Wrap It Up

Eco-friendly gift wrappings let you celebrate the holidays in green style.

By Kimberly Button

November/December 2013


The time from when a child first spots a brightly wrapped present under a tree until the wrapping paper has been shredded is about 0.3781 seconds.

Exaggeration, perhaps. But while it’s true that gift wrap is all about the effect it has in a brief span of time, those fleeting seconds can lead to years or even decades of that same wrap lying in a landfill. The Environmental Protection Agency has found that Americans generate 25% more waste than usual between Thanksgiving and New Years Day. Wrapping paper and other gift accessories make up a hefty portion of that extra trash.

The answer is not to stop exchanging gifts or to offer up a present in shopworn paper. Gifts can still look festive without harming the environment.

Recycling Drawbacks

Most gift wrap cannot be recycled, especially paper with plastic coating or that has foil or glitter. These papers usually look shiny or might seem water resistant. The same goes for holiday cards and gift tags.

A standard, not-too-fancy inexpensive roll of paper gift wrap might seem harmless enough.

However, the process and dyes used to create wrapping papers can negatively alter the fibers, creating a product that recyclers do not want to add to their mix. In addition, the fibers used are often of such poor quality that they are unable to be recycled.

Such is the case with tissue paper, a common addition to gift boxes and bags. “Tissue paper should always be composted. Tissue paper is usually made out of recycled paper, therefore the fibers are already shortened to the point where it cannot be recycled again,” states the San Francisco Department of the Environment’s recycling guidelines.

Gift wrappings made from recycled paper and soy inks (instead of conventional petroleum-based inks) is becoming more common both in stores and online. Wrapping paper is a one-time use product, though, unless the paper is carefully unwrapped and saved for future gifts. Many eco-conscious consumers would rather invest in products that can be used again and again.

Other Wrap Options

Gift bags can be reused. Just like wrapping paper, though, bags with plastic coatings or with foil or glitter will be headed to the trash can after their lifecycle is complete. Fabric gift sacks are a superb eco-friendly option. The bags can be washed if they become soiled, or reused for other purposes other than gift giving. Turning reusable totes sold at grocery stores into gift bags is another idea, especially totes that feature decorative designs.

The Japanese have been using a fabric gift wrapping method known as furoshiki for generations. Furoshiki uses pieces of cloth as gift wrap, incorporating techniques similar to origami to present a beautiful package that can conceal any shape or size.

Canadian graphic artist Jenn Playford discovered the ancient art of furoshiki and instantly knew it was the answer to her gift-giving dilemmas. “I’ve always had a problem with the cost of paper gift wrap and then seeing how short its lifespan is. I would cringe at the idea of it ending up in the garbage,” she says. Using the same concept, Playford created her own line of fabric gift coverings called Furochic and wrote a book, Wrapagami (St. Martin’s Griffin).

Using variations of folds and knots, without the use of any scissors or tape, gift givers can create decorative coverings for all shapes and sizes in a myriad of designs. The unique wrappings often make the gift seem specially designed for the recipient.

“People can’t believe that they get to keep the wrap,” Playford says. “They are amazed by the presentation and there is always a positive reaction. I think it makes the gift feel special and the wrap contributes to the experience of giving.”

If buying new products for gift wrapping doesn’t seem like the answer, you can repurpose what you already have around the house.

Newspaper has always been a thrifty and eco-friendly alternative; the colorful comics section is a favorite, especially among children. Old maps lingering in the glove compartment or part of an old road atlas can be used to wrap gifts ideal for those who love to travel. Plain brown craft paper or paper bags can become blank slates for creativity when dressed up with crayons, markers, paints or bits of crafts that customize them to suit the tastes of each recipient. Decorating wrappings by hand also allows you and the kids to enjoy an imagination-stimulating project together.

There should be joy in giving gifts without stress regarding the environmental impact of pretty papers. Care in selecting eco-friendly gift wraps can let you take greater pleasure in the holiday season.

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