Eco-friendly ways to wrap Christmas presents

Just about every family has a special holiday tradition they repeat each year. When I spend Christmas in Winnipeg, one side of my family plays the wildest game of “Saran Wrap Christmas Ball” I’ve ever seen. And as for the other side, it’s all about homemade tourtière and designating one kiddo as garbage collector.

It was a pretty coveted position back in the day. My cousins and I would take turns collecting discarded wrapping paper and filling trash bag after bag after bag. As much as I still cherish those memories, we need to acknowledge that Christmas comes with a lot of baggage.

I’m not talking about the emotional kind, or even the suitcases out-of-town relatives schlep along in non-pandemic years. I mean cold, hard trash. According to one estimate, Canadians collectively throw out 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper, gift bags, foil, cards and tape every year.

That number (rightfully) seems a little intimidating, but there are so many things we can do to decrease the amount of waste we send to landfills during the holidays – and whenever someone’s birthday, anniversary or housewarming party rolls around. Here are just a few eco-friendly ways to wrap Christmas gifts.

1. Save supplies throughout the year

My brother always makes fun of me for this, but I barely throw any packaging away. If I use plastic bags at the grocery store, they end up added to the collection under my sink. If a local business packages my order with tissue in a brown-paper bag, those go directly in a storage ottoman I specifically have for that purpose.

I realize not everyone has the space or means to collect gift bags, paper and ribbons at this level, but building a small stockpile around the holidays can help both you and the environment. You’ll save yourself a last-minute trip to the dollar store for wrapping paper and bows – not to mention some money, too.

READ MORE: Why you should shop local

I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought tissue paper. I use another sheet from the Victoria’s Secret stack I have stashed away. If you’ve seen Friends, I’m not quite at Monica’s level (no designated ribbon drawer here), but I might be on my way. One of my grandmothers saved shirt boxes years ago, and she still uses them every Christmas. When one of us unwraps a present, she’ll fold the box back up and keep it for the next year.

2. Use your creativity

When you think about it, anything could be wrapping “paper.” I’ve seen videos of people cleaning out Lays bags and using the foil to cover gifts … but you probably don’t need to take things that far. Instead, try to use (more practical) things you have on hand or incorporate part of your gift as the wrapping itself.

Newspaper, old maps and spare fabric can all replace traditional, single-use wrapping paper. You might not be able to tape fabric in exactly the same way, but you can probably tie your gift up with a reusable ribbon – or just knot the ends of the cloth together. If part of what you’re gifting is, say, a scarf, you can use that instead!

If you’re shopping for someone you know well, you might even be able to create a gift basket using a practical item as the base. One year, my parents knew I needed new laundry baskets, so they just put the rest of my birthday presents in ’em. A storage bin, new purse or grocery tote could work just as well, depending on the recipient and size(s) of whatever’s going inside. You can also just hide large gifts until it’s time to “open” them, instead of trying to wrap a playhouse, new bike or kitchen appliance.

3. Choose eco-friendly options

Okay, I know everything on this list is technically an eco-friendly option. But if you absolutely have to use disposable wrapping paper, make sure it’s recyclable. I completely understand that kids (and a lot of dogs) love tearing through wrapping, and carefully opening a piece of cloth just isn’t the same.

Earlier this year, Multi-Material Stewardship Manitoba released an infographic about which seasonal items are actually recyclable. Their Holiday Recycling Guide lays out the accepted materials, which include chocolate boxes, brown craft paper, cardboard, certain greeting cards, paper gift bags (without strings), paper gift tags and most toy packaging – so you might want to consider using those items if you have any on hand.

Cellophane, bubble wrap, aluminum foil and most store-bought wrapping paper, however, should be trashed. You might be able to find recyclable wrapping paper in stores, on Etsy and from retailers like Wrappily, which specializes in eco-friendly papers and ribbons. They even have Hanukkah patterns!

And while these things aren’t exactly gift-wrapping materials, most Manitobans can drop off batteries, real Christmas trees, electronics, plastic bags and string lights at specific depots. So try to keep that in mind amid all the holiday chaos, especially once the batteries that came with every toy start to die down.

4. Invest in reusable wrapping and gift tags

My family might have never done well on the wrapping-paper front, but my dad introduced something sustainable we break out every Christmas to this day: reusable wooden gift tags. Each member of my immediate family has one for each person, so I have four tags that are “from” me. They even bear my loopy grade-school penmanship, which makes them a little embarrassing but all the more special.

I’m positive he picked up ours at the dollar store, but you could make your own. If you’re not crafty, though, you can order personalized ones from Etsy, like these 3D Wood Gift Tags that ship from Ontario. But you still need to actually wrap the gifts before you can tag them, and that’s where companies like Joywrap come in. Their reusable gift wrap is made in Canada out of non-toxic and BPA-free fabrics. They can even put your face (or your pet’s) on a Custom Joywrap you can use for years to come.

5. Learn new ways to wrap presents

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m a gift-wrapping novice. My go-to strategies involves gift bags, sloppy bows and lots of tape. But Google and YouTube are invaluable resources, and I’m slowly stepping up my game. This year, I might even try to wrap presents without tape, either following Martha Stewart’s method or the WikiHow. Honestly, there are so many tips and tricks out there, but I could barely manage to fold cool napkin shapes for Thanksgiving … so we’ll see how this all turns out.

I’ve also seen hacks for using gift bags but no tissue paper. You could easily search these up, too, but all you basically need to do is pop each string through the opposite hole – so the bag seals itself when you pull the strings tight. Even if the “new way” you learn is how to wrap presents zero-waste, you’re already on the right track! Wrapping presents with fabric, newspaper and reusable alternatives can take time to master, but you still have 10 days until Santa gets here! Now if only we had elves to help us

6. Opt for gifts you don’t need to wrap

I’m not quite ready to try this one with my young nieces and nephews, but the grown-ups on your list probably won’t mind if you skip the wrapping! if you picked up gifts from small businesses or local makers, they might have already come beautifully packaged – and in a year marked by separation and online shopping, you could have gifts sent directly to a recipient instead of coming to you first. That’s what my Canadian parents did with their presents for me and my husband, since we’re waiting out the pandemic in Philadelphia.

READ MORE: How to support small businesses

Many gift sets, collections and kits already come wrapped – or at least packaged. Think about it this way: if you’re treating someone to jewellery, do you really need to gift-wrap the box? And not to toot out own horn too much here, but we’re sort of experts in the arena of pre-wrapped gifts. Our Wellness Tea Gift Box and the Body-Care Wellness Gift Box already come in reusable boxes.

If you buy one for yourself, you’ll see what I mean. They come packed with either tea or body-care essentials, and you can store all your goodies in the box – which then collapses for easy storage (and reuse) later on. And if you have other eco-friendly ways to wrap Christmas presents, let us know in the comments!

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