With the holidays fast approaching, the pressure is on to find the perfect gifts for your friends and family. Maybe you’re the type who stockpiles presents all year, committed to finding a gift that aligns flawlessly with each recipient – or maybe you find inspiration in the rush of holiday shopping. Either way, we’re not judging!
All those gifts add up, though - in the US alone, we throw out an estimated 4 million tons of wrapping paper and shopping bags between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some wrapping paper can’t even be recycled because it’s laminated, dyed, too thin for reuse, or has extra stuff attached to it like glitter or tape. Fortunately, there are plenty of alternative ways to preserve the surprise and make a gift feel special while keeping it sustainable this holiday season.
Being intentional about not just the gift itself, but also the materials we use for wrapping, also presents an opportunity to be mindful about our consumption during this busy, consumer-focused time of year. Gift-giving is a love language for a reason - it’s the physical manifestation of the way you feel about your loved one. Why not make the wrapping as thoughtful and memorable as the gift inside?
1. Wrap with fabric or scarves
Rather than creating unnecessary waste, make the wrapping part of the gift itself! The traditional Japanese practice of furoshiki, or fabric wrapping, was originally developed to protect precious objects - and with a growing focus on environmental awareness, it’s become pretty popular in North America, too.
The fabric can be any pattern or color, but it should be square-shaped and large enough to wrap around the object. A thrifted silk scarf or 100% cotton bandana tied around your package is cute and useful! For larger packages, use bigger pieces of fabric - not only can they be reused for future gifts, they can also be upcycled into a simple sewing project. Companies like Wrappr make sustainable custom furoshiki wraps in all sizes for all occasions. For a sustainable step-by-step guide on how to wrap nearly anything furoshiki, check out this article from Waste4Change.
2. Get Krafty
If you’ve got your gift wrapping technique down, have a lot of presents to prepare, or simply prefer using paper, Kraft paper is a great alternative. Natural Kraft paper is renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, compostable, and unbleached - meaning that its production and disposal has a much smaller eco-footprint than typical wrapping paper. Kraft paper can also be bought in bulk and used for any occasion, unlike holiday-specific wrapping paper. You can even reuse paper bags from the grocery store for the same purpose - just cut and flip inside out, making sure to conceal the seams.
The sleek, sturdy appearance of Kraft paper is sure to appeal to the minimalists and design lovers in your life. You can also embrace your inner artist and use it as a blank canvas - have fun with stamps or go crazy with some acrylic paint to create a gift that will stand out from the rest.
3. Inspire with maps and newspaper
Looking for a splashy, recognizable print for your gift? Try reusing old maps or newspapers as wrapping paper. If the gift is travel-related, such as a new pair of hiking boots or a passport holder, wrapping it in a map is a special way to get your loved one excited about adventures to come. The delivery is sure to impress… and it might even earn you a spot on their next trip!
Newspaper is another great option for sustainable paper gift wrap. Bundle up a new sweater in this week’s Style Section, or for an avid reader, wrap a good book in the front page breaking news. If you use newspaper, make sure the gift is enclosed in a protective package or check that it doesn’t pick up ink to avoid any staining.
4. Personalize with sustainable accents
Sustainability doesn’t mean sacrificing style when it comes to gift-giving. It’s easy to avoid the sneaky extra price tag that comes with gift tags and plastic embellishments - there are multiple free or low-cost ways to make a gift identifiable and personalized. Lambada / Getty Images
For a festive touch, you can add foraged greenery such as rosemary, spruce, cedar, or autumn leaves. Cut up the scraps of your sustainable wrapping paper and old gift cards for easy gift tags. Avoid unnecessary plastic by choosing twine or Japanese washi tape to close your packages - they’re both reusable and biodegradable, unlike regular tape.
Searching for the perfect present to match your sustainable packaging? Check out Slow North’s Gift Guides for all personalities.
Gina is a freelance writer and contributor to Slow North. She writes about intentional living and sustainability in beauty, wellness, and food. She has a degree in public health and environmental biology from the University of California, Berkeley and is based in San Francisco, CA.