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zero waste holiday gift wrapping

Zero-Waste Holiday Gifts and Wrapping

By Laura BourlandRise Writer
Dec 5, 2018

The last of the vibrant red and yellow leaves of autumn are quickly falling to their crunchy end and that can only mean one thing: The holiday season has arrived!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or just happy winter days with your family, there are dozens of ways you can mindfully plan your holiday festivities with the planet in mind.

The winter holidays are a wonderful time to catch up with friends and family and spend some quality time around the fire, bellies stuffed with homemade sweets, but it can also be an incredibly wasteful time of year. United States citizens alone create a whopping 4 million tons of waste each winter just in gift-wrap and holiday decorations. The gifts may look picture perfect sitting under the tree, but all that bright and cheery wrapping paper contributes to a 25% increase in waste between your Thanksgiving feast and New Year's Eve parties. 

Fear not! Today we’re bringing you a slew of ideas to help you reduce your holiday waste and give more intentional gifts.

Environmentally Friendly Gift Wrapping

Before you stock up on rolls and rolls of shiny wrapping paper and ribbons, slam on those breaks and think through what you’ll be wrapping. It’s very easy to go overboard, leaving you whole rolls of unused wrapping supplies that may not make it to next year. If you must buy disposable wrapping paper, only buy what’s immediately needed. But think about it, why MUST we buy disposable wrapping paper in the first place?

Reusable and Recyclable Paper and Fabric Gift Wrap 

Get creative with your holiday gift-wrapping and reduce your consumption of traditional, disposable wrapping paper. The Japanese have been using a reusable, fabric wrapping material for centuries. Furoshiki are swaths of fabric cut in a variety of sizes to fulfill all your gift-wrapping needs and are available in a variety of unique colors and patterns. ReWrapables and BoBoWrap are just two options in ready-to-use fabric gift-wrap. Click here to learn all the creative ways to wrap your gifts with environmentally friendly fabric wraps. Sustainable recycled wrapping paper can also be purchased from companies like FishLips and Green Field Paper Company.

Another super easy gift-wrapping idea is to use what you already have around the house. Save your newspapers, magazines and even the advertisements that come in the mail to use as wrapping paper. Did you go on a road trip this year? Those old maps stuffed in your car seat pockets make for beautiful wanderlust-inspired gift-wrap too! 

If you have kids, you probably have a lot of original artwork lying around. Share the love and use those masterpieces to wrap gifts for grandma and grandpa. 

Gift wrapping materials you can find around the house:

  • Newspaper and magazines
  • Maps and brochures
  • Brown paper bags
  • Burlap sacks
  • Scrap fabric
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Clean food jars
  • Shopping bags

Families that celebrate Hanukkah or those that exchange gifts both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day can even reuse the same wrappings in the same season! Make it a fun family activity by decorating fabric shopping bags or pillowcases to reuse for each gifting day.

For coworkers and neighbors, no one can resist an immediately useful gift like hot chocolate or cookies. Arrange these simple gifts in a basket, jar, tin, clay pot or a mug for a beautiful presentation in a gift-wrap they can reuse at home. You might also consider wrapping your gifts in the gift itself. T-shirts, scarves and tea towels can be used to wrap books, toys and more and will look beautiful arranged under your tree.

Gift Toppers: Bows, Ribbons and More

Unless you have ribbons and bows saved up from holidays past, skip the traditional gift topper out for something more exciting. Top this year’s gifts with a sweet treat, hair accessories, costume jewelry, or a small toy. More traditional gift bows can be made from scrap fabric and paper or you might try a unique topper like pompoms, or stickers. Have kids? Solicit their help in decorating plain wrapping paper with stamps or original art. Perhaps the easiest and most heartfelt gift topper is a personal note. Write a poem, tell an inside joke, or put your holiday greeting right there on the gift-wrap!

What about that iconic ribbon that adorns so many box-shaped holiday gifts? Ribbon can be substituted with decorative tape, hand-drawn “ribbon,” twine, cotton string, yarn, a headband, or even bendable branches found around the yard. 

Environmentally Conscious Cards, Gift Tags and Packing

Holiday cards are expensive and wasteful. Skip the impersonal store-bought cards and make your own. Or just write your holiday message right on the gift. You can also make your own gift tags out of cardboard, scrap wood, or from old holiday cards. Just cut out a shape large enough to write the name, punch a hole and thread a short length of ribbon, twine or string through. Alternatively, you might just write the gift recipient’s name right there on the package in a bold metallic or glitter pen.

If your gift contains something fragile like an ornament, you’ll probably need a little packing to pad the package. If you shop online, you probably have plenty of packing materials sitting around that can be repurposed. If not, popped popcorn makes an excellent packaging material similar to packing peanuts, only biodegradable.

Whatever you choose, remember to save all gift-wrap, ribbon, bows, and toppers for future gifts! Store them in an airtight plastic bag for safekeeping until next year.

Planet-Friendly Gift Giving

Of course, one of the easiest ways to have a zero-waste holiday is to limit your giving of physical items. The holiday shopping frenzy encourages reckless spending on non-essential items that’ll probably end up in the trash before the year’s over. Let go of that incessant need to fill boxes with anything and everything and give more thoughtful, purposeful gifts your loved ones actually want. 

Practicing the 4-Gift Rule is an easy way to start a more sustainable holiday giving tradition. The 4-Gift Rule limits gifting to 4 gifts per person: Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.

Limit gifting with friends, coworkers, and neighbors by setting up a gift exchange so that each person only buys one gift. Popular gift exchanges like White Elephant or Secret Santa are sustainable for both your wallet and the environment. Whatever physical gifts you do buy, we encourage you to skip online shopping and all the wasteful packaging it comes with and shop locally instead. Support small businesses and workers around the world by purchasing your gifts at local businesses or fair trade items that support holiday festivities around the world.

Gift Experiences

When shopping for the holidays, remember, not all gifts need to be material items. In fact, your friends and family will love a gift that supports the things they like to do. Families might plan a special winter vacation or a family fun day in place of a gift. Or give meaningful experience gifts individually in the form of gift cards and tickets to allow them to do more of what they love.

Gifts that move the mind, body, and soul:

  • Concert tickets
  • Yoga or dance classes
  • Sporting event tickets
  • Museum membership
  • National or state parks pass
  • Rock climbing gym membership
  • Gift cards to the movies, arcade, batting cages, bowling alley, etc.

And no one will be upset to receive a gift card for the things they buy on a regular basis like gas, groceries, their favorite restaurant, coffee, or even a plane ticket to visit family and/or friends.

Creative, Thoughtful and Handmade Gifts

Everyone loves a gift that comes from the heart. Shop your local thrift and antique stores for a handpicked item just perfect for the loved ones on your list. Or make your own gifts! Use your talents to draw, make, paint, write, build, sew, bake, or brew your gifts this year!

DIY gifts you can make today:

  • Jewelry
  • Picture frame
  • Succulent planter
  • Poems and short stories
  • Bath scrubs and soaps
  • Cookies, cakes, and candy
  • Beer, wine, and liqueurs 
  • Infused sugars and oils
  • Scarves, hats, and blankets
  • Coupon book for lawn mowing, babysitting, snow shoveling, etc.

Or, agree to skip gifts entirely and just give your unconditional love and attention this holiday season. You might give any gifts you do receive to a local charity and give your time volunteering in your community for a truly happy holiday season. 

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-06-23T13:47:37+0000
Laura Bourland

Article by:

Laura Bourland

Laura grew up in the California suburbs, far removed from environmentalism, but nature always has a way. She uprooted her life in 2015, moving to the countryside of Washington to live a more sustainable and simple life on 12 acres. She and her fiancee are learning on the job as they attempt everything from gardening and natural pest control to eco-friendly building and home improvement.