Strategies for Waste-Free Gift Wrapping

It’s gift-giving season! With Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, New Year’s celebrations, and winter birthdays upon us, you’re likely thinking about finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones. And before you hand over your gift, you are probably going to wrap it in festive wrapping. But before you purchase traditional wrapping paper and bows, review our waste-free gift wrapping alternatives for a green holiday season.

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Check Your Local Paper Recycling Rules

Frequently, wrapping paper is OK to recycle as long as it’s free of glitter or plastic embellishments. Wrapping paper that is just paper is usually recyclable. You can also opt for the simplest of wrapping paper such as upcycling newspaper, paper bags, magazines, maps, or other paper that you know you can recycle locally. Tissue paper, on the other hand, is not always recyclable as it is a very low-quality paper.

Check with your local recycling facility and make sure you understand what types of paper they can accept before you shop for wrapping paper.

zero-waste gift wrapping

Image courtesy of Tiny Yellow Bungalow

Nix the Plastic Tape

Even if you know you can recycle wrapping paper in your area, it’s better to avoid the plastic tape. Yes, usually you can recycle paper with tape on it. But that tape will eventually get processed out of the paper pulp and head to the landfill anyway. So, avoid that plastic waste!

Here’s one way to fold the paper so you don’t have to use tape:

  1. Cut your paper to cover the entire package plus two inches lengthwise.
  2. Then cut the paper into a square.
  3. Adjust your box diagonally and pull the paper over it so that it just covers both corners to make sure it’s in the right place. Then pull the other side of the paper over the present.
  4. Use your fingernail to put a strong fold in the paper on the bottom edge. Then guide this edge along with the corner of the paper on top of the box, gently folding the inside. You suddenly have one corner done!
  5. Do the same to the directly opposite side. Now you have one open side.
  6. For this last step, you need to fold the two tail ends simultaneously. Fold the tail of the wrapping into one of your first folds and you’re done!

Watch the video from Beat the Bush to see a demonstration of this wrapping technique.

If you’d rather skip the folding, here’s another option:

Wrap the package as you normally would, but instead of tape, just tie a ribbon around the package to secure it. We do recommend not using disposable plastic ribbon. Instead, consider compostable twine, compostable/reusable burlap ribbon, or reusable fabric ribbon.

Wrap Your Gifts in Fabric

The right piece of fabric makes a great replacement for wrapping paper to gussy up your gifts. Fabric is much more durable and reusable than paper. Fold the fabric around your gift and secure it with pins, blingy upcycled brooches, or ribbon.

You may opt for the “candy” wrapping by tying twine on both sides of the gift so it resembles a wrapped hard candy. Be sure to reuse your fabric year after year. It’s great if both you and your giftee agree to reuse and exchange fabric wrapping annually!

eco-friendly gift wrapping

Image courtesy of Trash is for Tossers

Make or Buy Reusable Fabric Gift Bags

Take the fabric route a step further and use fabric bags that can be reused every holiday. You can purchase premade bags or make one yourself.

To make a fabric gift bag:

  1. Take a square or rectangular piece of and hem two opposite edges.
  2. Fold the fabric in half (right sides together) and then sew up the sides.
  3. If you’d like, you can sew on a length of fabric or ribbon near the edge at the top for tying the bag shut. Alternately, just secure the bag with a piece of twine or ribbon.

DIY reusable fabric gift bags

Image courtesy of Maureen Wise

If you’re not crafty, you can purchase pre-made reusable fabric bags — no sewing required!

Use Bags That Can Be Recycled

Many of us use and reuse holiday bags year after year and this is a great green habit! But when that bag does eventually wear out, most gift bags are “plasticized” paper and can’t be recycled. Instead, use simpler gift bags that are made of paper you know can be recycled. You can fancy them up with drawings or consumable embellishments like chocolate!

Make a Paper Gift Box

You can customize the size and color of your gift box by making your own! Before you get started, make sure you choose a type of paper or cardboard that you can recycle locally.

Follow the tutorial from Happy Mothering or use their template as a pattern to make a different-sized box. When you’re done, just secure the box with twine or ribbon to keep the gift secure.

If you’re still looking for gift ideas, check out our eco-friendly gift guides and visit the Package Free Shop for great zero waste gifts. Want more holiday wrapping ideas? Read 11 Low-Waste Gift Alternatives to DIY or Buy.


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