This article was originally published on EcoCult; a leading blog about sustainable fashion, travel and lifestyle that is run by Alden Wicker, a brilliant ethical writer and journalist.
Doesn’t it make your eye twitch to see the mounds of plastic ribbons going into the trash on Christmas morning? Or make you uncomfortable to wonder just how they make wrapping paper so shiny and colorful, who made it, and where? (Hint: Asia.)
In fact, much of that glossy stuff isn’t recyclable – the glittery and metallic papers contain plastics, so they need to go into the trash, some municipalities don’t accept any wrapping paper, and tissue paper is often already made from recycled content, meaning it can’t be recycled again, according to Recyclebank.
But gift wrapping gives us the same challenge as dressing fashionably. You want it to look sophisticated, neat, and pretty, just without all the waste, exploitation, and environmental impact. That is not always the easiest thing to pull off.
So I decided to really dig into this problem this year, try out all the internet suggestions for eco-friendly wrapping ideas, and share what I learned with you, complete with illustrative pictures of the results. (Hat tip to The Art of Living Simple and Martha Stewart for generating some of these ideas for me.)
Hit Up That Low-Brow Antique Shop
You know that fusty “antique” (read: junk) shop that every town has a few of? This place is great for affordable and sustainable gift wrap ideas. You just have to have an eye for what will translate into a chic present accessory. When you’re there, look for:
- Tea or kitchen towels
- Decorative brooches
- Vintage cards
- Old maps
- Jars and cookie tins
I swung by Junk in Williamsburg, and had a ball digging through jewelry, ornaments, scarves, and linens until I got together a tidy passel of wrapping items. The most expensive thing was this beautiful map tea towel, at $10, which I’m sure my recipient will continue to use. The glass icicles were $0.25 apiece, the jingles bells were $3 – I cut them off the cheap rope they were on to class them up. Everything else was $2 or under, and all of it can be reused for another present, or hung on the tree. The vintage cards were especially useful as retro-chic tags, and the maps are both the perfect weight for wrapping. Plus, you can pick out a map that has special significance. I got a map of Nevada so I could wrap my fella’s small present with Black Rock Desert, Burning Man’s location, on the front.
A scarf and ornament dress up plain white paper
Save Up Those Odds and Ends
You have some stuff you can use. As a conscious consumer … OK fine, a blogger who gets a lot of cool products in the mail, I have a lot of:
- Tissue paper
- Dust bags
… that I’ve been diligently collecting all year. I used all of these in my wrapping process. You’ll also see in my wrapping some sparkly wrapping paper my dude bought last year, and some Japanese washi tape I got as a gift a couple years back from the moms. Happy to use both up, as long as they are on hand! The below gift is using a dust bag from an artisan boutique and vintage bells. When you shop at sustainable and ethical makers of high quality goods, you end up with some gorgeous wrapping materials.
Tip: Use a hair iron to smooth out kinked ribbons. Then use the ribbons how they were originally intended: to seal packages closed in lieu of plastic tape.
Reuse Some Materials
I actually love to indulge in potato chips every once in a while, but I feel bad about it. Not because of the health, but because their packaging is never recyclable. However, you can reuse their packaging, because it’s silver on the inside – perfect for gift wrap.
Newspaper is another great material that is frequently recommended for wrapping. I actually only get the New York Times digitally now, but I stopped into a Chinese convenience store in Chinatown and bought a Chinese-language newspaper for a cool $0.50. (Newspapers are printed that morning in the same city, making them more affordable and sustainable than typical wrapping paper!) The result looks worldly, is neutral in content, and a step up from an American newspaper.
I also scrounged up an old sweater I was getting rid of. I think if you tie it correctly, it can look chic, if a bit lumpy. But I sort of dread the moment when my recipient looks at the stained sweater and is like, “Uh, I don’t have to keep this right?” It seems a bit awkward. So I skipped that, but it’s available to you if you can make it work.
Steal Some Christmas Tree Sprigs
NYC has New York State-grown Christmas trees being sold every five blocks. I stopped at one by my apartment and asked the guy if I could have some small branches that had fallen off. He looked at me like a weirdo, but said it was fine.