EMM 11: Sustainable Gift Wrapping Ideas

4.6 million pounds. That’s the amount of disposable gift wrap that’s purchased every single year.

According to Earth 911, at least half of that ends up in the landfills right away (2018).

Besides the massive amounts of waste, the other problem that gift wrap creates is the extra work for our recycling plant workers. Often times, things that can’t be recycled end up in the recycling bin due to wishful thinkers who want to be less wasteful. However, according to Treehugger, this hurts more than it helps. Not only can some of these non-recyclable items clog up the machines that plants use to sort the recycled materials, but sometimes it even causes entire loads of waste to be thrown out because there’s too much to sort through (2020).

As we approach the holidays, its so important to know what can and can’t be recycled when it comes to all our gift wrapping materials! That’s what this EMM episode is dedicated to – we’re sorting through the landfill and the recycling piles (pun intended) AND I’m giving you some super fun and creative ways that you can wrap your gifts this year that are much more eco-friendly than traditional gift wrap!

Landfill vs. Recycling

In general, it’s safe to assume that any kind of wrapping paper or gift bags with a glossy coating CANNOT be recycled. That’s because most of these materials have a plastic coating on the outside of them that make them un-recyclable.

When in doubt, try the scrunch test. Treehugger claims that if you scrunch up your discarded wrapping paper into a ball and it quickly springs back to form, it should go in the garbage. However, if it keeps its ball-like shape, it’s safe to recycle!

One way to know that your wrapping paper or gift bag definitely can’t be recycled is if it has glitter, foil, or any other textures to it. Those things can’t be reused.

Similarly, adhesive items like tape, name tag stickers, and bows with glue on the bottom of them are un-recyclable. If you have a package with small bits of leftover tape on it, that’s usually fine to toss in the recycling pail. However, any large amounts need to be peeled off before recycling.

Plain paper items, like gift bags or wrapping paper that don’t have all the shiny stuff on them, are safe to recycle. Just make sure you peel off the stickers and ribbons first! Yes, ribbon must come off too. According to USA Today from 2017, recycling centers report that ribbons get stuck in their machines and create even more of a hassle with holiday waste.

Sustainable Alternatives to Traditional Gift Wrapping

So many things have to go straight to the landfill when it comes to wrapping materials! Stinks, huh? Well, have no fear! From now on you can start incorporating some of these super fun, low waste, and less expensive alternatives to the traditional stuff. Your budget (and your garbage man) are going to love you for these!

  1. Use (and reuse) what you already have.
    This is probably the most obvious one, but use up everything you have first! And when you receive gifts from your loved ones, save those materials, too. Using what you already have is the most sustainable thing you can do – the stuff is already in existence, so don’t feel bad about using it – instead, give it an even longer life!
  2. Reuse packaging material from online orders.
    All those boxes, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts – don’t toss them just yet! You may be able to use them for packing your fragile things, or reuse them to mail gifts to your loved ones this holiday.
  3. Use paper grocery sacks and turn them inside-out for a kraft paper look.
    This is one of my go-to’s! I love the look of kraft paper, and why not put all those paper bags from quarantine take-out orders to good use?! What I typically do is cut off the bottoms of the bags and turn them inside-out so you can’t see the logo. It works perfectly for small and medium-sized gifts, and the simple packaging looks so nice under the tree!
  4. Try newspapers, maps, posters, or other old items that would normally be discarded.
    Again, what a great way to give these items a second life. If the kraft paper look isn’t your thing, try one of these options for a fun design or gift bag stuffing. Newspaper – not just for the broke college student anymore!
  5. Wrap with kiddos artwork.
    Okay, parents – let’s be honest. You don’t really want to hang on to allll those drawings, do you? There’s only so much room on the fridge, so turn some of those coloring pages into a colorful wrapping paper instead! Grandparents especially will love this one, and your kiddos will feel extra special when they see their hard work put to great use. You can also have your child color directly on the package if you go with a simple kraft or white paper wrapping!
  6. Flip that chip bag inside-out for a shiny packaging option.
    This is probably the most creative idea I’ve seen. You know how your favorite bag of Doritos has that shiny silver lining on the inside of it? Well, turn that single-use plastic into a double-use by flipping the bag inside-out, giving it a good cleaning, and wrapping up a gift! This idea is perfect for smaller items and will look super festive under the tree.
  7. Double the gift by wrapping in fabric.
    In Japan, the concept of wrapping a gift in fabric is nothing new. Furoshiki is a commonly practiced art, and it’s such a lovely way to wrap gifts! You don’t have to follow this method exactly to use fabric in your gifts, though. To double up on the fun, try wrapping a gift in something else the recipient would like, such as a clothing item, a tea towel, or some reusable produce bags for the eco-conscious. If you don’t want to splurge on a second gift, you can easily thrift some fabric or use an old scarf of your own to do the wrapping.
  8. Hunt down some baskets at the thrift store.
    Every thrift store has them. Skip the gift bag and give them something they can really use over and over again!
  9. Reuse an old tote bag instead of a gift sack.
    Another great alternative to un-recyclable gift bags – those tote bags that you aren’t using! If you’re like me, you probably have an overabundance of reusable bags, some that you didn’t even really want but were given for free at some event or another. Put those bags to use and put them under the tree!
  10. When you do buy new, buy recyclable.
    Remember – skip the glossy, shiny, glittery stuff and go for the plain paper products. You can find rolls of kraft paper or plain white paper at nearly any craft supply store, or you can look to buy gift wrap from brands that are intentional about making their products recyclable! There are even some small businesses on places like Etsy that design gorgeous, sustainable wrapping paper and gift sacks. YES to supporting small business!

Now, if you’re wondering how you should decorate your plain kraft paper package or newspaper-wrapped gift, there are still some great options that don’t require you to buy any plastic bows or ribbons this year! Check out these ideas:

  1. Use natural twine or cotton string instead of bows and ribbons.
    They look just as pretty as bows, but without the adhesive mess!
  2. Use those ties to replace tape.
    That was kinda the whole point of string in the first place, wasn’t it? Try reducing your plastic waste where you can and opt for tying up your packages rather than taping them.
  3. If you do need tape, look for a paper-based product.
    There are some wonderful alternatives to the traditional plastic-based tape out there that you don’t need to feel so guilty about using. Plastic Freedom and Turtley Eco both sell some great options, but you can even look on Etsy or use Washi tape that incorporates plant-based materials.
  4. Skip the name tag stickers.
    We don’t need any more of those sticky things that go straight to the landfill! Instead of stickers, write directly on the package or create your own hang tags using paper and string. So easy!
  5. Decorate with natural elements.
    Not only is it better for mama earth, but it’s so much prettier than those plastic bows and glittery ribbons. You can make it as simple as cutting off a few sprigs from the Christmas tree or collecting some dried leaves from the yard, or you could even try your hand at drying out some oranges or berries. Lovely looking AND they smell good!

The Big Picture

Overall, the big takeaway from today is to use what you already have. As you run through your collection of tissue paper, gift sacks and wrapping paper this season, rather than replacing it with something similar, try incorporating a more sustainable alternative! As you can see, there are many, many to choose from.

No matter when or what you’re celebrating, keep an eye out for the recyclable items versus the things that need to go straight to the trash. You can do your planet AND your local recycling plant a huge service by educating your friends and family on what can and can’t be recycled.

And hey, maybe they’ll start choosing their gift wrapping more carefully after you teach them, too!

Connect with Mackenzie:

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Email: mackenzie.heartfelthippie@gmail.com

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