When embarking on a low/zero waste journey, navigating through the holiday season can be challenging. Traditions often set the tone for what we do or don’t do, and it can be hard to break from that, especially if you don’t have an alternative.
I like data, so naturally, I searched out the impacts of our wrapping waste. Not terribly surprising, the statistics are overwhelming:
In a Wall Street Journal article from 2012 (this was the most current set of statistics I could find), “gift wrapping sales in the U.S. totaled $9.36 billion in 2010 (more than the combined GDP of Africa’s 9 poorest countries).”
In another article, it is estimated that we produce 4 million pounds of gift wrap waste each year, which is enough to fill 5,787 football fields.
Seriously, the findings are staggering.
The good news is that you are able to implement many alternatives that will not only save you money, but also reduce waste!
My suggestion is to look around at what you have at home first. I’m guessing you will be able to find a variety of items that you can use as gift wrap and also pass along to someone else for a second life.
If for some reason you aren’t able to find anything – that’s OK! My other suggestion would be to check your local thrift store for items. Buying second hand is a great way to keep waste down on new items!
So how can you enjoy the gift-giving season, but still stay true to your zero waste values?
I’ve got you covered. Keep reading.
Reuse gift bags and tissue paper
Personally, we save any gift bags we receive. The ones that are in good condition, we use in gifting an item to someone else. If we have any that are in not-so-good condition but still usable, we keep those for exchanging gifts between ourselves. With just this tip alone, our family has saved a ton of money by not buying bags/wrapping paper. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time we bought any!
Related post: Have yourself a merry, zero waste Christmas
Recycled Gift wrap
There are a lot of recycled gift wrap options out there. There is brown kraft paper which is made of 100% recycled materials (perfect for letting kids decorate as a personal touch), or there is eco-friendly wrapping paper made with recyclable and compostable materials (they come in really cute prints too!). Many stores sell 100% recycled wrapping paper now (I just saw some at Target the other day). The key is to make sure it says 100% recycled paper on it, otherwise play it safe and don’t buy it. Wrapping paper that is heavily dyed, has glitter or other embellishments on it can’t be recycled.
Used Upcycled Materials
Here are some options to upcycle materials, thus keeping them from the landfill and also using them to wrap gifts:
Newspaper is the material that always comes to mind first (anyone else ever give or receive gifts wrapped in the newspaper comics)
Plain brown box (you can decorate it and turn it into a fun gift box)
A box that another item came in (have an old blender box? Use it for gift wrap!)
Related post: 37 places to shop for ethical and eco-friendly gifts
Get Creative with Alternate Containers
The options are endless for finding non-traditional gift containers. As I mentioned earlier, my suggestion would be to look around at what you have at home first, then check second hand. Here are some alternate containers you can use as gift wrap:
Reusable storage containers
Cute lunch bags/box
Speaking of tins, cookie tins are a GREAT alternative to disposable gift wrap. I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of the tin cookie tins sitting in my basement that I will NEVER use up for cookies/baked goods. Last year I realized I could use them for gift wrap! Not only are they already decorated, but the recipient can also reuse the tin for whatever they want. Bonus: these can be found very easily second hand (stores, online community pages, garage sales, or even asking friends and family).
Reuse ‘Used’ Wrapping Paper
After my son’s birthday a couple of months ago, we ended up with a lot of ‘used’ wrapping paper that we wanted to try and reuse instead of throwing away or recycling. We ended up discovering that ‘used’ wrapping paper works great for wrapping breakable items for shipping or safe keeping! Plus, it adds a fun and colorful element for the recipient.
There are a couple of ways we reuse Christmas cards that help us save on wrapping paper waste:
Gift Tags: I have heard of many people who reuse greeting cards as gift tags
Wrapping Decor: Some people LOVE to go all out and create gorgeous Christmas gifts. To add a little extra festivities to your gifts, you can use cards as wrapping paper decorations.
*Not related to gift wrap waste, but Christmas waste: if you receive any holiday cards that don’t have writing on the front of the card, you can tear off the front and use that as a postcard for someone else!
Related post: 30 places to find eco-friendly Christmas/holiday cards
Host a wrapping paper/bag swap
I got this idea from our local toy library which hosts monthly item swaps. For November, they are hosting a gift wrap swap, and I was shocked at how much gift wrap people brought in to get rid of. Invite some friends over for desserts, a potluck, and a gift wrap swap! This is such a great way to save money and reduce waste (and have an excuse to get together with friends!) Update: in 2019, I hosted a toy swap and asked if people would bring any excess gift wrap they had on hand to trade with others, or to be able to wrap their new toys right on site (this was shortly before the holiday season.) There was SO MUCH GIFT WRAP! You can read more about it here.
Now that you’ve got gift wrap on the brain, if you’re looking for some zero waste, minimalist friendly, and mindful gift ideas, I’ve got two gift guides that are perfect for such types of gifts:
Looking for more eco-friendly gift wrap ideas? Check out the post ‘7 Waste Free Alternatives to Wrapping Paper’ from Finding Your Green Life.
What tips do you have for reusing gift wrap? What is your favorite zero waste wrapping materials? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?
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