Updated: May 5, 2021
With the end-of-year holiday season coming around, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s, most of us are looking forward to being able to spend time with family and friends, enjoying each other’s company, eating good food, and exchanging gifts. Gift giving, in particular, is an integral part of the Christmas holiday season and takes on many forms, whether it is receiving and giving gifts to those closest to us, spreading joy through gift swapping traditions like Secret Santa, or taking the time to donate gifts at a local orphanage/hospital/shelter to spread the holiday joy to others in the community. One major environmental problem that comes with gift giving, however, is the amount of wrapping paper and wrapping materials in general used to gift wrap all of these presents being exchanged annually. The worst part of wrapping gifts is that the wrapping is almost always thrown away after the gifts are unwrapped, which essentially just leads to more waste being generated annually due to presents alone. With that being said, this blog post will cover why switching to more sustainable forms of wrapping is essential and suggest five ways of upgrading your gift wrapping game this holiday season.
Why Does It Matter?
You might be thinking, does wrapping paper really make a difference? Is the impact of wrapping paper used during Christmas and other holiday seasons really that significant? Well, for starters, Americans generate 25% more waste during the Thanksgiving to New Year’s holiday season than any other time of the year, which is a significant amount of waste to be generating in the last two months of every calendar year. It's estimated that the US spent $12.7 billion nationwide in 2017 on gift wrapping materials, which is extremely concerning if you keep in mind that these materials are only meant to conceal the gift inside until the proper time when it can be ripped apart to reveal what’s inside and is thrown away afterwards. According to research done by Stanford University, if every family in the US reused 2 feet of ribbon and wrapped just 3 presents with reused paper, we could save 38,000 miles of ribbon and enough paper to cover the surface of 45,000 football fields. As such, gift wrapping is actually a significant contributor to the annual waste generated by the US and we could save so much more money and resources by making small changes to make our gift wrapping practices more sustainable.
How to Gift Wrap Sustainably
With that in mind, here are 5 more eco-friendly ways you can gift wrap your presents this year.
1. Recycled or Recyclable Paper
Think of all the scrap white paper, brown paper, newspapers, magazines, music sheets, books, drawings, and catalogs that you usually throw into the recycling bin every week. These recyclable paper materials are a perfect substitute for the new wrapping paper you usually buy at the mall every year to wrap your presents. Not only will you be reusing paper that would’ve ended up in a recycling facility or landfill and saving money off of the gift wrapping supplies that you no longer have to buy, you’ll also get unique and eye-catching patterns to wrap your gifts with each time, making each wrapped gift that much more special. The newspapers, music sheets, and books in particular will give you that aesthetic rustic feel to your gifts, while the magazines and catalogs can provide your presents with bold splashes of color to make them significantly more eye-catching. The possibilities are endless here and only limited to what you can find and reuse around your home. Alternatively, if you prefer your gifts to be wrapped in more uniformly colored paper, consider buying recyclable brown paper or paper made from recycled materials instead to reduce the amount of waste you generate and ensure that the paper you use can have multiple uses and lives even after it's torn and thrown away.
Some of you may or may not know of a Japanese fabric called furoshiki, which is used by the Japanese to wrap objects with and make them more easily transportable. This eco-friendly tradition practiced by those in Japan is the inspiration for this next gift wrapping technique. Not only is wrapping gifts with colorful cloths very aesthetically pleasing, but the cloth can also be reused by your gift recipient for future gifts as well. While buying new fabric or scarves may be a little pricier, you could also wear old clothes that you don’t want to use anymore or have outgrown as a substitute for buying new material, saving you both money and wardrobe space. Therefore, using cloth as a substitute gift wrapping method will give your gifts a more refined and uniform look while adding a factor of sophistication without the need for other fasteners, like string, ribbon, or tape, to hold your wrapping together.
3. Paper or Cloth Bags
If you’ve got paper bags from your grocery shopping trips or cloth bags that you've collected and would no longer like to use anymore, consider using these as alternatives to gift wrapping. Not only will you save on buying materials for wrapping, but you will also save time from not having to wrap your presents anymore, and enclosing the bags are as simple as using a small piece of string, tape, or staple-free staples. Alternatively, you could also cut up the bags and use them as a source of material to wrap your gifts in one of the first two methods (recycled paper or cloth) instead.
4. Cardboard Boxes
If you’ve switched to more sustainable brands or are starting to source your everyday needs from more eco-friendly sources, you likely have many cardboard boxes lying around your home waiting to be recycled. Or, if you often order from e-commerce websites like Amazon, you most likely have cardboard boxes leftover from the packages you’ve received as well. If that is the case, consider using these cardboard boxes as gift holders instead of wrapping paper. Not only will you avoid having to wrap your gifts but, you’ll also be reusing all the cardboard boxes that would typically just end up in your recycling bin. If the cardboard boxes have labels or marks on them, use this as an opportunity to add a personal touch to your gift by drawing, painting, or covering these marks over with some other form of artistic expression, which your gift recipient will surely appreciate.
5. Glass/Metal Containers
If you have old jars, plastic tubs, or metal /tin boxes (like the kind you can find loose tea leaves in) at home that you would normally throw out or recycle, wash these containers and use them as packaging for your holiday gifts instead. Besides removing the hassle of gift wrapping and adding a classy touch to your gift presentation, you can also personalize this gift wrapping method using your artistic skills by decorating these containers’ exterior to hide both old labels located on the containers. And adding details unique to your intended gift recipient, whether pictures of you and them together, quotes, inside jokes, or symbols of their interests in their favorite color.
These are just some of the ways you can switch your gift wrapping methods to more sustainable alternatives that are hassle-free and make use of your creativity and existing materials at home. Hopefully, as you start thinking about shopping for your Christmas gift list, you’ll be able to try some of these tips out and let us know if they helped you reduce the amount of money, time, and waste used for gift wrapping this year. If you want to learn more about eco-conscious holiday practices, ways to minimize your environmental footprint, or just environmentalism and sustainability in general, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, stay tuned for more blog posts, and follow us on Instagram @wellmadewrld !