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Low Waste Wrapping Ideas

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Low Waste Wrapping Ideas

I do not love wrapping. If you told me I would be writing about this topic for the world to see on the Internet a year ago, I would not have believed you. But truth be told, my new routines in the gift wrapping set-up actually help me simplify yet another area. Get ready to read far too many words about this one area of your life, haha!

I can see why a lot of people are reluctant to make changes in this area. This I think is especially true for people that have a 'look' for their Christmas - you know, like a theme and overall aesthetic. I love things that look calm, are neutral, with natural tones and textures. So pretty wrapped presents definitely could be a thing that feels like it makes your Christmas come together; everything completed and finished up neatly. Although my mom has a whole closet dedicated to wrapping (and tons of stores sell insane plastic organizers to help you deal with all this stuff, as if you need another organization system to deal with to help you ignore the real problem of "too much") and had more than enough paper options, she would still go out and buy a ton of paper each year that all matched. Plus, there's that whole "ripping into a present" that people find irresistible. It's not an easy thing to want to change; traditions never usually are. But, believe me, there's just as much 'low waste wrapping ideas' on Pinterest that can change your opinion of how nice this can be. t can look just the way you want it to, and knowing that you can just fold it up and reuse it or compost the elements afterward feels good enough to not miss the fact that you didn't get to tear some paper on the way into the present.

Why consider a change?

To start off, the paper industry in general is an environmental sore spot when it comes to resource use and its carbon footprint. Sure, paper comes from a renewable resource; we can always plant and grow a few more trees, right? The issue is in the amount of production that goes into harvesting those resources, the energy and water that flows into the processing, and then the travelling of these items everywhere. Plus, most of this is just single use stuff (it can't be ripped too many times, and it is not recyclable), so it's a lot for what you get out of it (usually only seconds of use), considering that there are other options. This is also the reason why a lot of paper products are swapped to cloth options when heading into a lower-impact lifestyle. And in this case, we aren't just talking about regular paper here, we are talking about that golden, embossed, foiled, glittery, mega-coloured wrapping paper, too.

The fibres found in wrapping paper and tissue papers are not strong enough to recycle. So, wrapping paper ends up straight to the garbage bin. It does break down a little faster than other landfill items, but today's tissue and thin paper often includes bits of glitter (we all know that tissue paper with the glitter, right) and heavy dyes. If you can conjure up the smell of opening up a roll of paper out of the plastic it is always cased in, you know the chemical smell of what you're bringing into your home to off-gas into the environment without even really realizing it. This continues to off-gass and seep into the natural world when it is breaking down, too. Many people do not know that wrapping paper is not recyclable, so if it isn't burned in a wood stove (which has its own host of environmental impacts as those elements are added to the air), it might be stuffed in a recycling bin anyway, which then contaminates the paper it is recycled with and it is all landfill bound, creating even more garbage.

On top of this, more and more of the trendy/upper tier new papers are dyed foils and laminated and contain a lot of plastic. Anything glitter is plastic, and these are micro-plastics ready to hit the environment for hundreds of years. Plus, it then has sticky plastic tape often stuck to it. It's a ball of landfill-bound paper mixed with a bunch of things that we don't want or need breaking down in our ecosystem (or the plastics being burned in woodstoves everywhere around here). 

You might read this (and look further into it) and decide that this isn't really what you intended when you were getting ready for your lovely Christmas morning or giving a gift to a loved one. I definitely got very overwhelmed thinking about my lifetime impact that I sort of just shuffled along, participating in. Don't get too bogged down on thinking of the past and save your energy for what you can do moving forward to shift out of this. Because, every little effort matters - even if you get right into this and never buy another roll again, you'll see that you're still going to get gifts wrapped in that embossed thick paper with a ton of tape when a loved one is gifting to you. Every little bit matters, so even if it's just one present, one less roll of paper, you're making a difference. After gifting in another way, you might inspire those closest to you to make changes as well, and the wave can continue!

Make 'er go as far as possible

To start with, just give everything you can some extra lives. That intense paper? The scraps of ribbon? Wrap up your ornaments in it for storage afterward, use it to wrap gifts again (if you can open it easily - the thick stuff is usually pretty tough to tear), make some cards or some gift tags for next year, or use it in some art projects for the kids. Send that wrapping around the use cycle a few more times if you can before it dies its decades-long death.

If you don't need what you have? Give it to a school. Or a food bank or community service agency that is wrapping gifts for others. You could save them some money; those items are going to get wrapped this way anyway and so you can help out in this way.

Value Village accepts those laminated paper and plastic gift bags that are still in good condition. Fold them up and give them, don't toss them. Use them to collect old batteries or markers for waste diversion or fold them and stack them in a spot so that you have something to use in lieu of one more plastic baggie (as thankfully those things should hopefully not be around for too much longer), like when you're sending someone home with dessert leftovers or returning something you borrowed from a friend.

Bags + Fabric Pieces

So, I think the very best option is a fabric bag or pieces of fabric, so that's why they get to go here as my first-place option! They are so simple to make, and the nicest thing you can do for the environment is to use some fabric that already exists. There are a bunch of shops even selling pre-made fabric pieces for this very purpose, but I personally feel that's like selling bottled water - this is definitely something you can drum up from what already exists and not spend the money on. You might have an old tablecloth (especially vintage Christmas tablecloths that you might not be into putting out anymore if you're a bit of a neutral but want to bring back to life), old sheets, linens, etc. that you can fold in half and sew a seam, or keep as they are for larger gift wrap. Fabric is also a very popular thrift item in bigger charity shops, too, and during the months prior to the holidays, usually are corralled in one spot in the thrift shop, easy to find. You can get fancy with a drawstring, or sew ribbon on the edge of a seam to tie the top of the bag off. There are also a ton of makers making these things, the world of Etsy, or maybe you have a person in your circle that loves to sew.


Fabric pieces are also perfect for wrapping awkward shapes, too. Large pieces of fabric can be gathered around an item, a produce elastic use to close the gathered area, and a ribbon tied around the elastic. This helped us wrap some randomly-shaped toys for our boys last year. We have a few pieces from an old shower curtain that has a trim piece on one edge, and it has been gorgeous on so many occasions, because it's just simple and white and has the smallest detail in the trim.

A tea towel or an unpaper towel is another great fabric piece idea - you can do this as part of your gift this way, too. 

And - for those that love the 'rip' - wrap your gifts in newspaper first and then pop them in the bags or fabric pieces if you want a more themed look. This way, you're not creating anything new or creating any more waste, and you get the same moment in time!

Kraft Paper

Natural kraft paper is awesome. It is thick, so multipurpose, versatile and elegant. The reason this paper is so favoured is because it does not contain any of the dyes (or bleach) or plastics that are mentioned above, and it is a thicker and actually recyclable material -- but! It can also be composted. Before I was able to collect some fabric for our family bags and pieces of material, I just simplified our "gift wrapping" storage in our house to a big roll of this stuff, a roll of sisal or jute twine that we keep in our kitchen (once you consider using it for things over tape, you really step up your usage on the stuff and decrease the use of plastic tapes), and a box of random ribbon pieces. 

You're probably thinking that kraft paper and some eucalyptus or rosemary does look pretty elegant under the tree, but its not very "fun." I hear ya. We use it for kids' birthdays, too. We just get out some chalk or paint and the kids decorate it. And honestly, that is always a way bigger hit than any print I would have bought otherwise. And, by using chalk or natural paints (we like Earth Paint, it simplifies storage for art supplies for us as well), you can still compost your kraft paper afterward.

Another way to liven up your kraft paper is to use natural elements to decorate your gift - dried oranges, berries, pampas grasses (they grow in the ditches here), cinnamon sticks, etc. - these items can make your tree area smell heavenly, be useful again afterward, or hit the compost on their way to decompose versus any other plastic bow option you can think of.


Tape Alternatives

So, avoiding tape becomes tricky. But if you're really getting into this, and want to swap this as well, here's some ideas:

Kraft/paper tape - - better than plastic tape and still blends into whatever you're doing with masking tape or clear tape for wrapping and most household uses. We have some paper tape available here that can be recycled or composted with Kraft paper or newspaper.

The "No-Tape" Method - - this is going to sound a bit nuts while writing it down, but it actually isn't going to be that tough once you get into it. The no-tape method involves the use of sisal or jute twine (or your ribbon pieces). You measure quickly (just do the length twice and the width twice plus a little bit) and cut the twine. Then, cut and fold the paper around your item as usual, just creasing it instead of taping it. Lay the twine down the front of the package (the direction that will cover the two 'flaps' underneath once you do the next step), then meet the two pieces underneath, cross them in opposite directions to create tension, come up the sides of the packet and tie it on the top. This method works so well with smaller packets and after you try it a few times, gets easier to do different shapes and larger sizes. Definitely check it out on youtube!

The twine has now become such a staple here in reducing tape use but just in general for our home, too. I am actually keeping a little cup of twine lengths in my home now - use it first for a gift or a project, then tuck it into the cup to use again next time. This swap is a slow habit change over time, but it definitely decreases how much tape you rely on and all of the plastic casings for that tape, too.

Some inspiration: a round up of images found on Pinterest + some from our own home 



So, I think that's my round-up of low waste wrapping changes! Let me know what you think - how do you keep this area low-waste and simple?


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