What's the Alternative to Gift Wrap?

Here is my yearly friendly reminder: your standard wrapping paper is NOT recyclable. The shinier, the waxier, the glittery-er...the more it goes into the trash and into the landfill.

But don't fret, you can wrap those Christmas gifts (or any gifts year-round) beautifully AND sustainably!

Better Wrapping Paper

The best and easiest/most accessible option is to go for gift wrap made of recycled or recyclable paper. You know that ubiquitous brown kraft paper? It works awesome as eco-friendly wrapping paper. You can find printed gift wrap online (check out Greenfield or Bambeco), or in some stores (World Market or The Container Store may be your best bet.)

Winter Forest paper from World Market, Polka Dot and Red Building paper from Hobby Lobby.

To make it easy, cheaper and creative, you can buy plain kraft wrap and decorate it yourself with markers, colored pencils or stickers. And you can find plain brown wrapping paper at just about any craft and hobby store.

Some gift wrap may be made with recycled paper, or even be tree-free! This paper from Nashville Wraps is made of limestone and polyethylene and can be reused many times.

Although you might not have as plentiful a supply if you're in the younger generations, a great free gift wrap option is your regular newspaper! Spruce up a black, gray and white gift with a festive red ribbon, and you're in business.

Forget the Gift Wrap...Bag Me!

So maybe wrapping a gift isn't your style, or you're dealing with an oddly shaped item. Gift bags are great because they are inherently reusable. (Life tip: Save and store gift bags you receive, instead of throwing them away! Saves money and doesn't take up a lot of room.)

Skip the garish shiny and glittery bags and look for something more natural. Who wants glitter all over their floor on Christmas morning anyway!? World Market carries beautiful tree-free gift bags, some made of recycled cotton remnants (printed and solid.) You can sometimes find them on sale, as I did for a birthday gift earlier this year!

Many gift bags, both printed and solid, are also made of kraft paper, making them recyclable. And if you end up with a handled paper bag while you're out shopping, save it and reuse it as a gift bag!

I Wanna Be Zero-Waste...What's My Option?

I commend your dedication! My favorite zero-waste option is to purchase a cute cloth shopping bag along with your gift and use it as the gift bag. That way, you're giving a little bonus with the bag, and gently encouraging the recipient to reuse. (Innocent grin.)

If you have spare fabric around, you can use it as a nice, reusable alternative to paper, especially if your gifts are around the same size each year.

Or go minimalistic. If you have nicer recyclable boxes, leave them unwrapped, and just wrap a ribbon or affix a bow on top of the box. Some printed boxes don't even need wrapping paper, as they're pretty enough on their own!

When you get gift boxes, flatten them to keep in storage. If you've ordered gifts online, save and reuse the shipping boxes.

Don't Forget the Accessories

Tissue paper and bows and name tags oh my! I have a personal list of things I absolutely hate to spend money on, and packages of tissue paper is on that list. Why spend money for paper that is only used to stuff a box or bag and that instantly gets thrown away? Save and reuse your tissue paper!!

I keep a container full of tissue paper to use throughout the year, and at a baby shower a few months back, I asked to keep all the bags and tissue paper that were going to get thrown away. So now I have enough tissue paper to last until I'm 40. (But at least it's all folded and contained!)

The bright green sheets toward the bottom are actually a fabric-like material that makes it stronger and less resistant to tearing so easily. While it's still made of polypropylene, it has a longer life than regular tissue paper.

Ribbons and bows are up there with tissue paper - don't rip them off of a gift and throw them away! Keep the good bows for use year after year.

Or get creative and use household items for ribbons and bows. Stretchy headbands can be a nice ribbon on a smaller gift. I've seen neckties wrapped and tied around gifts, making a beautiful bow. Use more fabric-like ribbon instead of the shiny stuff. Twine and jute rope give a gift a great rustic, natural look.

There are many ways you can go about labeling your gifts without creating a ton of non-recyclable waste. To save money, I usually end up writing my recipient's name directly onto the wrapped package. A few markers and a pathetic attempt at hand-lettering, and the job is done.

If I'm using a bag, I'll use a scrap piece of wrapping paper to make a gift tag. It's the best way to use all those too-small scraps instead of throwing them away! You can hole punch it and string it through the handle, loop the paper and wrap it around the handle, or fold it in half and tape it directly to the bag.

If you choose to buy gift tags, pick some that can stand up to being reused for a few years. This is the best option for your immediate family, as the tags really don't leave the house. After the first year, all you have to do is find a pre-labeled tag for your gift and you're done!

Uncommon Goods is sharing a free sheet of Christmas and Hanukkah gift tags that you can download, print and cut out. If you have any graphic design inclination, you can create custom tags for your family and friends. Even if these can't be reused next year, they can be recycled.

Free printable gift tags from Uncommon Goods

When It's Time to Open Presents

When you're all gathered 'round to open presents, don't just grab a trash bag to throw all the wrapping in. Grab a separate bag for recyclables, but better yet, use a spare cardboard box to collect anything that can be recycled or reused, from bows to gift tags and bags. The more you can save to reuse, the less waste you'll send to the curb and the more money you'll save next year!

So, Ridiculously Long Story Short

  • Choose recyclable wrapping paper, ideally kraft paper.
  • Regular shiny, waxy paper is NOT recyclable.
  • Save and reuse gift bags.
  • Skip wrapping gift boxes to conserve paper.
  • Reuse tissue paper, ribbons and gift wrap.
  • Make your own gift tags, reuse them year after year, or skip gift tags altogether.
  • Make it easy at present time by designating one spot for trash and another spot for recycling/reuse collection.

Check out more ideas on eco-friendly alternatives from Inhabitat!

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