5 sustainable gift wrapping ideas for the holidays

Woman wrapping a Christmas gift in red and gold spotted cloth, tied with a gold ribbon
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Fed up with a mountain of paper and plastic bows strewn across the floor after present giving? Take an eco-friendly approach this year to gift wrapping and encourage your friends and family to wrap their presents sustainably, too.

As soon as presents are unwrapped on Christmas Day, wrapping paper, decorative ribbons and bows are quickly discarded. But as more big brands start to reduce their packaging to create less waste, we're also being encouraged to do the same. 

And according to Stanford University, there’s a 25% increase in waste collected between Thanksgiving and New Year. When you’re confronted with the figures there’s even more reason to change your gift-wrapping habits.

Apart from some pre-planning and perhaps a few home-made additions, finding sustainable ways to wrap presents needn’t be complicated. Here we’ve put together some top tips on how to a wrap a gift sustainably for the festivities.

You might also be interested in how to make your own holiday cards this season..

1. Wrap your gifts in fabric

Gift being warpped in a plain cotton fabric and secured with a knot

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Learn the Japanese art of Furoshiki, and wrap your gifts in fabric. Furoshiki are traditional Japanese squares of fabric that are used to carry, store and wrap things; they come in different sizes, ranging from small handkerchiefs to large Santa sacks. 

Although the tradition dates back centuries in Japan, Furoshiki offers a sustainable alternative to paper gift wrap, and the cloth can be used again to wrap another gift, or even remodelled and tied into a tote bag.

The easiest way to wrap a present using this method is to place the object in the centre of the fabric. Then, wrap the opposing corners over the gift and tie the remaining two corners together in an attractive knot. No plastic wrap, or plastic tape is needed and your recipient receives a gift within a gift.

2. Turn to nature

Woman adding a dried orange slice to a gift wrapped in fabric

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Swap those plastic ribbons and adornments and go au naturel with what you can find outdoors. For added fragrance add fir cones, eucalyptus leaves, or sprigs of thyme.

If time allows, dry orange slices in the oven and pair with cinnamon sticks. They can also be used in homemade wreaths and garlands to decorate your home. 

To dry the oranges, cut them into thin slices and pat them dry with kitchen paper before placing them on a lined baking sheet. Then, put them in an oven heated to 450°F for 3 hours. Once dried, leave them to cool before adding them to your presents as an adornment.

3.  Reuse your old newspapers

Presents wrapped in newspaper and secured with red ribbon and string

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For a vintage look, grab an old newspaper and wrap it around your gift. Wrap the present in the same manner as you would using standard gift wrap, but instead of securing the paper with sticky tape, ask a friend or family member to hold the corners in place while you secure the gift with a decorative ribbon. Then, for a final flourish, add some natural or homemade adornments, such as red holly berries and a narrow banner of hessian fabric. 

Try this:
To accentuate the vintage look, opt for garden twine rather than a decorative ribbon. 

4. Ditch the plastic tape

A selection of plain and patterned non plastic crafting tape

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Rather than using sticky tape, which is difficult to remove from paper and can’t be recycled, try to stay sustainable. Washi tape is an eco-friendly, biodegradable alternative that’s widely used in crafting. 

Available in an array of different colors and patterns it will certainly add an extra pizzazz to your gift wrapping, a far cry from clear sticky tape that goes unnoticed. You could try Papergem's biodegradable washi tape ($7).

Alternatively, ditch the tape completely and use ribbons and ties to secure the paper around the gift.

5. Reuse and regift

Wrapped Christmas present in background with creased green wrapping paper being ironed in the foreground

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Don’t throw away the wrapping paper that you’ve received around gifts yourself. If it’s not too tatty or torn, straighten it out to reuse. Any parts that are ripped or covered in tape can be cut away, leaving you with a piece of wrapping paper to cover a smaller gift. 

But what if the paper is creased? Don’t fret, it can be ironed. Place a tea towel on an ironing board and place the wrapping paper on top. Then, lightly spray a small area of the paper with water, without getting to close. Before continuing, check if any ink has run, if not, spray the remainder of the paper and place another tea towel on top. Set your ironing to its lowest setting and using small circular movements press the paper through the tea towel, being careful not to burn the paper. Once the wrinkles have disappeared, leave the paper to dry out.

6. Make your own decorations

Woman holding a white paper snowflake that has been handmade

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Rather than casting used paper into the recycling, get arty and make your own bows and tags, or add a seasonal decorative element with a handmade paper snowflake.

Here's how to make your own:

  • Begin with a square sheet of paper — any color will do — and fold it in half diagonally. 
  • Then, fold it half again to make a smaller triangle. 
  • Fold this smaller triangle into thirds, being careful to line up the left and right edges of the paper. 
  • Next, position the paper so that the horizontal edge is facing the front. 
  • Cut along the horizontal wedge, so you are left with a triangle shape once again.
  • Keep the paper folded and cut shapes into the paper to create your own design. 
  • Finally, unfold the paper to reveal your design.

Apart from making your own decorations, you can also make use of other items around your home. Remove buttons from old jumpers and shirts before recycling the fabric, and add them to your gifts, or cut up pieces of fabric and use them as ties, or attach a gift tag with a wooden clothes peg.

 7. Buy sustainably 

A selection of small boxed Christmas presents wrapped in Kraft paper decorated with white designs

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Time is precious during the festivities, and while it’s fun to make your own gift wrap and decorations, it’s not always practical. However, you can buy sustainably instead.

Before you make a purchase, check the product label to see if the gift wrap and adornments are recyclable. There are plenty of companies that now sell eco-friendly options, including Wrappily, Veo and Wild & Stone.

But how do you know if a paper you already have is recyclable? Green Matters says that any wrapping paper that has any non-paper adornments, such as glitter or a layer of foil, is not recyclable. It’s the same for ribbons, baubles and bows. Although they can be used multiple times, they can’t be recycled.

You can also try the rip test to discover if the paper  is covered in plastic. If it won’t tear easily it probably is, and if it’s easy to tear it's likely to be glossy paper, which can be recycled.

Whatever method you choose, taking the time to wrap your presents sustainably and with thought, is one present that your recipient will appreciate.

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Camilla Sharman
Staff Writer, Homes

Camilla Sharman has worked in publishing and marketing for over 30 years and has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  

As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader. In her spare time, when she’s not in her kitchen experimenting with a new recipe, you’ll find her keeping fit at the gym. In the pool, stretching at a yoga class, or on a spin bike, exercise is her escape time. She also loves the great outdoors and if she’s not pottering about in her garden, she’ll be jumping on her bike for a gentle cycle ride.