikes, camping trips and other fun memories. At the end of the year, I compile each child’s photos into a hardcover book that I print through a photo service (like Shutterfly). This is my favorite gift to give them each year since it helps them relive and remember everything we did as a family that year, and it is a gift that they can take and show their own families one day. These books end up being the favorite gift every year (and bonus, the photo service saves them so I can reprint if one ever gets ruined!).

Reusable Gift Wrap Ideas

For the gifts that do need to be wrapped, consider using reusable wrapping materials. Sure, there is a fleeting second of gratification in tearing off traditional wrapping paper, but a creative reusable wrapping is both a fun surprise and a gift that keeps on giving.

Some of my favorite reusable gift wrap ideas are:

Fabric

I save fabric scraps from projects throughout the year to use for gift wrap during the holidays. These pieces of fabric can be wrapped, tied or rolled around a gift to make a simple reusable wrap. I especially like using fabric scraps for wrapping gifts for my daughters as they enjoy making the pieces into doll clothes later.

Scarves

A beautiful and unique way to wrap gifts. I watch for sales on large scarves throughout the year and use these to wrap gifts for our moms, sisters and female friends as they can use the scarf as well. Two gifts in one and no waste!

Reusable Shopping Bags

Another practical way to wrap gifts is in reusable shopping bags. Many stores have really cute reusable bags for about a dollar (ironically, much cheaper than some gift bags!) and these can be used for months or years with the added bonus of reducing waste at stores as well.

Baskets

My name is Katie and I am a basket addict. I love using baskets for organization and decoration, but also for packaging gifts. There are so many beautiful options available and the recipient can use the basket as well as the gift!

Towels

I also look for sales on towels, especially linen dish towels, throughout the year as these make great wraps for smaller gifts. I like to wrap a gift in a linen towel as I would if I were using wrapping paper and tie with twine or burlap ribbon for a beautiful and natural look.

Blankets

I wrap new baby gifts or gifts for small children in baby blankets. For my own kids, I’ll often use some muslin blankets we already have, and I also keep some new blankets on hand for wrapping gifts for friends.

Recycled Gift Wrap Materials

Another eco-friendly gift wrap idea is to recycle materials that you already have on hand as gift wrap. Consider using:

Old Maps

If you have outdated maps around the house, consider using them to wrap gifts before sending them off to recycling. Maps make beautiful wrapping paper and children often love looking at the maps before opening their gifts.

Art Work

A child’s artwork is an adorable and creative wrapping for a gift. For smaller gifts, use a small piece of paper that a child has decorated with crayon, marker or paint or use bigger paintings or drawings for larger gifts. To make the artwork usable even after unwrapping, do not use tape but secure by folding paper on the sides and tie with twine to secure.

Newspaper

Many people now keep up with the news through social media and news outlet websites, but if you still receive a newspaper, use it to wrap gifts before recycling it. Though this is often considered a “cheap” or “tacky” way to wrap gifts, it can be dressed up with twine or burlap ribbon or decorated with stamps and non-toxic paint to make it prettier.

Brown Paper Grocery Bags

Brown paper bags also make great wrapping paper when turned inside out. Make gifts really nostalgic “brown paper packages tied up with string” by securing with a piece of twine.

Shopping Bags

If you already have gift bags from stores, consider using them as gift bags. Some stores have really cute shopping bags that can double as gift bags.

Boxes

Most of us have some boxes around the house, especially if we ordered gifts online for friends and family. Rather than putting gifts in boxes and then wrapping them, why not just put them in the box and decorate the box with non-toxic paint or stamps?

With a little bit of creativity, you can probably come up with all kinds of additional eco friendly gift wrapping ideas!

What is your favorite creative way to wrap gifts? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Love this post! So many good ideas that I will have to remember for next year. This year, I got my husband a work bench for the garage. I wasn’t sure what to do with it at first because its not put together, it’s bulky and very heavy. So I shimmied it into the corner and “wrapped” it with a big tarp. Hah! But hey, the idea was to repurpose and reuse, right??!

  2. I really appreciate this post, Katie!! I am running out of ideas for recyclable/reusable wrapping supplies…I really like your idea for fabric scraps! I have a ton and could not think of how to use them up; now I have a use for them! Also, very on-point with the scarves, blankets, towels, etc. Very useful! Thank you and have a wonderful Holiday!!

  3. Great ideas! When I was a kid, my mother made fabric gift bags with ribbon sewn into them so they could be gathered at the top and then the ribbon tied into a bow. We all still have some that get used here and there and all still enjoy seeing them.

    I’ve often thought a good gift for someone who is very environmentally conscious could be a set of fabric gift bags for various occasions and in a number of sizes! It’s on the long list of projects… 😉

    Another great post Katie!

    Melanie

  4. This year I gave gift cards and put them in jars filled with sand. Mini treasure hunts!

  5. Really great ideas Katie! I especially like all the different fabric ideas. I saw some cute wrapping on Pinterest using Trader Joes holiday brown shopping bags. They had cute holiday drawings already on them & I didn’t even realize the wrapping was recycled.

  6. In an after Christmas sale I bought fabric pieces with Christmas prints on them. I hemmed them and reused them to wrap presents for family for many years. The fabric became part of the tradition as we laughed to see who got which fabric this year. Fabric ribbons also got reused although they sometimes need to be ironed first to remove evidence of a previous knot.

  7. Great ideas. I gave done many of these. The main thing I do each year is keep all the wrapping that we get from others. I keep the bags and tissue paper and reuse it the next year. Most people I know don’t recycle and reuse as mich as i do. I find that I don’t need to buy anything for wrapping.

    • I do this too. I just fold the tissue paper and put it inside the gift bag and then when I need a bag throughout the year I just go to the box and find one the right size and theme. In our extended family at Christmas the bags get traded around from year to year because we all save them and give gifts back in them. The kids remember “that was the bag I got_____ in last year!” I don’t usually need to buy anything for wrapping either, but if I do start running short our local thrift store sells used ones in packages of several each for a couple dollars, which is cheaper than the dollar store even, plus another way to recycle.

  8. I used to teach preschool and always bought the huge end rolls of white paper. One year I used crayon shavings sprinkled all over the paper then put down wax paper and melted the shavings to the paper. That was my wrapping paper. I thought it was wonderful, colorful, and fun.

  9. For girls, using several colored ribbons and a bandana gives them some neat hair pieces or craft items also.

  10. This year I used my old gift bags. I removed the string, covered them in some Christmas paper I had lying around, put the string back on and viola! Gift bag with store logo because a Christmas gift bag!

  11. White or black netting wrapped around a gift and stuffed in a large jar (gallon, quart, pint, or what ever size works for you) is an idea for wrapping a gift in an unusual fun way. I’ve also stuffed jars with used ribbons and/or bows. No need to wrap the outside of the jar.

  12. I liked all of the ideas you gave. We have used several of these and there were some new ones to explore.

    Our family saves much of the Christmas wrapping paper and we use it over and over. The rule is save the old paper by carefully opening your gift. If new paper is used you can rip the package open.

    We have gone to dating the tags or clues that identify the recipient. It has become a game to use clues and incorporate the old tags. One year my adult daughter took a well used piece of wrap, cut off the (7) tag area, and framed it. This picture has now been incorporated into our Christmas decorations.

  13. I was going to keep things simple and wrap in craft paper this year and string, but so many other great ideas here! I like the idea of going without the traditional ribbon & using fabric scraps!

  14. I’ll definitely be stealing some of these ideas Katie! ?
    My favourite recycled wrapping paper idea is the use the Christmas magazines they give out at supermarkets, or inside the newspaper, and cut out the pages which have nice Christmas images and colours on them. It always makes for very colourful and creative looking gifts! X

  15. We go to so many events, they always give out reuseable shopping bags and it’s to where I know I won’t need them. So I plan on using those as gift bags this year :).

  16. Old sheet music is a nice way of wrapping gifts up too… I find it very classy!

  17. Will you get sick if you accidentally leave a plastic spoon in your oatmeal while cooking in microwave

  18. I’m a recycling fanatic, so have been doing some of these things for years. I like to use new dish towels and hand towels, and to reuse gift bags and boxes, tissue paper, and wrapping paper.

    This year for my preschool class I made scarves of fleece material and wrapped it around pencil boxes I decorated with paint and filled with little gifts (crayons, little play doughs, blunt scissors, fruit leathers.) I hope they enjoy them and wear the scarves for going out to recess!

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