DIY & Zero Waste Gift Wrapping (for All Occasions!)

Last updated on March 9, 2024.

Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon, red and white colors, on black table, scissors in background.
Image by tookapic from Pixabay.

Americans spend an estimated 3 to 7 billion dollars annually on wrapping paper. We buy wrapping paper, something we are intentionally going to throw away. We are paying for stuff that’s going to go into the trash!

Maybe it’s time we reallocated those funds.

Wrapping paper and gift wrap often come wrapped itself 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 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, 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?
      • 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.

Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush
Supplies: Paper tape roll, scissors, water cup, and paintbrush.
Cut strips of paper tape
Cut out strips of paper tape.
Paintbrush to brush water on paper tape
Use the paintbrush to brush on a tiny amount of water. You don’t need much to make it adhere.

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 are giving 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 local office supply stores and on 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 that up and don’t waste it. You can glue small scraps together to make a larger piece to waste even less.

Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
Large piece of wrapping paper made from scraps.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece.
A second gift I wrapped from the same large piece. This one used leftover plastic ribbon and a leftover store-bought gift tag. I have used these up and no longer purchase plastic ribbon or gift tags.

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!

Silver and blue gift bows on a white background.
Plastic bows: pretty but bad for the environment. Photo by DiEtte Henderson on Unsplash.

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 saves me time. 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 with handwriting on the paper in place of a gift tag, with a red bow.

Gift bags

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! One zero-waster recommended using regular shopping bags and decorating them by placing a used greeting card over the logo but you could 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 (Fabric)

Two furoshiki wrapped gifts
Image by Weekend Knitter on Flickr. Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Furoshiki, 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’m striving 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 wrapped gift, pink satin

Fabric wrapped gift, red leopard print

Fabric wrapping is also good for odd-shaped or sized items, such as this one:

Tube shaped gift in fabric, red leopard print

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 unique innovations related to fabric wrapping. 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.

Magazines:

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:

Child art:

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):

Reclaimed books:

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. These are items that were not accepted by the store but that people did not want back. I have not personally tried this method but think it would be really cool. What a great way to honor these books and upcycle!

books on table, like at a sale.
Photo by Min An from Pexels.

Toilet paper wrap:

Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap
Toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap.

You can use the decorative paper from toilet paper rolls from Who Gives A Crap toilet paperhis eco-friendly company makes recycled and bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of their profits to help build toilets in places where there are none. I’ve been using this toilet paper since writing my post about toilet paper in 2018. The paper wrappers on these rolls can be used as gift wrap and the company even makes a special holiday edition.

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 the large sheet of wrapping paper I made 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.

Brown paper:

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!

 

Additional Resources:

Guide, “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.

Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki - The Japanese Art of Wrapping book coverBook, Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki – The Japanese Art of Wrapping, by Etsuko Yamada, 2014.

 

 

 

 

All photos in this post were taken by Marie Cullis unless otherwise credited.

 

Footnotes:

What do you do with all that beautiful child art? A minimalist approach.

Last updated on March 26, 2024.

Is your child a budding artist? Does he or she create more pieces than you can keep up with?

My son, who is now almost 6, is a budding little artist and makes A LOT of art! He has been creating art since he was under 2, and I am guilty of saving almost all of it. I did not realize how quickly it would all accumulate. And if you’re a mom, you’ll understand when I say I think that all my child’s art is beautiful!

Painting by my son at age 2 and a half, abstract colors on paper.
Scan of a painting by my son at age two and a half.

Do you have tons of art that you think is lovely and you can’t let go of? That’s perfectly normal, so don’t feel bad about it. But what do you do with all of that art – especially if you’re trying to reduce clutter or even striving for minimalism?

If you search Google or Pinterest you will find many great ideas! I was inspired by other bloggers and people searching for a solution to the same problem. Marie Kondo would say I should keep only the pieces that spark joy. I was also inspired by The Minimalists, who recommend scanning your photos and documents and letting go of the hard copies – so why not child art as well? I opted to scan and photograph the majority of my son’s art and make a Shutterfly photo book – and it came out beautiful!

So how did I do it? I managed to do it while working full-time, after bedtime. I’ll explain my process next.

White clay Thanksgiving turkey sculpture made by my son at age 3, with beads, googly eyes, and colorful feathers stuck in it.
Photo of a Thanksgiving turkey sculpture made by my son at age three.

“Nothing a child ever does is trash. It is practice.” -Naomi Shihab Nye, Cast Away: Poems For Our Time

Organizing

First I had to organize everything. The art pieces accumulated quickly over just a few years and I had stored it all in three bins. Over the years, I had managed to write information on the backs of most art pieces, such as the date and what my son said about the piece or titled it. I did this because a colleague advised me to document those things. That was great advice!

So for several nights, I sorted the art by year. Next, I sorted the stacks into the months of each year, in order. As I sorted, I selected my very favorite pieces – the ones that spark joy! – and set those aside, as I plan to put those together in a scrapbook later this summer.

Stack of sorted art pieces.
Stack of sorted art pieces.

Digitizing

Once I had everything organized, I started photographing and scanning the art, working on just a month’s worth at a time. I have an Epson scanner and I scanned all of the art pieces I could. Some of the art was larger than the scanning bed, and other pieces were three-dimensional. For those, I set up a basic background using a folded black poster board on a table next to a lamp with two light sources. I simply set up each piece in the best light I could and photographed those pieces using my iPhone on the HDR setting.

"Foil fish" art piece that my son and I made together.
“Foil fish” that my son and I made together.

Making the Photo Book

I put the images into folders divided by year and as I went through each month, I uploaded them into Shutterfly and designed my photo book. You can use any online photo service, I just already had an account with Shutterfly. I do recommend a larger-sized photo book. I chose 12 x 12 which is the same size as a standard scrapbook, and I’m super happy with it.

Cover of the photo book with rainbow heart background.
Cover of the photo book, featuring a photo of my son painting. I removed his name and pixelated his face for privacy. The backside is a similar background with additional photos of my son working on various art projects.
Interior page of the photo book.
Interior pages of the photo book.

Most online photo services offer a large variety of backgrounds, colorful embellishments, fonts, layouts, and many other design options included in the price. This book ended up being about 90 pages. I also opted for the hardcover version with the lay-flat option, both of which cost slightly more. After applying a few coupon codes at the end, this book still cost quite a bit, almost $75. Without the coupons, the retail price would have been over $200.

However, it probably would have cost me almost as much to buy a scrapbook, scrapbook paper, stickers, and other embellishments to go along with it. And for me, it was just as fun as scrapbooking and completely worth the money. I will cherish this book forever.

What will I do with the art pieces now?

Since I’m going to let them go, I’m of course going to separate all of the recyclables (mostly paper) and recycle them. Some of the non-recyclables (beads, buttons, pipe cleaners) can be put back into our art supplies. I’ve now made my son’s art organized and accessible. The art book is so easy to pull out and look through, whereas the art in storage bins was not.

Strict minimalism would probably suggest just tossing everything, keeping the memory of the art, and saving the money. But if you’re like me and feel that your child’s art is just too dear to part with, you might find this a good compromise.

I am currently working on a second book because this book only went up through 2017. I’m enjoying putting it together.

UPDATE February 11, 2024: Since writing this, I’ve put together several photo books of my son’s art (he’s made a lot of art over the years). I physically kept only the most special pieces. I hung some on the walls and the rest I put into a scrapbook. Everything else I scanned or photographed and put in the photo books. For me, this is still the best way to preserve my child’s art. I enjoy getting the books out and paging through them.

I hope this post inspires you to do something fun and creative with your child’s art! Please subscribe and leave me a comment below about your project!

 

All photos in this post were taken by Marie Cullis. This post contains no affiliate links, nor was I paid to review Shutterfly’s product.