What is gift wrap, anyway, besides future trash? We could probably even say that about the gifts themselves, but nothing becomes trash more immediately than gift wrap. Gift wrap is like a Trojan Horse for plastic. Though seemingly paper, it’s often reinforced with plastic, especially the shiny, sparkly, glossy stuff, which means it’s not always recyclable or compostable. And, a lot of it is made from non-sustainable practices (hello, clear cutting forests). In fact, 30 million trees are cut down just to make wrapping paper each year.
But, there’s good news! A study released last year found two thirds of Americans surveyed actually don’t care whether their gifts are wrapped, and that half were giving gifts without wrapping to avoid waste.
We asked Santa a few years ago if he’d start using brown paper to wrap gifts, or just leave them unwrapped altogether at our house. He’s super flexible -- and Mrs. Claus is a conservationist! --, so we’re confident he will work with you.
So, how do we decrease the amount of trash, and decrease plastic demand and pollution, without saying bah humbug?
Here’s a list of sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives to traditional gift wrap. Better for the planet, better for our oceans, better for your wallet, and perfect for the holidays. Which idea will you choose?
When it comes to conventional gift wrapping, most of us think of paper. If paper is your jam, you’ve still got lots of options. Many businesses are responding to consumer concerns over waste and have started making gift wrap from recycled paper and/or recyclable paper, some are even customizable. Check out this business making it happen.
More sustainable still? Reusing those brown bags from the grocery store -- tied with twine or cotton ribbon makes this a super eco-friendly and sustainable option (not to mention, adorable) for wrapping gifts. Add a piece of evergreen from your tree or a sprig of berries from your local florist and you’ve probably just achieved your fanciest, most sustainable holiday gift wrap ever. Congrats!
Other recycled, recyclable, and some compostable paper options that we LOVE:
- Maps: Check your local antique or book store for old maps.
- Newspaper: Check your local coffee shops or grocery stores for day-old newspapers and save them from the landfill
- Hand drawn on scrap paper: Put the kids’ art skills to work, the grandparents will love it!
Recycled fabric, or fabric scraps, can be one of the easiest ways to up the chic-factor of your gift wrap. Have you seen the Japanese wrapping technique furoshiki? For the aesthetically inclined, there’s no better way to wow your gift recipient.
Tea towels, scarves, shirts, sweaters can all be used to wrap and can also be part of the gift itself. Alternatively, hit up your local thrift shop for those items to be used exclusively as your eco-friendly sustainable gift wrap. Grab some vintage ornaments while you’re there, too.
Burlap is another great option, and some local coffee shops will give away their burlap coffee sacks. Bargain hunting and sustainable gift wrap? Not sure which one we love more. Either way, the wow factor is off the charts!
Mason jars really are a conservationist’s best friend and a great alternative to just about any plastic storage you might need. And, they make great gift wrap! Wrap your mason jar in burlap, or a fabric scrap, and tie off with twine and that cute sprig of evergreen to finish off this classy, sustainable wrapping alternative. Maybe you just want to show off the goods and simply tie a ribbon around the lid -- however you dress it up (or down), this is a gift wrap that’s sure to be reused and recycled after the holidays.
Old boxes come in handy for this as well. Hand-decorate (ahem, kids!) or cover with burlap or those vintage scarves you found at the thrift store. Studies show that the anticipation of what's inside is what really lights people up, so don't get caught up on the exterior appearance. We all know it's what's inside that really counts.
Perhaps the simplest holiday gift wrapping hack: reuse old gift bags. We save all the gift bags we receive just for this purpose - never underestimate the ease of pulling out those Amazon gift bags and pulling that string tight to close. Other bag ideas? One of the many tote bags you’ve probably got hanging around your house; again tying off with a ribbon, pinning some of that holiday cheer from your Christmas tree, adding ornaments from the thrift store - you can spruce up those gift bags, upcycle, and purge your cloth bag collection all at once!
You might be wondering: Does my gift wrap really matter that much? Here are a few statistic:
- We produce 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, which is about an extra 1,000 pounds of trash per household, than the rest of the year
- We use enough ribbon to wrap around the planet with some left over.
The Real Meaning
It helps to remember what these gifts are all about - the thoughtful act of giving. And, if you’re still not sold on swapping out conventional gift wrap for eco-friendly alternatives, just remember the study mentioned at the top of the blog that shows a lot of people don’t really care whether their gifts are wrapped at all. But, if you do want to wrap those holiday presents, there are sustainable, eco-friendly, affordable ways to wrap just about anything.
We’ll leave you with this highly entertaining article about why you should quit gift wrap - right this minute - from Popular Science. If we can’t convince you, maybe they can.