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6 Low-Waste Ways to Package Your Holiday Gifts

A little wake-up call: our holiday season is inherently wasteful. The U.S. generates 7 million pounds of waste between the end of November and New Years’ Day. That is a lot of shipping boxes and plastic holiday decorations. Also, did you know that most wrapping paper is laminated with plastic? Shiny paper dyed and full of glitter is often not able to be recycled (same with many store-bought cards), leaving trash bags full of waste after holiday celebrations. 

If you have shopped for an eco-friendly gift this season -- no judgment if you did not -- what better way to keep the sentiment than wrap it with zero-waste or recyclable materials? There are so many creative ways to wrap gifts that leave a personalized touch and help keep plastic out of landfills. Here are my six favorite gift wrapping tips:

1. Tie your presents with string, ribbon, or strips of fabric

Some gifts do not need tape at all! If you wrap your gift using an origami-style method like the one shown here, you can secure it with a ribbon or bow and leave the plastic out completely.

2. Use compostable tape

Because regular tape is made of plastic, even when wrapping paper is plastic-free it may not be recyclable. If you need to use tape, opt for something paper-based or compostable like kraft-paper or washi tape, like this nature-inspired set. I have always opted for washi tape without even realizing that it is usually made from natural fibers. Just make sure your tape is ~actually~ made from natural materials and not embossed with plastic-y glitter! 

3. Reuse old newspaper

I am a big advocate for using what you already have, and I know that the sports section of papers is not read in my household! Newspapers are a great option because they are widely available and often free. It can also be recycled in many places! I find the black-and-white coloring to be the perfect canvas for bright string or ribbon. 

4. Mix it up with fabric

The Japanese have a traditional style of wrapping items using fabric. It has inspired many people to rethink how they wrap holiday gifts, especially because fabric can be reused more than once. Here’s a guide by Marie Kondo. You can find fabrics at thrift stores, use old pillowcases or scraps around your house, or buy a handmade scarf or shawl for your recipient to keep. You can always ask for fabric to be returned to you for your reuse if your recipient is not up to the task.

5. Only buy recycled paper

If you have no newspaper or fabric lying around and have a preference for traditional-looking wrapping paper, then just make sure you buy rolls that are made from recycled materials (look for labels in the store) or from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood -- these rolls are gorgeous. This is not the least impactful option on this list but is still a step above plastic wrapping paper. 

6. Use a box

Reusing old gift boxes -- or other random vessels -- is a great way to keep cardboard out of landfills (I see you, an excess of Amazon boxes I did not order) and organize gifts that might be small or unorthodox in shape. A box of snacks, for example. Get creative!

I hope this list has inspired you to take a second look at how you wrap your presents! Being mindful about the materials you use is really an opportunity to personalize. You can forage for fallen Christmas tree branches or pine cones to tie onto your gifts for that extra green touch. Have a wonderful holiday season, no matter what or how you celebrate!

Sophia Chapin

George Mason University '21

Sophia Chapin is an alumni of George Mason University. Her articles reflect a journey of learning about environmental and social justice issues.
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