Every year when the holidays are approaching, we start to hear Christmas music playing in stores and coffee shops, eggnog and festive flavours are put on the shelves, and Christmas lights start to go up on roofs and balconies. All of these joyful holiday components put us in the festive mood to begin purchasing gifts for family and friends. When buying gifts every holiday season, you will probably pick up a couple rolls of wrapping paper and tape while you’re at it. But this year, as you walk through the stores and see that beautiful cheery gift wrap close to the check out, choose to skip the wrap and perhaps try one of these ideas to gift wrap in a greener, more eco-friendly way.

First of all, why is it important to change the way we wrap? Well, to start some of the materials used in gift wrapping are difficult to reuse. The biggest one is tape. In Canada, 6 million rolls of tape are used to wrap Christmas gifts alone each year. Tape and the tape dispenser are not reusable or recyclable (unless you have access to a Terracycle for the dispensers), and because of the plastic and adhesive based nature of tape, it ends up directly in the landfill. 

Gift wrap is also not always recyclable, especially if it is foil based (so stay clear of those). Of course, recycling is not the solution to any good zero waste story, and sometimes if you’re really good at unwrapping, you might be able to salvage some gift wrap to reuse. Eventually, it will need to be disposed of regardless of how many times it’s wrapped around a box. Some places will accept gift wrap in the recycling system, but only if the tape, ribbons, and bows are removed, and it is crumpled into a ball to make sure it doesn’t blow away. Annually in Canada, 545,000 tonnes of waste is generated from gift wrapping and bags. The holiday season happens to be the time of year where we seem to go through the highest amount of waste and gift wrap. 

There are many ways to rethink gift wrap and gifts themselves to create a smaller environmental footprint. I am going to highlight a few of my favourites, in the hope that you feel inspired to try a couple inventive, greener ways to gift wrap during this holiday season.

#1 Wrapping with Fabric

See the blog post Reusable Knotted Fabric Gift Wrap

The first is wrapping with fabric instead of paper. This could mean using cotton fabric from your stash if you are an avid sewer like me, or using an old sweater, t-shirt, or pillowcase you don’t mind cutting it up and transforming it into something new. The benefit to using fabric as wrapping is that it can be reused gift after gift, and year after year. It can also be quite beautiful in gift presentation, using different knotting and finishing techniques. Last week, I posted the details and instructions on how to create a beautiful knot wrapped gift, done with fabric and of course tape free! You can find the linked post here.

Fabric gift wrap with pine embellishment from the yard

#2 Wrapping with Recycled Material 

Wrapping with old maps, twine, and a gift tag made with old holiday cards

Instead of buying themed paper for each occasion, newspaper or road maps can be used for any festivity and has already been made and used for a previous function. The comic section out of a newspaper is a great page to use as it can add colour and a joke or two to the unwrapping experience. Newspaper can also be drawn on to make your own fun gift giving design, and layered in sections if you are wrapping something larger in size. 

Using maps as wrapping is one of my new favourite materials. It is beautiful, organic looking, and recycled. Physical maps are not as commonly used as directional tools due to the convenience of electronic versions. And what better use for an old dust collecting map than being transformed into a beautiful gift wrap! 

Even though these are wonderful methods to cut down on store bought wrapping, most of the time tape is still required to hold the wrapping together. You can always try using less tape to wrap each gift, lessening the overall use at one time. Or, if you are good at folding or willing to try a new wrapping technique, there are also effective ways to wrap without using tape.

#3 Wrapping without Tape

Wrapping without tape is fairly simple and depends completely on the order in which the paper is folded. This can be done with a map and newspaper, but requires the paper to be in a single square piece, which means that this technique will only be successful with smaller gift items. It works by folding the paper into itself, creating a kind of envelope form, held by tension instead of tape. Below are a few photos of the paper folding steps to simply wrapping without tape. I would also suggest this short video tutorial by BeatTheBush, which is a great demonstration, and the one I used to learn how to fold the paper correctly. Once you get the hang of it, you could probably do it in your sleep, but on your first try don’t get discouraged. Just like the knotted fabric, you might have to try it a couple times before you nail it! 

Start with a square of paper, folding the first corner over the box, and pinching the sides to create a flat folded edge. Folding both side into the center (like an envelope)
See… it looks like an envelope. The two sides you just folded create the pocket for the top corner. This corner gets pinched just like the two sides, flatted and folded over.
Finally, fold the top corner into the pocket you made with the two sides. And that’s it, a very simple, but particular way of folding paper in creating tapeless gift wrap.

#4 Scrap the Wrap

The greenest way to wrap is not to do it at all, and as you can tell, this is by far the most boring option on this post! Gift wrapping gives the gift giving process mystery and the element of surprise which makes us attach ourselves to the idea of wrapping something. Of course, kids love unwrapping, and don’t get me wrong, as an adult you probably love unwrapping too. But is it completely necessary to wrap every single gift item? When giving a gift, especially to another adult, rethinking how much we wrap is a tangible way we can cut down on the amount of wrapping used. Maybe try putting smaller gifts into jars and using burlap or fabric to cover the top, or only use reused bags and tissue paper that may have been gifted to you at a different time. Instead of scrapping the wrap all together, you could also try grouping items together in one box instead of wrapping them all separately. Not using gift wrap can also be dressed up with this next and last gift wrapping tip below.

#5 Greener Gift Tags

Old Christmas cards ready to be transformed!

Wrapping with fabric and recyclables are great options for cutting down on themed, store bought wrapping paper. Usually when giving a gift, you may still want to address it to someone, and stickers are single-use and not the greatest if you are trying to decrease holiday waste. Another option for addressing gifts are gift tags. A friend of mine keeps all of her holiday cards from the previous year because the front of the cards often have beautiful artwork or seasonal messaging that make for great second uses like gift tags. If you have old cards hanging around, maybe think about giving them a new use instead of buying packaged, dollar store tags. 

Wrapping with recyclables

During this holiday season, choose to reduce waste instead of generating more. On average, waste increases in a household by 25% during the holidays, and we all have a choice and responsibility to help reduce our own waste footprint. These gift wrapping ideas are hopefully something that inspires gift wrappers everywhere to try something new this year that is more earth friendly. As always, thank you for reading and doing what you can to make a pint sized impact in becoming zero waste!

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