Creative and sustainable ways to wrap gifts

Photo credit: Vadym Petrochenko, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Isn’t half the joy of a Christmas tree seeing the beautifully bedazzled gifts piled beneath the tree, waiting patiently for the excitement of Christmas morning? If you’re like me, you’ve spent many happy hours giving each gift a personal touch for the lucky recipient, but probably didn’t give much thought to green gift-wrap.

But what happens once the wrapping paper has been torn off and tossed aside? I know what happens at my dad’s house, where Christmas is celebrated each year. Bag after bag after bag of discarded wrapping paper is set outside on the curb to be included in the next trash day.

What may come as a surprise to you — because it did to me — is that the vast majority of this shiny stuff is likely not recyclable due to the glittery paper that contains materials many municipalities will not accept. Also, any paper made from materials that have already been recycled cannot be recycled again.

However, my guess is that you still want your gift-wrapping to look impressive and fashionable. Presentation matters. The conundrum is that we want this pretty, shiny paper to not have an environmental impact.

MORE: 5 Recycling myths & what you should actually be doing

Whether you put in the time and effort to purchase an environmentally friendly gift and want to make sure your wrapping is also eco-friendly, or your gift is simply a gift but you’d like to have less of an environmental impact, we’re here to offer you some easy, affordable and still-lovely green gift-wrap options that can make you feel even better about your gift-giving.

Paper 2.0

While we’re not suggesting you continue to use traditional wrapping paper, not all paper is off-limits. Take a look through your desk drawers, storage boxes and cabinets for forgotten travel maps, music pages or other colorful, not-conventional, still-recyclable paper that can add a unique touch to your gifts.

Good-old brown paper bags

Plain-old brown paper bags just need some creativity and a few colorful additions to make them anything other than boring. Small brown bags can remain as gift bags decorated with some sprigs of mistletoe, holly or pine cones, colorful gift tags, twine, yarn, recyclable ribbon, small ornaments or even holiday stamps that can turn any plain gift into a lovely addition under the tree.

Larger brown bags can be cut up and used just like wrapping paper with the same types of colorful additions. If you’ve got kiddos who still enjoy art projects, include them in the fun. Chalk on paper can be recycled, but recycling paper with paint, crayons or excessive glue or sticky tape is not recommended. If you do use sticky adhesives, here are some suggestions on how to keep them recyclable, or, if you’re uber ambitious, make your own glue.

Think kitchen

If your gift is kitchen-themed, even better. However, these green gift-wrap ideas will work no matter what lies within. Choose a holiday-themed kitchen towel or one that matches the recipient’s decor and wrap the gift in said towel. For smaller gifts, stuff them into a holiday oven mitt. Larger gifts will do well covered with an apron matching the recipient’s favorite design or color. This is actually a dual gift, as the lucky recipient gets to keep the gift and the package it came in.

Drop in the bucket

Repurpose any empty buckets that may be lying around your house, or purchase some inexpensive galvanized buckets, place the gift in the bucket, and voilà! Adorn with a recyclable ribbon and some greenery, and your wrapping is complete. The lucky receiver gets the thoughtful gift, along with the bucket that can serve endless purposes. Really, it’s two gifts in one.


Continuing with the theme of two gifts in one, consider again making the “wrapping” part of the actual gift and using a lovely scarf to wrap the gift, a fun T-shirt, beach towel, or any other fabric that fits the theme of your gift or that you just know the recipient will appreciate. Feeling adventurous? Learn more about furoshiki — the Japanese art of gift-wrapping — and really impress the lucky recipient.

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Containers galore

Plan ahead and begin saving small containers, such as baby food jars, yogurt cups, sour cream cartons, cookie tins — whatever looks like it would hold those smaller gifts. Wrap these recyclable containers in recyclable paper and feel extra good about your thoughtfulness. Just don’t forget to wash the containers first.

Reusable tote bags

This is a great green gift-wrap option. Keeping it even more eco-conscious, consider gifting in a reusable shopping bag. More and more states are now charging for single-use shopping bags. So again, it’s a gift inside a gift. I don’t know what I would do without my Trader Joe’s washable shopping bags. I’ve had mine for so long I don’t think they carry the exact ones anymore, but you can find some other great ones here.

Behold the mason jar

I’ve been using mason jars for years. I mostly use them to gift my “world-famous” candied pecans, but there is no limit to what they can hold. From yummy treats to itty-bitty plants to any small gift, they are the perfect, no-frills, can-be-used forever, gift-giving container.

Wine bags

You don’t have to actually give wine as a gift (but, hey, why not?). These smart-looking bags are fancy and decorative all on their own, can hold an assortment of gifts and can be reused endlessly. But, seriously, go ahead and give wine. Bonus — it’s easy. Just shove the gift in, cinch the top closed and gift-wrapping is done. Then, open some wine.

Children’s artwork

How many pieces of your kids’ artwork, exactly, can you hang on your refrigerator? Of course, they are little Picassos in the making, but you can’t save every piece. What you can do is choose the best to display, save some in their memory box, and use the rest to adorn gifts to close family members. Your kids will feel pride in seeing their artwork displayed on a gift, and the receiver will appreciate the personal touch. While some of this art likely can’t be recycled, if opened carefully, the recipient will have a lovely keepsake.

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Box it up

Start by not tossing the boxes the gifts come in. Save them with your Christmas stuff to reuse next year. Since everyone buys from Amazon, start saving the boxes delivered to your doorstep to reuse for Christmas, birthdays or any gift-giving opportunity. They have a lot of life left in them and don’t need to head to the recycle facility before their time.

Speaking of boxes — think tackle, tool, hat. Pretty much any compound word that ends with “box” can be repurposed for gift-giving.


Finally, if you just can’t quite picture Christmas without traditional wrapping paper, you can buy eco-friendly paper that is gorgeous while still being good to the environment.

It is definitely possible to be both environmentally friendly and still uber chic when it comes to gift presentation. You might just inspire others to do the same. That’s a gift to Mother Earth.