Americans spend up $12 billion dollars annually on wrapping paper. About 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper, or an estimated 330 million square feet, ends up in landfills each year.
We are paying for something that we are intentionally going to throw into the trash!
Maybe it’s time we reallocated those funds.
Wrapping paper often comes wrapped in plastic film, which is not recyclable. We use the paper once to wrap gifts and then we throw it away. Some wrapping paper has a plastic coating, making it non-recyclable. On top of that, the plastic tape we use on wrapped gifts makes the paper unrecyclable (because of “contamination”) in most municipalities.
What can you do?
There are so many things you can do to make a difference in the amount of waste we produce, and often even save money. Here are just a few ideas:
- Use the alternative methods in this post for gift wrapping.
- Reduce the overall number of gifts you give – think minimalism!
- Gift e-gifts! Think ebooks, e-audiobooks, and digital music; gift subscriptions to Audible, Kindle Unlimited, Spotify, a video game, or any other similar online subscription.
- Gifts for experiences – tickets to the movies, theater, ballet, climbing gym, museums, or the spa! What would the person you’re gifting really like?
- How about baking a treat for someone? You can wrap a batch of cookies in a tea towel or cloth napkin.
- See my Black Friday article for additional ideas.
There are so many alternatives! But first things first…
Let’s talk about tape
Stop buying “Scotch” or plastic tape. I know this seems crazy, but if you want to reduce waste and plastic pollution, plastic tape has got to go. I recommend gummed paper tape, which I first learned about from the blog, My Plastic Free Life.The tape is water-activated and is super sticky with just a tiny amount of moisture. I cut out small strips of the paper tape, apply a tiny bit of water with a paintbrush and let it get gummy, and then apply the tape.
It’s not the most attractive tape, but if the gift wrap is going to be trashed or recycled after the gift is opened, who cares? People you give gifts to probably know you well enough to understand that you’re an eco-warrior. Be proud. And if you are worried about it, you could decorate the tape.
You can find paper tape at plastic-free shops, local office supply stores, and Amazon. Just steer clear of the types that are “reinforced” because they contain fiberglass filaments, which are plastic fibers. This defeats the purpose of using paper tape to be eco-friendly.
Use up gift wrap that’s already in your house
If you’ve got wrapping paper you’ve already purchased, please use it and don’t waste it. You can glue small scraps together to make a larger piece in order to waste even less.
Eliminate plastic bows and ribbon
Bows sold at regular stores are usually made of plastic. Even if you reuse them for several years, they eventually must be thrown away. Stop buying these and look for alternatives online or make your own. Cycle out the plastic ribbon in your home as well, switch to a cloth (not polyester, because that’s plastic too) ribbon, or just use pretty string or twine. You can also make some out of fabric or old t-shirts! Ideas abound online!
Eliminate store-bought gift tags
Gift tags are often stickers or plastic-coated paper, and sometimes have a plastic band or ribbon to attach it with. You can make your own tags out of regular paper or leftover gift wrap which can be recycled.
You can also write directly on the gift with a marker. This is what I’ve switched to most recently, and it actually saves me time and work. Here’s one I did recently, using leftover wrapping paper and a plastic bow that I’ve been reusing for several years (I haven’t cycled all of those out yet):
Gift bags are often plastic-coated paper, so I don’t recommend buying these. They are reusable, but they do have an end life and aren’t recyclable. Cycle these out and don’t purchase more.
Switch to uncoated paper gift bags. If they are plain, you can decorate them! In fact, one zero-waster recommended using regular shopping bags and decorating them by placing a used greeting card over the logo.But you can glue any pretty picture over it, from an old magazine or calendar. You could also place a photograph over the logo and let that be part of the gift (grandparents would love a photo of their grandchildren, for example).
Alternatives to buying wrapping paper
Furoshiki is a Japanese tradition of wrapping items in cloth for carrying and gift-giving. Often the fabric is meant to be reused for other purposes. This is an eco-friendly and gorgeous way to wrap gifts and it’s the one I primarily use now. I love pretty fabrics, and even though I strive for minimalism, I always have a box or two of fabric in the house. What a beautiful way to give gifts! Here are three I’ve done:
Fabric wrapping is also good for odd-shaped or sized items, such as this one:
It’s easy to learn but it does take practice. I’ve linked a few other helpful resources below under Additional Resources. You can buy fabric remnants at fabric and craft stores for small pieces. Some companies offer fabric wraps. For example, Lush Cosmetics sells Knot-Wraps, their version of Furoshiki but they are meant to be used again as a scarf or tote – so it’s like giving two gifts.They are made of either organic cotton or two recycled plastic bottles, and the wraps are gorgeous!
Homemade wrapping paper
I’ve made wrapping paper from many different things! This takes some time but it’s easy and allows for creativity.
This is one of my favorite ways to upcycle old magazines! I glued random magazine pages together to make large sheets. After wrapping, I let my son decorate the package. Please note, this is also before I switched to the paper tape, so you’ll see Scotch tape on the gift as well as a plastic bow I reused:
I collected a few old art magazines to make wrapping paper. The next two images show one of the large sheets I made, and the images below those show wrapped packages using that paper.
The brown paper tape is hardly noticeable on these packages.
Another publication I used was High Five magazine, a popular children’s magazine. We had several years’ worth so I just grabbed one older edition and tore out the colorful pages. You can see in the following images how I glued individual pages together until I had one large sheet:
Here’s a gift I wrapped:
This is another favorite, especially for gifts to family members. You can glue pieces of child art together and make a large sheet, just like you would with magazine pages. It makes this wrapping paper truly one-of-a-kind! Grandparents will be delighted with original pieces of artwork wrapped around the gift you’ve chosen for them.
You can even just use one coloring book page to wrap small gifts. Here’s one I wrapped last Christmas with a single sheet (but with plastic ribbon and a gift tag I still had leftover):
You can use pages from old books to make wrapping paper – children’s books, photography books, or just plain pages of text from books. You can find cheap books at any thrift or second-hand store. Many used bookstores, such as McKay’s here in Tennessee, have a “free” bin of unwanted books. I have not personally tried this method but think it would be really cool. What a great way to honor these books and upcycle them!
Toilet paper wrap:
You can use the decorative paper from toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap toilet paperpost about toilet paper in 2018. The company even makes a special holiday edition.his eco-friendly company makes recycled and bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets in places where there are none. I’ve been using this toilet paper since writing my
This has become a regular method in my home. You can place stickers or pretty pictures over the logo if you want to cover it up. Here are images of my large sheet of wrapping paper and the wrapped gift:
Newspapers or Brown paper
Newspapers or Comics:
You can use the old-fashioned method of using newspapers. This is what many of our grandparents did.
Cut brown paper from grocery store paper bags or leftover builder’s paper into the size you need and wrap away! Once you’re done, you can color it or paint it with your favorite medium. You can ask your child to help too!
Thank you for reading!
I hope this helps you reduce waste year-round! If you have other ideas about DIY wrapping paper or reducing gift wrapping waste, please leave me a comment below – and don’t forget to subscribe!
Article, “Furoshiki: Japanese Gift Wrapping,” Marie Kondo (KonMari), accessed January 16, 2021.
Article, “How to: Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping),” One Million Women, December 22, 2015.
Article, “Think Outside the (Gift)box: 3 Ways to Wrap Gifts With Fabric,” Craftsy.com, accessed December 23, 2020.
Book, Furoshiki: And the Japanese Art of Gift Wrapping, by Tomoko Kakita
*If you purchase this book, you’ll also have access to their short video tutorials.
Book, Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki – The Japanese Art of Wrapping, by Etsuko Yamada, 2014.
All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise credited.