According to the EPA wrapping paper and shopping bags account for 4 million tons of trash in the U.S. annually. Earth 911 reports that as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products consumed in the U.S. yearly goes toward packaging, wrapping and decorating goods.
This holiday season consider giving less “stuff”, and being a little more creative and a little less wasteful in your approach to the inevitable gift wrapping. There are many economical alternatives to buying new, single-use wrapping paper, ribbon and gift boxes. A more sustainable approach not only makes sense for your conscious lifestyle but subtly moves the sustainability message forward.
Pretty reusable fabric sacks or shopping bags, either homemade or bought, become a gift within a gift. With more areas banning plastic shopping bags, everyone can use one more, or can re-gift it.
Fabric, scarves, cloth napkins, tea towels new, from your surplus or from thrift stores also make beautiful, reusable gift wrapping. You can cut up old t-shirts, shirts, tablecloths etc. for wrapping. Use pinking shears if you don’t want to hem the edges. There are a variety of techniques for wrapping every shape and size gift in fabric, such as the Japanese method Furoshiki. Odd shaped gifts are even easier to wrap in fabric than in paper.
Rather than spending money on single-use wrapping paper try using paper products you already have around the house. Brown paper bags, old maps, newspaper, comics, leftover wallpaper, magazines, calendars, sheet music, craft paper or your child’s artwork all make great wrapping paper. Embellish these with stamps, paint or collage if you’re so inspired.
Collect interesting bottles, jars, plastic containers, tins and baskets of all sizes to contain gifts Instead of buying new cardboard gift boxes. These can be wrapped, or just decorated. A planting pot with the drainage dish tied on as a lid makes an unusual, reusable gift container, especially perfect for a garden themed gift.
Looking forward, save gift wrap, tissue and ribbons to use again. They can all be ironed carefully on low temperature to restore their looks, if necessary. To give used, wrinkled wrapping paper or tissue paper a uniform texture, crumple sheets into a ball and then smooth them out again on a flat surface. Trim torn edges. Wrapping paper and tissue that’s too damaged to reuse can be run through a paper shredder to repurpose as colorful padding in a gift bag or box, or for shipping material.
Start by foraging through your holiday tree trimmings, junk drawers, sewing baskets, craft boxes, your kid’s art kits and your garden for materials and bits and pieces to combine into unique embellishments for your gifts.
Tie on small unbreakable ornaments from your collection with string or ribbon. A few short pieces of that rumpled mylar garland or ice cycles tied together will make a pretty bow. Lace, bias tape, yarn and other goodies from your sewing basket make pretty ribbon alternatives. Buttons, beads, old silk flowers, costume jewelry bits and other details can be quickly stitched or safety-pinned onto a fabric wrapping, requiring no ribbon at all. Turn string or jute into something special by remembering your macramé skills.
Martha Stewart has devised an easy method to turn store-bought bows into flower-like creations, which is a great way to give new, and prettier, life to those crushed ones from last year.
Natural elements like twigs, shells, pinecones, leaves, slices of dried oranges and lemons, cinnamon sticks or dried herbs and flowers reinforce a sustainability mindset. A snip of pine from the Christmas tree works too. These natural trimmings look well with simple brown paper bag wrap, tied on with raffia, jute or string.
A lovely, unusual ribbon can be made by tying together short pieces of different used ribbon to form the needed length. Bows made with loops of different ribbon makes use of the leftovers and creates a distinctive look.
Last years holiday cards make great gift tags. Cut around the illustrations, or cut cards into circles or squares, taking care that you have a plain back to write on. Punch a hole at one edge and tie it to the gift with string, ribbon, yarn or a pipe cleaner.
A trip to the thrift store can provide many of the elements mentioned to wrap and decorate your packages with a unique look, at a great price. Be creative and scour for items you might not ordinarily associate with gift packaging or wrapping! You might also find some great gifts there.
If you’re compelled to buy gift paper look for recycled paper printed with soy-based inks.
Throughout the holiday season, consider gathering up discarded gift wrapping materials a little more carefully, with an eye toward reusing more of them next time you have a gift to wrap, or packing them away for next year’s sustainable holiday gift wrapping.