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

Last updated on January 16, 2021.

Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon
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 post 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.

This is the paper tape* I use, but you can find it 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 in order 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.
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 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 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! In fact, one zero-waster recommended using regular shopping bags and decorating it 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
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:

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.

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 me unless otherwise credited.
* This is the only affiliate link in this post. Earnings help support the costs of running this blog.

Footnotes:

Recycling: TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box

For Christmas, I asked for a TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. They’re almost $100, so I didn’t expect that I’d actually get one, but I did (and thank you)!

I was super excited because in 2017 I had signed up for a free broken toy recycling program through TerraCycle, sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. I sent what I had but for the next full year, I saved every broken toy I found. I asked friends to give me their broken toys too. However, Tom’s of Maine stopped sponsoring this program by 2018. I emailed them to ask why, and they responded that they had “decided not to re-run this promotion.”

I was disappointed. By then I had a huge box of broken toys, and I continued to add to the box, refusing to throw them in a landfill. So I added the TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste Box to my Christmas list.

Box of broken toys. I collected and save broken toys for about 20 months. Photo by me.
I collected and save broken toys for about 20 months. Photo by me.

 

Broken toy contents. Photo by me.
Broken toy contents. Photo by me.
Damaged plastic baseball bat. Photo by me..
We had tried to extend the life of this plastic baseball bat by duct taping it. But it was time to let it go. We got this before we understood how acutely broken plastic toys contribute to the waste crisis and ocean pollution. Photo by me.

Receiving my box

The box arrived in a large plastic wrap, which I was able to repurpose as a garbage bag (I stopped buying garbage bags about a year ago, and I’ll be sure to write a separate post on that). This is what the TerraCycle box looks like unassembled:

TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. Photo by me.
TerraCycle Toys Zero Waste box. Photo by me.

Since the box is meant to be placed in an area for collection, such as at the office or at a daycare center, it is equipped with handles on the sides, perforations in the top to drop items in, and a plastic bag inside.

I removed the plastic bag because it was preventing me from being able to fit everything (and I did repurpose that bag as well). I asked my husband, who is a master at packing, to assist because I was having trouble fitting everything, including that plastic green bat. We were able to fit 95% of it.

My husband helping me pack the box. Photo by me.
My husband helping me pack the box. Photo by me.
Full TerraCycle box. Photo by me.
We managed to get 95% of it in the box! Photo by me.

The few items that didn’t fit I placed in a bin in my garage, marked “Plastic Recycling.” It contains plastic items that are not normally recyclable. I plan to save up for an All-In-One Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle. Some of those may be recyclable through Hasbro’s new partnership with TerraCycle (see below).

Ready to ship

The whole process was easy, including shipment. I closed up the box and brought it to FedEx. The purchase of the box includes the cost of shipping and comes with the label already on it. So I dropped it off at FedEx! It felt good to ship those items off after having collected and saved them for so long.

Thoughts on TerraCycle

I admire this company, their mission, and their founder. I like that they take non-recyclable items and make them into cool, useful, new products. I am grateful that they are creating great, visionary, and intelligent solutions!

Even better is that they don’t ship their items overseas for recycling. It’s all done here in the United States.

While TerraCycle is only a small percentage of recycling options, you can purchase your own zero waste boxes on their website. There are many types and sizes available. It is costly, but sometimes we have to pay now, or really pay later. Remember, we can all be the change in small ways, and they do matter.

You can also participate in their free programs by signing up through their website. I’ve participated in several of the free programs including contact lens product recycling; Brita filter recycling; and oral care products recycling. I had to save those things up for a long time, but I have a designated shelf in my garage for such items. I label bins with the name of the recycling or donation program. You can make a designated space too!

Image of my designated shelf for recycling items. Photo by me.
My designated “transient” shelf in the garage. I collect items I can recycle or donate locally until I have enough to take or ship. In this image, there are a few unlabeled bins but they are all in use now. I’ve added a place for thrift store donations, the used book store, and a couple of TerraCycle programs. Photo by me.

Hasbro & TerraCycle

After I received my box, I discovered that Hasbro now has a partnership with TerraCycle to offer free broken toy recycling. I’m glad, but they only accept Hasbro brands. I imagine that this is to create brand loyalty with Hasbro. I’d much rather them accept all broken toys just to do the right thing environmentally.

Sometimes when you find broken pieces of a toy it’s hard to tell what toy it came from, much less what brand it is. In their FAQ section, it does state that “if you are unsure [of the brand] we will accept other toys and games.” This might be a good option in the future. I signed up for it today, so it will be a while before I collect enough Hasbro items to send. I’ll be sure to update this post!

But recycling is not the answer

It helps, sure, but Refusing certain products made of plastic and/or sold in plastic packaging is the key. We all must refuse these items, reduce the use of what we cannot refuse, and then recycle. So recycling should be the third option.

Only 9% of our plastics are actually recycled! That means 91% of our plastics are NOT recycled.

I love TerraCycle because it is a step in the right direction. However, using their programs does not discourage consumers from buying plastic products. In turn, it does not send the message to the corporations that they need to alter their plastic production and packaging.

So keep trying to REFUSE. Use TerraCycle and similar programs when you can’t refuse.

The Earth is beautiful. Let's keep it that way, Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.
Earth is beautiful. Let’s keep it that way, Image by Free-Photos on Pixabay.

I hope this was informative and I would love to hear about your experiences with TerraCycle recycling or how you’ve stopped buying certain plastic items. Thanks for reading!

This post does not contain any affiliate links nor was I paid to review TerraCycle products.

Product Review: Osom Brand Socks made from Recycled Textiles

Disclaimer: I was not paid to review this product, nor does this post contain any affiliate links.

What if I told you that you could buy upcycled socks, made from recycled textiles? Does that make you jump for joy and want order some right away? Are you interested to learn more? Or are you skeptical?

Well, I’m here to help.

I first heard about these when the company, Osom Brand, launched its Kickstarter in January 2017. In late 2018, I discovered that not only had they successfully Kickstarted, they also developed an online store. I am reviewing these since I received a pair at Christmas. Aren’t they cute?

Images of Osom Cetus socks. Photo by me.
I love the subtitle, “Wear the Change.” Photos by me.
My Osom socks with whales design. Photo by me.
My Osom socks with whales design. Photo by me.

Overall, I am very pleased with these and I plan to order more in the near future. I’ll review the different aspects of these socks in a moment. But first, check out this video about the founder and the company’s process:

There’s also an excellent Forbes article about the founder and the company here.

Comfort

These are quite comfortable and they do not slip down as some socks do. I’ve seen one or two complaints about the elasticity of these socks since they are one size fits all (in a size range). Indeed they are not very stretchy compared to other socks. For me, once they are on, this is not an issue.

Price point

These socks cost between $16.00 and $18.00 per pair. While that cost is high compared to other socks made from new materials, the cost to the environment is low. That makes the cost worth it for me.

Environmental impact

The company asserts that its process is waterless. It takes more than 700 gallons of water to produce a conventional cotton t-shirt, and that does not include the water it takes to grow the cotton. That’s enough water for one human to drink for 2 and a half years!

This process reduces the use of pesticides, which harm the environment and pollute our waters.

Buying recycled textiles products reduces textile waste. I’ll explain more about this below.

Osom Brand does not use dyes, which prevents water pollution because there is no toxic dye waste being poured into drains or pumped into rivers.

Materials

The materials are not 100% plastic-free. They are 85% recycled textiles with small percentages of spandex and nylon (spandex and nylon are both plastic fabrics). The trademarked name of their fiber blended yarn is OSOMTEX and it changes based on consumer demand and textile availability.

But the company is not claiming their yarns to be plastic or polyester free. Their goals are to promote a circular economy in the textile industry. “At OSOMTEX®, we repurpose millions of pounds of discarded post-consumer and post-industrial textile waste directly from brands and the general supply chain to create high-quality upcycled yarns and fabrics.” Repurposing is a great way to support environmental and human health.

Packaging

The socks arrived almost plastic-free, except for the little black plastic holder at the top. I plan to write an email to the company to request they stop using the plastic holder.

Plastic hold from the socks. Photo by me.
Plastic holder from the socks. Photo by me.

Why is this a big deal?

We. Waste. Clothes.

In the United States, we throw millions of pounds of textiles into landfills per year – about 81 pounds per person! That does not include the heaps of clothing we donate, consign, or give away to friends and family.

In the United States “fast fashion” refers to our quick cycle of fashion trends changing. So we want cheap clothing. In turn, this means it is usually made cheaply and quickly. That same clothing wears out fast from wear and the harsh chemicals from fabric softeners and detergents. Then we discard last season’s items as quickly as we can to “keep up” with the current styles. This cycle allows us to consume and shop more.

Clothing rack. Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.
Photo by Artem Bali from Pexels.

We can do better!

What if we decided to buy less clothing that is higher quality? Or buy most of our clothing second hand? Clothing that is more timeless or classic, instead of keeping up with fashion trends? This is an area where we all have great power to generate great change.

It takes a ton of energy and insane amounts of water to generate all of that new fashion. There are tons of articles online you can read about this, but I’ll share two of the best ones I found here and here.

I even found articles about large clothing retailers destroying their own unsold clothing at the end of the fashion cycle, to “protect the value of the brand name” and “prevent fraudulent returns.” That seems crazy to me, in a world where so many people go without adequate clothing. I don’t want to give my money to any company that participates in those practices.

Why buy recycled textiles?

I know there are some who will say that only 100% natural, organic textiles are the answer, and I don’t disagree. There are problems with plastic microfibers reaching our oceans from just washing those fabrics in the washing machine.  But with all that we waste, why not support visionary concepts like this?

There are many things we can do to make a difference.

I think that there is never just one answer or one solution to any environmental or social problem. Let’s all do what we can to be the change. We can buy less brand new clothing. Or purchase less clothing in general and snub “fast fashion.” We can obtain clothing second hand. We can buy items upcycled from old materials like these socks. We can even be minimalists and zero wasters.

Whatever you choose to do, just by starting today, will make a difference. Thanks for reading.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia

There are inspirational and motivated people all over the world. People who amaze us and withstand the negativity. It is even more inspiring when a woman overcomes the obstacles she faces.

I discovered Isatou Ceesay through my local library. I had requested several children’s books about plastic, and I found One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul. Upon reading this book to my son, I was really impressed with this story. Check to see if your local library offers it!

One Plastic Bag book cover

After reading the book I wanted more information about Isatou Ceesay!

I felt that she is so inspirational that I should dedicate a whole post to her. She has been committed to upcycling plastic bags and reducing waste in The Gambia since the 1990s. The waste problem in The Gambia really bothered her. Plastic and trash were everywhere. The landscape was littered. Some used plastic to make fires burn faster, but the toxins released in the fumes when burning plastic is unimaginable. She decided she would find a way to recycle or upcycle some of the plastic waste.

More than just recycling

But her story is not just about recycling and plastic. It’s also about empowering women and improving the standard of living! The book tells the story at a children’s level about how she had to work in secret in the beginning because people laughed. I read that it was illegal for women to work at the time, and that’s why she worked in secret. In any case, she began making recycled plastic bag purses. Isatou hired a few women to help and hired more as time went on, even establishing a women’s cooperative to craft and sell items for income. The business kept growing and it helped the landscape, the people, and the economy.

Isatou also helped co-found The Gambian Women’s Initiative (GWI) whose mission is: “GWI seeks to help financially poor women in the Gambia increase their income, thereby improving the standard of living for their families and their communities. Projects coordinated and rural women’s groups will give women a voice in their own development, as they are trained in income-generating, investment and decision-making skills.” They also teach financial planning.

Here’s a quick video highlighting her accomplishments:

And if you’d like to watch a full interview with her, or read more about her, climateheroes.org featured her here, entitled “Isatou Ceesay, Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia.” But as you now know, she’s so much more than just a recycler or an upcycler. She’s a visionary and she’s being the change.

DIY Opportunity

And if you have too many plastic bags yourself and want to make plastic bag crocheted purse? She’s got a how-to video! I’ll update this post if I try it. And if any of you try this, please message me or leave a comment below! I can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

The author quoted Isatou on the back of the book: “People thought I was too young and that women couldn’t be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn’t call out the problems – I called out solutions.” Well said. I think we should all have that attitude. Let’s be the change together!

 

This post does not contain any affiliate links.