low waste gift wrapping options

Two gifts sitting on a white table. The gift on the left is wrapped in red and white plaid fabric. The gift on the left is wrapped in brown paper with white twine and cedar branch. In front of the gifts are two dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, a pair of black scissors and assorted rubber letter stamps.

When I was a teenager, my father used to call me into the spare bedroom on Christmas Eve and I knew he was about to give me $20 to do all of his wrapping for him. He would show me what he bought for my mother and ask me to wrap it as beautifully as I could for her. I loved it! This led to me giving lovingly wrapped presents for many years.

Most Wrapping Paper is NOT Recyclable

Finding out that wrapping paper is not recyclable was very eye-opening. Most conventional wrapping paper is coated in plastic and cannot be actually be recycled. Now factor in plastic tape, ribbons, bows, tags, gift bags, and glitter (which is microplastic) and what you have is very fancy garbage that contaminates the recycling process. Typically only items that are 100% paper are accepted. The recycling symbol on a package is unfortunately not a good indicator, so please check your municipality’s rules and sort your materials carefully. Avoid this problem (and save money!) by switching to eco-friendly gift wrap and reusable materials this holiday season.

support small businesses this holiday season

Supporting small businesses is always important, but especially now. When you buy from a local business, you keep money in your community rather than making large corporations even richer. This holiday season, avoid major online retailers and focus instead on quality over quantity from small businesses!

Use (and Reuse) What You Have First

But wait…doesn’t it end up in the landfill? Yes, but it will anyway so use it up! If you no longer want to use these items, consider actively giving them away. I ended up with boxes upon boxes of gift wrapping stuff when my parents downsized and listed it for free on a local selling app – it was picked up within an hour.

I used to wonder why people unwrapped gifts so carefully to “save the paper” and now I totally get it. Fancy gift bags can last for years and travel through many hands! I also collect the stamped tags I make after all the unwrapping is done for use again the following year. Holiday cards can be turned into tags or decorations on next years gifts. And don’t forget to save and reuse the ribbons and bows!

Wrap Gifts in Paper

For a good while I was using brown kraft paper from a big roll that I bought at the post office. When that ran out, I moved on to reusing paper bags from the liquor store with paper tape. I like to crumple them up multiple times first for a textured look. Newspaper comics or colouring book pages are fun for wrapping children’s gifts. For tissue paper, we use the paper wrapping that our rolls of plastic-free toilet paper come in. Even toilet paper tubes themselves can be used for small gifts or stocking stuffers. All of these options are recyclable or great for your compost bin. These types of parcels are all perfect blank canvases for getting creative with embellishments!

Make Gifts in Jars

Consumable gifts are a great low waste options any time of the year. Who doesn’t like food?! Or a free jar? Over the years I have done baking mixes, soups, coffee, tea blends, infused olive oils, lotions, and bath salts. Most ingredients can be sourced in bulk or even grown in your outdoor space. Gifts in jars are inexpensive, but they do take time. I think that is why I like them so much – they are made with intention and given with love. Attach a tag with baking/cooking instructions. (I typically never put who it’s from on the tag. It might not be the recipient’s jam, so they are free to regift it that way if they like.)

Furoshiki – Wrapping in Cloth

Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese way of wrapping gifts with a square piece of cloth. There are so many wonderful tutorials on how to wrap just about anything, from boxes to wine bottles. Over the years, I have collected silk scarves and fabric remnants from thrift stores for this style of wrapping. You can even make the wrapping part of the gift, using a bandana or play silks for example. This style of wrapping is really fun for kids to help with. It is quick, reusable, and always turns out beautifully.

Gift Tags and Other Embellishments

Most gift tags contain adhesive, plastic, or both. Create your own using paper tags and rubber stamps, handwritten script, or forgo them altogether and write directly on to the package. Tie up your parcels in compostable (and reusable) string such as hemp, jute twine, raffia, or leftover yarn. Liven up brown paper with potato stamps cut into whatever shapes you can dream up and leftover house paint. Add little natural bits and bobs such as cinnamon sticks, pinecones, cedar branches, star anise, salt dough ornaments, and dried orange slices to jazz up your packages!

eco-friendly gift ideas for kids

The holiday season presents a challenge when shifting to a low waste lifestyle with kids. Older children in particular have developed expectations about receiving gifts and are around peers with different experiences. Now is a good time to model giving presents with intention and showing that the meaning of gifts can (and should) go beyond […]


Of course, no wrapping at all is also an option! Do you what you feel comfortable with, but rest assured that it will be well received. I have noticed a big shift in how folks receive these types of packages. The wrapping is not strewn aside immediately, considered as disposable. Fabric is carefully folded and gift tags are collected and returned back to me. It is not just about the materials we use, but the mindset and how we value these materials. Happy gift giving!

How are you wrapping gifts this holiday season? Let me know in the comments!

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