Eco-Friendly Ways to Wrap Gifts at the Holidays

I have a love-hate relationship with Christmas. Growing up, I loved the decorations, baking Christmas cookies, picking out a Christmas tree with my family, listening to Christmas carols and of course, the gifts. My sister was the master gift wrapper in our house and made a game out of gift wrapping. She became known for creating a Russian dolls of boxes; wrapping a gift in a small box, then putting that in a bigger box and that box in an even bigger one, each covered in a layer of wrapping paper and then often, a layer of clear packing tape to make it impossible to open. As I grew older and became more aware of the waste that we as a family were generating, I started to save the comics from my newspaper and wrap Christmas gifts in that. This met immediate disapproval from my little sister, who cherished a beautifully wrapped Christmas gift above all else. She was right; my gifts looked cheap and were not the least bit festive.

Overtime, I found new ways to wrap gifts that were eco-friendly yet aesthetically pleasing. Initially, I focused on reusing things; I would save anything that was in good condition, fold it up and reuse it the next year. This not only saved the environment, but it also saved me money. However, I would inevitably not have enough gift bags on hand for all of my presents and so I started looking for new ideas of how to wrap gifts without generating too much waste. Here are some things that have worked well for me and get the little sister star of approval for their beauty:

  • Make your own gift wrap. I learned that many of the store-bought gift wraps contain coatings that make them non-recyclable (learn more). Last Christmas, I bought a roll of recycled kraft paper, a stamp and ink pad from the Yellow Owl Workshop, and created my own wrapping paper. If you’re really crafty, you could try making a vegetable stamp (e.g. Take a raw beet and carve a design into it, then stamp away) but that’s not something I have skills to do. Plain brown craft paper with the proper decorations can look gorgeous, so stamping it with a pattern is 100% optional. Check out my Pinterest board for inspiration!
  • Try the Japanese art of furoshiki, or fabric wrapping. What I love about this method is that you get a beautiful piece of fabric, tie a few knots, and you’re all done! Here is a great how-to video to help you get started.
  • Re-envision your gift bags. Most gift bags have coatings, glitter, or other embellishments that make them non-recyclable. Reusable cloth gift wrapping bags are a great option; at $3 each, these ones may be a bit pricy in the first year, but they are an investment you’ll be able to use them for many years to come. You can also find some on Etsy or make your own! These red burlap wine bags are a good option if you’re gifting wine, large formats of beer, or olive oil; I think they’d be prettier with a sprig of evergreen, rosemary or eucalyptus tied on the neck of the bottle with the gift tag. Or, if you are a minimalist like me and don’t like storing holiday-related items year-round, consider using simple brown paper lunch bags. I love this idea idea from The Beauty Dojo:
    This photo of paper bags is from
  • Replace plastic ribbon with 100% cotton kitchen twine, twine or cloth ribbons. I found beautiful candy-cane colored kitchen twine as well as cloth ribbon, which can easily be reused because it holds up well. Not only is it all compostable at the end of the day, but cloth looks classier than plastic ribbon. Bonus!
  • Gather evergreens and pine cones from your yard, or if you’re yardless like me, buy rosemary, cinnamon sticks, eucalyptus, mistletoe, flowers, etc. to replace plastic bows. This kind of embellishment is what got me the most compliments last year. It’s important to add these decorations last minute, unless you use something dried like cinnamon sticks, because the vibrancy of fresh plants (especially rosemary) will tend to fade quite in a day or two.
  • Use washi aka decorative paper tape instead of plastic tape. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s also quite pretty and can add a splash of color to your gifts. It is often used simply as a decoration on blank paper and there are some neat ideas of how to tear it to make a Christmas tree or Christmas gift to decorate your gift wrap on my Pinterest page.
  • Ditch the plastic gift tags and replace them with paper ones. I bought hundreds of kraft paper gift tags for my wedding to allow people to label their mason jar glasses and used the leftover ones for gift giving at the holidays, birthdays, etc. They can be decorated with paper tape, stamps, etc. to be made festive. I have examples on Pinterest.

For those of you who like visual inspiration, I’ve created a Pinterest board with lots of gifts to give you ideas. I even found one using newspaper to wrap gifts that looks quite classy with the addition of some twine and eucalyptus. Do you have any recommendations of how to wrap gifts in a smarter way for the planet? Please comment on the blog!

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