The holidays are a time for joy and generosity, however they can also be a time that generates a lot of waste. Americans throw away an estimated extra 25 million tons of garbage between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Wrapping paper can be difficult to recycle, as it can’t be recycled if it is too thin, has glitter, has too much ink in the pattern, or gets wet. Other wrapping items like tissue paper, ribbon, and gift bags can’t be recycled at all. Luckily there are some festive and sustainable alternatives to traditional disposable gift wrap!
1. Use a cloth tote bag as a gift bag. Reusable tote bags are a gift in themselves and both fashionable and functional! A cloth bag can make your gift stand out and give your loved one something they will use again and again.
2. Wrap your gift in butcher paper. Butcher or craft paper is both compostable and recyclable! Wrapping in traditional brown paper gives a tasteful and rustic feel to your gift. White butcher paper can be even customized with notes or hand drawn illustrations. In addition to reducing waste, this is a great way to add a personal touch to gifts!
3. Scraps of fabric or tea towels as gift wrap. Wrap a gift with a scrap of leftover fabric, a cloth napkin, silk scarf, or tea towel. This is a great way to repurpose waste or add another fun element to your gift. You can even try out the traditional Japanese wrapping method of Furoshiki to make your fabric wrapped gifts even more special.
4. Newspaper wrapping is not just for procrastinators! Wrapping your gift in old newspapers is a cheap and time effective way to reduce paper waste. Choosing specific pages or stories that remind you of the person can make this gift especially thoughtful.
5. Gift boxes can be easily recycled or reused. If repurposing is not your style or you have limited time, gift boxes are much easier to recycle or reuse than wrapping paper. Thin wrapping paper is easily damaged during the recycling process, whereas cardboard can be more effectively recycled. Gift boxes are also much easier to keep intact during unwrapping, making them easy to reuse.
If you choose to use disposable wrapping paper or receive gifts wrapped in it, make sure you dispose of it properly! Check if any items are recyclable by downloading the Waste Wizard App, separate different materials (for example pull any stickers off the paper, remove all ribbons, etc.), and reuse anything you can.
Elizabeth Baer is the Sustainability Fellow at Walking Mountains Science Center