This post is generously sponsored by Wrappr, a beautiful, reusable, biodegradable, and woman-owned gift wrap brand. EcoCult only partners with brands that do great things. Support EcoCult editorial by supporting them!
Doesn’t it make your eye twitch to see the mounds of plastic ribbons going into the trash on Christmas morning? Or make you uncomfortable to wonder just how they make wrapping paper so shiny and colorful, who made it, and where?
In fact, much of that glossy stuff isn’t recyclable. The glittery and metallic papers contain plastics, so they need to go into the trash. Some municipalities don’t accept any wrapping paper, and tissue paper is often already made from recycled content, meaning it can’t be recycled again, according to Recyclebank.
But gift wrapping gives us the same challenge as dressing fashionably. It’s a means of expressing ourselves, and in this case, our love and care for other people. You want it to look sophisticated and beautiful, just without all the waste, exploitation, and environmental impact. That is not always the easiest thing to pull off.
So I decided to really dig into this problem, try out all the internet suggestions for eco-friendly wrapping ideas, and share what I learned with you, complete with illustrative pictures of the results.
If you could be so kind as to give me feedback in the comments on your favorites, that will help other readers with their wrapping adventures as well!
I love the Japanese tradition of furoshiki fabric wraps. Wrappr sent me some reusable, biodegradable, zero-waste gift wrap, which comes in some absolutely gorgeous designs. It took me less than five minutes to wrap these three gifts, no lie. These machine-washable fabric squares are designed to be repurposed or reused and are available in three sizes and three materials, including 100% organic cotton and, if you’re feeling really luxurious, double-sided silk. Each comes with a To/From card with instructions on the back so your recipient can pass on the love.
Check out the brand’s library of tutorials for how to wrap and reuse your Wrappr, including how to wrap a bouquet of flowers or a wine bottle. Your gift recipients can either re-gift their Wrappr, hang it in their home or office as wall art, use it as small bag in a pinch, style it as a scarf, and more. Plus, all of Wrappr’s packaging (packaging for the packaging!) is recycled and biodegradable.
Each original design is created by an independent artist who gets a cut of every sale. You can learn more about each artist here. And if you are a brand looking to create a custom furoshiki wrap, Wrappr offers that service, too.
You know that fusty “antique” (read: junk) shop that every town has a few of? This place is great for affordable and sustainable gift wrap ideas. You just have to have an eye for what will translate into a chic present accessory. When you’re there, look for:
- Tea or kitchen towels
- Decorative brooches
- Vintage cards
- Old maps
- Jars and cookie tins
I swung by Junk in Brooklyn and had a ball digging through jewelry, ornaments, scarves, and linens until I got together a tidy passel of wrapping items. The most expensive thing was this beautiful map tea towel, at $10, which I’m sure my recipient will continue to use. The glass icicles were $0.25 apiece. The jingles bells—which I cut off their polyester rope to class them up—were $3. Everything else was $2 and under, and all of it can be reused for another present, or hung on the tree. The vintage cards were especially useful as retro-chic tags, and the maps are both the perfect weight for wrapping. Plus, you can pick out a map that has special significance. I got a map of Nevada so I could wrap my fella’s small present with Black Rock Desert, the location of our favorite festival, Burning Man, on the front.
Newspaper is another great material that is frequently recommended for wrapping. Newspapers are printed that morning in the same city and are recyclable, making them more affordable and sustainable than typical wrapping paper. I actually only get the New York Times digitally now, but I stopped into a Chinese convenience store in Chinatown and bought a newspaper for a cool $0.50. The result looks worldly and neutral in content.
Steal Some Christmas Tree Sprigs
NYC has New York State-grown Christmas trees being sold every five blocks. I stopped at one by my apartment and asked the guy if I could have some small branches that had fallen off. He had absolutely no problem with it!
Homemade eggnog decorated with twine and pine tree sprigs. Get my eggnog recipe here.
Save Up Those Odds and Ends
You have some stuff you can use. As someone who gets a lot of cool products in the mail, I have a lot of:
- Tissue paper
- Dust bags
… that I’ve been diligently collecting all year. When you shop at sustainable and ethical makers of high-quality goods, you end up with some gorgeous wrapping materials! I used all of these in my wrapping process. You’ll also see in my wrapping some sparkly wrapping paper my dude bought last year, and some Japanese washi tape my mom put in my stocking a few years ago. The gift below is using a dust bag from an artisan boutique and some vintage bells.
Tip: Use a hair iron to smooth out kinked ribbons. Then use the ribbons how they were originally intended: to seal packages closed in lieu of plastic tape.
I actually love to indulge in potato chips every once in a while, but I feel bad about it. Not because of the health, but because their packaging is never recyclable. However, you can reuse their packaging, because it’s silver on the inside – perfect for gift wrap. It is a bit crinkly though.
An Old Sweater?
I also scrounged up an old sweater I was getting rid of. Maybe if you tie it correctly, it can look chic. But mine looked lumpy, and I sort of dread the moment when my recipient looks at the stained sweater and is like, “Uh, I don’t have to keep this right?” It seems a bit awkward. I think if you cut a neat square out of a thin sweater, it might work.
A Local, Ethical Maker
This is from Brooklyn stationary artist that was selling at a local market. The icicles are from the antique store, and the washi tape I had on hand. Or you can go on Etsy and look for wrapping paper made in your area.
Reusable Wrapping Bags
This is one of the easiest options for wrapping presents. Just shove your item inside, tie it, and voila! A beautiful present. The sustainable part is that it will get used over and over for probably years before it finally falls apart. I got a three-pack from Bag-All‘s store in Manhattan.
Swing by the Florist
I didn’t get any, but you can put the finishing touch on dozens of gifts by getting a spray of holiday berries from the florist. Also pick up some natural and bio-degradable packing material while you’re there, so you don’t have to resort to packing peanuts or bubble wrap.
Eco-Friendly Basics From the Art Store
You’ll need neutrals among all this chaos of vintage, newsprint, scarves, and leftover ribbon. I suggest getting plain white paper or brown kraft a.k.a. postal paper from the craft or office supply store. The benefit of using plain paper is that while glossy paper has a tendency to slip and requires tape, postal paper doesn’t need any tape to stay put, just ribbon. While you’re at the art store, you could also get some white chalk or a small set of charcoal crayons to label the presents, some brown or white twine, or simple white or red cloth ribbon.