‘Tis the season for living rooms around the country to be covered in a sea of crumpled paper and tossed-aside bows. Yup, wrapping paper from holiday gifts is largely to blame for a 25 percent spike in curbside trash volume between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, according to the EPA. (And if Grandpa’s just tossing everything into the fireplace, that’s even more harmful. Many inks and foils contain chemicals that are toxic when burned.)
What is the eco-minded gift-giver to do? Here are 10 ways to give a thoughtfully wrapped present and give back to the Earth, too.
Say “silver bells” without leaving a metallic taste in your mouth. A different twist on recycled paper, recycled aluminum foil adds shiny happiness and closes the loop on recycling. Tie on some colorful raffia or hemp twine or this beguiling recycled silk sari yarn to up the festive factor.
2. Most re-useful
Reusable gift bags or shopping bags make an ingenious alternative to gift wrap, and these days they come in all manner of styles, from basic to uber-green to glam. This recycled juice pack tote might be an even bigger hit than the gift inside!
If you’re a whiz with your Singer, whip up your own cloth tote bags or gift bags. Not so much? Check out these luminous drawstring gift sleeves by Lyziwraps, named after founder Jocelyn Childs' daughter, who designed a prototype for her eighth grade “Innovation” competition a few years ago.
3. Best “direction”
Let surplus maps lead the way to sustainable wrapping. These reclaimed New York City subway maps and topographical maps give your package a hip design. Not to mention, they’re educational.
4. Brightest topper
Add a bulb instead of a bow — a compact fluorescent bulb, that is. You can’t stick it on top of your head, but when you stick it on top of your gift you’ll help reduce your gift recipient’s carbon footprint (and electric bill).
5. Most appreciated
Make the wrapping part of the gift! Containers make great no-wrapping-needed packaging: A bucket or watering can is easy to fill with gardening supplies, and a mixing bowl or stockpot makes the perfect package for your favorite cook. And don’t forget soft wrapping paper alternatives that are also great gifts, like scarves, organic cotton baby blankets, beach towels or organic cotton bath towels from Gaiam. It’ll give them a little hint as to what's inside, but your creative wrapping will get years of use.
6. Most resourceful
Banana fiber paper turns wasted bark from banana production into a decorative eco-wrapping option. Or opt for tree-less sources of paper, such as 100% recycled paper printed with soy-based inks. Or try these fabric wraps from wrapnatural.com.
7. Closest to nature
Some of the best decorations for your gifts can be found in backyards, beaches and fields. Sprigs of berries, branches, shells and pinecones are naturally beautiful and don’t require any manufacturing at all … just a short hike. (Check with authorities before taking pinecones or other specimens from state or national forests or parks.) Or try paper that's embedded with wildflower seeds — Instead of tossing or recycling it after gifts are opened, just plant it in your garden! There’s no waste … just beautiful blossoms that make this wrapping paper a gift in itself.
Avoid sticky situations at your recycling facility by wrapping your gifts without conventional — often petroleum-based — tape. Not all curbside programs accept wrapping paper. But if yours does, it should be tape-free. Try opting out of tape by making tightly creased folds as you wrap, securing it by tying up the package tightly (in two directions) with natural twine or wool yarn that can be reused.
9. Most frugal
Why spend a dime on wrapping when you already have what you need? Newspaper might have a reputation for saying “cheapskate,” so get a little creative. Use anything from paper bags to leftover wallpaper, and cut out images from magazines, comics, children’s drawings or old greeting cards to give your package an artistic flair.
10. Most interactive
If necessity is the mother of invention, competition is the sister of connection! Challenge your family to a little friendly competition — come up with the most inventive, resourceful, brilliant wrapping paper alternative using natural, reusable, recycled or repurposed raw materials. Then before present-opening commences, take a vote on the best idea. Award the winner a white-elephant gift — an extra pecan pie to take home, a spa massage, a restaurant gift card. Use your imagination! The experience will add to the great memories you create together this holiday.
Want more info on green wrap and gifts? Check out:
Furoshiki Japanese Wrapping and fwrap (pronounced, frap, which is shorthand for “fabric wrap”) made from recycled materials on Gift Wrap the Eco Way at the Alternative Consumer.
Gaiam’s full list of green gifting ideas.
GaiamTV.com’s library of sustainability videos.