I love Christmas and 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.
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 Year.
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.
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 additional waste. There are many ways to package and wrap gifts in an eco-friendly way with reusable packaging.
In fact, the old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” mantra is a great reminder when it comes to gift wrapping.
Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap Ideas
How do we get started? The first one is a biggie!
1. 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 a big fan of giving experiences instead of material gifts whenever possible. Baseball tickets, zoo or museum memberships, 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, our kids typically get:
- 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.
- 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.
- The “Wear”: Clothes– I’ve created capsule wardrobes for my kids so Christmas is the perfect opportunity to go beyond the basics and add something fun to their closet. 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.
- The “Read”: Memory Books– 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 re-live and remember everything we did as a family that year. 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!).
2. Switch to Reusable Gift Wrap
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 (here’s how). 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.
3. Reuse or Recycle Gift Wrap Materials
Another eco-friendly gift wrap idea is to repurpose 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?
4. Another Way to Put a Bow on It!
What about those miles of ribbon we use at Christmastime?
- Switch to twine or fabric ribbon, which is usually reusable.
- Christmas is a great time to craft with the kids! Buy some felt and spend the quieter days after Christmas making felt poinsettias to save to decorate gifts next year. This is a great tutorial.
- For a festive and natural “bow,” tuck a pine branch, small pinecones, or some holly leaves into the twine or hot glue to the top of the gift.
With a little bit of creativity, you can probably come up with all kinds of additional eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas I haven’t thought of!
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- Natural and Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Bags
What is your favorite creative way to wrap gifts? Share below!
Discussion (26 Comments)
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!
For girls, using several colored ribbons and a bandana gives them some neat hair pieces or craft items also.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This year I gave gift cards and put them in jars filled with sand. Mini treasure hunts!
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!
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!!
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??!