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, and also answers the commonly asked question of:
Is wrapping paper eco friendly?
The short answer, as we saw from those two stats above, is conventionally, no. However, that doesn’t mean we should just throw out the whole gift giving tradition and give up (unless you want to, of course, which in that case, I have a post on how to have that conversation with others.)
The good news is that there are many options to implement that will not only save you money, but also reduce clutter (by using things you already own, OR by using materials you don’t have to store throughout the year), AND 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 eco friendly/sustainable 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! There are tons of sustainable, eco friendly, and low waste options (as you’ll see below). So let’s get into it!
Reuse gift wrap
Are you the person who stares (and cringes) at the giant garbage or brown paper bag of crumpled wrapping paper and gift bags? Just me?
One way to start incorporating more sustainable gift wrap into your holidays (or birthdays) is to reuse 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!
I’ve even been known to grab some large pieces of perfectly good paper out of the gift wrap waste bags. Some may call that weird, I call it resourceful, sustainable, and eco friendly! All about the mindset here.
Related post: Have yourself a merry, zero waste Christmas
Look for 100% recycled gift wrapping paper
If you want to stick with traditional gift wrap, you’re in luck! There are a lot of eco friendly gift wrap options out there made with recycled paper.
Brown kraft paper
First, there is brown kraft paper which is made of 100% recycled materials. This paper is perfect for that classic and natural look – especially by adding elements such as dried herbs, pine branches, or dried oranges (as a few examples.) And, you can use it year round, which means it is a good minimalist/low clutter option!
One more tip: you can also use it as a blank canvas and let kids decorate for a personal touch!
Eco friendly gift wrap (made with recycled materials
While I enjoy the look of using brown kraft paper, sometimes I just want the fun, colorful gift wrap (like the adorable llama print above, or the deer/birch print pictured at the beginning of this section!) Psst: take 10% off your order from Earth Hero (where those two prints are from) using code: LAURAD10 [not case sensitive, can’t be used on sale items, can’t be paired with other coupons, can’t be used on Gift Cards, TerraCycle boxes, Zeal Optics, or Naturepedic products]
Back to eco friendly gift wrap….
Many stores sell 100% recycled wrapping paper now (I just saw some at Target the other day.) I know many other stores have started carrying it as well.
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, so skip gift wrap with those elements as well.
And don’t forget…recycle the paper when you’re done with it!
Upcycle, upcycle, upcycle
Time to get your creativity hat on to come up with some fun gift wrap alternatives.
Remember, the most eco friendly item is one you already own, and then next is one you obtain secondhand.
Here are some materials that are fun to upcycle into eco friendly gift wrap, which removes them from your closet (goodbye clutter), and keeps them out of the landfill:
*Newspaper (comics, anyone?)
*Maps (check out my Instagram post on how I used a map to DIY an envelope!)
*Packaging from, well, a package
*An old poster
*Colorful magazine pages
Related post: 37 places to shop for ethical and eco-friendly gifts
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.
A great thing about these options is that they can easily be incorporated as part of the gift!
Here are some alternate containers you can use as eco friendly gift wrap:
*Reusable snack bags (these are some of my favorites from a woman-owned, small business)
*Reusable bags (like the kind you use at the grocery store)
This is probably one of my favorite eco friendly gift wrap options: cookie tins! I don’t know about you, but I used to have a ton of cookie tins sitting in my basement that I would NEVER have used 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.)
Fabric gift wrap has become really popular the last couple of years, and for good reason. It’s cute and a great eco friendly gift wrap!
Probably the most famous fabric wrapping style is furoshiki. If you’re not familiar with furoshiki, you can do a quick Ecosia search to learn more.
Fun fact: did you know that furoshiki is most commonly used as a lunch bag holder, which then doubles as a table mat?
It just goes to show that many of these eco friendly gift wrap alternatives are so versatile!
You can use any type of cloth for furoshiki wrapping: designated fabric wrap (such as the floral pattern above), or you can use fabric you have laying around, cut up blankets, scarves (my friend Jessie of Tiny Yellow Bungalow found a ton of scarves at an estate sale that she uses as fabric gift wrap)…the possibilities are really endless!
Pinterest is a great source of inspiration for this topic.
DIY fabric gift bags
A couple of years ago, my mother in law started sewing her own fabric gift bags, and they are a huge hit in the family!
Again, Pinterest is going to be a great source of inspiration for different types of bags you can make – even if you don’t sew!
Upcycle holiday cards
Holiday cards are a big part of the season for many people, me included! But what do you do after the holidays are over? Good news: you can reuse holiday cards to reduce waste, and spruce up your gifts!
*Gift Tags: Reuse greeting cards as gift tags! Simply just the card up into whatever shape you want, and stick it on the gift.
*Gift decorations: 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 gift wrap swap
Got gift wrap? Host a swap!
I got this idea from our local toy library which hosts monthly item swaps (well, pre-pandemic.) One November, the swap theme was gift wrap, and I was shocked at how much gift wrap people brought in to get rid of.
To host your own (again, post-pandemic), 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 shortly before the holidays, and asked if people would bring any excess gift wrap they had on hand to swap or to be able to wrap their “new” toys right on site. There was SO MUCH GIFT WRAP, and it was a fun, eco friendly way to use up what we had on hand and get “new to us” stuff! You can read more about the toy/gift wrap swap here.
Reuse “used” gift wrap
Ok, so this one isn’t necessarily an eco friendly gift wrap alternative, but it is a way to divert wrapping paper waste from the landfill.
After my son’s birthday a couple of years ago, we ended up with a lot of crumpled 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.
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 a bunch of gift guides you can check out here.
What tips do you have for incorporating eco friendly gift wrap into your holiday traditions? What is your favorite sustainable 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?