Have you started wrapping Christmas gifts yet? Recycla has not, because this is a task she finds tedious. But it’s one that cannot be put off, so one day soon, she’s going to just pull everything out and do it all in one fell swoop.
According to the EPA, Americans generate an additional one million tons of trash (a spike of 25% from 4 million to 5 million) during the holidays and wrapping paper is a big part of that increase. Luckily, there are lots of ways to wrap without generating more waste.
To start with, there are the usual options of reusable gift bags. Paper is the most commonly used — this is Recycla’s preferred method. She buys plain paper bags (white, red, green), adds a gift tag, and ties the handles closed with a matching cloth ribbon (usually in a tartan — her favorite). After the gifts are opened, the bags and ribbons are neatly folded until needed again. She tries to reuse bags for as many years as she can.
For a more permanent gift bag, cloth is a great choice, as it’s more durable. You could make your own or buy them — there are hundreds of possibilities on Etsy alone. You might also consider wrapping gifts in tote bags — the wrapping becomes part of the gift. And there’s always furoshiki — Japanese wrapping cloths.
Another super easy way to wrap smaller gifts is in old food tins that have been cleaned. Just pop the gift in, snap on the lid, add a bow to prevent snooping, and your gift is wrapped and ready to go. Recycla has a number of tins that she’ll be using for this purpose this year and she plans to stop by the thrift shop to find more.
Another easy and reusable wrapping trick Recycla uses is just plain boxes (usually white). Again, she just adds a cloth ribbon and a gift tag and the wrapping is done. As long as the boxes don’t get crushed, they can be used for several years, then recycled once they’re looking shabby.
For wrapping purists who don’t like gift bags and the like (cough Enviro Girl cough), there are a number of ways to wrap with paper and still be Earth-friendly. Try to reuse what’s around the house — newspaper, brown shopping bags, white butcher paper, sheet music, old maps, children’s art — whatever you can find that can be useful. The important thing to remember with wrapping paper is that a lot of it cannot be recycled — anything with glitter or made of shiny foil-like material — so try to use paper that can be.
Furthermore, the majority of holiday wrapping paper is made in other parts of the world for pennies, then shipped here, so you’re looking at wrapping paper with a lot of miles on it and possibly some questionable human rights practices. So buy wrapping paper that you know is earth- and human-friendly — read labels and ask questions. Your local organic grocery store will probably sell some, so check there.
As you’re wrapping, go easy on the tape. It’s challenging to find eco tape, not to mention it’s more expensive, so Recycla suggests you use regular tape in small bits. She’s also learned how to fold paper in ways to minimize the need to tape down gaping spots.
To finish things off, use cloth ribbons, which can be reused for years. You can also check online for tutorials to make bows out of paper, including old magazines. Or, just go without ribbons — Recycla often does. The idea is to avoid plastic ribbons, which are single-use and made from petroleum. Also, pet owners should be aware that some cats and dogs will nibble on plastic ribbons, which can be deadly for them.
To label gifts, get creative and use bits of paper or cardboard you have around the house. Recycla is a fan of using old greeting cards as tags. She also has been known to write directly on the wrapping paper, while her husband uses the bits of wrapping paper that get cut off as he’s wrapping.
Finally, after you’ve unwrapped gifts, if you can’t reuse or recycle the wrapping paper, fold it neatly, don’t crumple, as it takes up less room in your garbage when folded. When you grab a trash bag to put everything in, take a moment to separate things and see what can be reused, what can be recycled, and what truly is trashable.
It doesn’t take all that much effort to wrap gifts in a festive way that is still earth-friendly. Happy wrapping! (And if you’re Recycla, consider bribing one of your teens to help get the job done.)