Receiving presents is always lovely, but the gift of giving is often sweeter. Seeing the face of a treasured friend or family member light up at an item you have chosen is priceless. Tearing open the beautiful packaging is all part of the parcel (excuse the pun), but often these materials aren’t the most eco-friendly, with gift-wrapping playing a big part in the huge amount of waste created over the holiday period. Stanford University found that Americans throw away 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of year.
This additional waste piles up to the equivalent of 25 million tons of garbage — that’s 1 million extra per week. So now that we are gearing up for another gift-giving occasion — Valentine’s Day – this is an important fact to consider.
“Much like any other packaging, gift-wrapping offers benefits when it’s used and further ones if it’s reused or recycled. However, when gift packaging is discarded without being recycled, its value is lost forever,” says Jeff Wooster, global sustainability director at materials science company Dow. The key problem? The majority of wrapping paper is made from plastic. “If the paper is bonded with plastic, it can’t be recycled — this includes shiny wrapping paper that has a plastic coating as well as a wrap that has glitter or metallic elements,” says Hema Chauhan, founder of Curlicue, an eco-friendly wrapping paper company. “Any wrap with plastic can’t be recycled and goes straight to landfill, creating more and more waste each year,” she says.
Fear not though, by switching up your shopping choices, you can make a big difference. Research highlights that if every American family wrapped just three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
Here are our favorite tips and tricks for eco-friendly gift-wrapping without the green guilt.
Use Fabric and Ribbon
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Instead of using paper, upcycle some old fabric. “Pretty printed material can be cut up using fabric scissors and jazzed up with a ribbon for a delightful and eco-friendly alternative to wrapping paper,” says Alison Vickery, marketing director at Buyagift. Head to local thrift stores for secondhand or off-cut fabrics. You could use old clothes or linens that have been hanging around taking up space in your wardrobe.
Recycle Magazine Pages
Most of us have plenty of old glossy magazines lying around, and the pages make perfect eco-friendly wrapping paper for smaller gifts. “If you’re wrapping a present for a fashion fan, use pages from Vogue; if the gift is for a sports-mad brother, use a soccer mag or the sports pages of old newspapers,” says Vickery. The gift receiver will love the extra steps you have taken and you will save yourself some money.
Use Recyclable and Recycled Wrapping Paper
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If you have to buy recycled wrapping paper, choose a product that has been recycled and can be recycled. “The only way we can prevent further harm to the environment is by investing in the circular economy,” explains Chauhan. This means choosing wrapping materials that have had a past life and a future one. You could wrap your gifts with Wrappily paper, which is printed with soy ink on newsprint, so it’s totally recyclable, and best of all, it’s double-sided with so many cute prints to choose from.
Stay Clear of Glitter
Shiny, sparkly packaging is a must-have for magpies at Christmas, but these sorts of wrapping materials are not planet-friendly. “What a lot of people don’t know is that wrapping paper that’s shiny or has sparkly bits is not recyclable,” says Beth Anne Fletcher, a sustainable lifestyle blogger and photographer. If you can’t forgo the glitter, look for biodegradable craft glitter for any gift decorating projects.
Say No to Gift Boxes
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Buying brand new gift boxes is a shortcut to creating more unneeded waste. “Decline gift boxes when you purchase gifts and reuse boxes you already have,” suggests Wooster. Or, why not try reusable gift bags? If you give a gift in a tote bag, the receiver can continue to use it for other things.
Tape turns any wrapping project into a planet-damaging one. “Plastic tape makes the paper non-recyclable,” says Fletcher. If you make the mistake of using plastic tape, make sure you take it off before recycling the paper. Otherwise, it will end up in a landfill.
If you can, consider gift alternatives that do not require packaging at all. An experience such as a meal, a sports event or concert is often more personal than a store-bought gift.
Save Paper for Future Occasions
If you end up using large sheets of paper, keep them for next year or any upcoming birthdays. Just remember to not tear open that paper too speedily.
Make Better Use of Old Maps
Old maps also provide ideal green-friendly paper. Considering they go out of date pretty fast, charity shop or secondhand bookshops are likely to have some wallet-friendly options. “Vintage stores often have beautiful maps which are almost works of art,” says Vickery.
Experiment With Beeswax Wrap
Edible or fresh gifts (for example, candy or homemade soap), are eco-friendly gifts in their own right but how about continuing this theme to the wrapping? Enter beeswax wraps. “The breathable material will keep things fresh, and they can be reused by the recipient time and time again. Simply wipe the wrap down with lukewarm water between uses,” adds Vickery.
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