Seasonal Sustainability: Wrap right

Cut down on holiday waste by rethinking your wrapping. Photo credit: freestocks on Unsplash

For many, presentation is key. A crisp corner crease can give great satisfaction and well wrapped gifts are a source of pride. There’s also an abundance of designs to select from. I remember being dazzled by the rows of design spotted rolls. Unfortunately, this abundance of paper is often used frivolously. Over 8,000 tons of wrapping paper— the equivalent of 50,000 trees — will be ripped to shreds during the holidays. This is an astounding amount of waste, and most conventional wrapping paper isn’t recyclable. So, instead of buying another roll this year, try to get creative with how you conceal the contents of your gifts.


The Wrapping Dilemma

As fun as it is to tear into gifts, most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable. The paper is often dyed, laminated, or adorned with glitter and plastic additives that keep it from being recyclable. If not for what’s in the paper, it’s sometimes non-recyclable due to what isn’t there. The paper can be so flimsy that there aren’t enough quality fibers to be worth recycling.


Wrapping Paper Alternatives

How can you avoid the wrap trap?

Paper Bags/Newspaper

Used grocery bags and old newspapers are the perfect wrapping paper substitute, particularly in terms of rip-ability. These materials can be recycled, so you can wrap with a clean conscience. Simply deconstruct paper grocery bags so they form a sheet and wrap from there. If you’re determined to wrap a bigger package using bags, work in sections and tape directly to the present (as long as it won’t get damaged) for a more seamless look. Newspapers are slightly more versatile and can be extended more easily by just taping sheets together until you have the appropriate amount.

Reusable bags, particularly those made of cloth, are a great wrapping replacement. Photo credit: Joanna Kosinska

Cloth Coverings

Beyond paper wrappings, cloth can be used to cloak your gifts from their recipients — and it’s totally reusable. Scraps of fabric can be fashioned around gifts in the same way as paper, without any of the waste. If you know the recipient won’t get use out of the fabric, you canrecollect it for your own use. You can also go for a combo deal and include the wrapping as part of the gift. Scarves, shirts, blankets, towels, and even socks can be used to wrap.

Bag It; Box It

Although these are often in the standard rotation of wrapping, bags and gift boxes are another wrapping substitute. It’s easy to amass a collection and they can be reused year after year. You can even get a game going by exchanging the same bag back and forth, year after year. Beyond boxes and bags, look at mason jars, tins, canvas totes, and baskets as methods of present delivery. Once the contents have been enjoyed, the wrapping goes on to serve another purpose.


Add Some Flare

Plain brown parcels may leave you feeling there’s something missing. Fortunately, there are ways to add a little pizzazz to your less inviting gifts.

Dried fruit and other add ons can spice up plain wrapping. Photo credit: RedMaiden on pixabay

Simple paper packaging can be remedied with stamps, doodles, paint, or anything your heart desires! Some people even like a crumpled, distressed look for their wrapping. Gift tags can also be constructed out of used cardboard and personalized with designs.

Just like with paper alternatives, you can easily spruce up fabric coverings with permanent markers or fabric paint. That being said, there are some great patterns out there and if you’re committed to using the same material for years to come you might consider investing in some cloth samples.

Ribbons, bows, tissue paper, packing crinkles, and other do-dads can be salvaged from presents and reused year to year — the perfect cherry on top! You can also go for a more organic look with sprigs of evergreen, holly, herbs, wildflowers, and much more. Attach a miniature bouquet with twine and you’re good to go!


To Wrap Things Up
  • Bundle multiple gifts together in the form of a gift basket — neatly arranged for all your aesthetic desires.
  • A present held out of eyesight can be just as tantalizing as one wrapped to perfection sitting right in front of you. Consider skipping the wrapping all together.
  • If you’re set on using traditional wrapping paper, there are recyclable options that will limit your waste. Check that it passes the scrunch test (the paper should not retake its shape) and always remove tape and other adhesives.
  • Don’t worry too much about appearance. We all know it’s what’s on the inside that counts and research indicates that a poorly packaged present may make it easier to exceed expectations.



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Posted: December 15, 2020

Category: UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Gifts, Holiday Waste, Pgm_Sustain, Seasonal Sustainability, Wrapping, Wrapping Paper

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