Did you know?
According to Mother Earth News, each year, around 8,000 tons of wrapping paper is used for gift wrapping in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of paper waste for a few fleeting moments of holiday cheer!
We can still have that cheer and be conscious of the planet we live on. We just have to tweak our materials and change our thinking a bit. Here’s how!
- How to Have a Happier Holiday with Less Waste (And probably save money, too!)
- 1. Wrap in compostable materials
- 2. Reduce wrapping and packaging
- 3. Use shredded paper as padding and filler
- 4. Shred and compost holiday waste
- 5. Use reusable, recyclable, and up-cyclable wrapping
- 6. Tie it with an earth-friendly string
- 7. Top it off with something prettier (and more environmentally sound) than a plastic bow
- 8. Top with an eco-friendly or up-cycled tag
- 9. Give green gifts—literally!
- 10. Think before you buy
- 11. Up-Cycle Boxes, Cardboard, and Paper Waste in the Yard and Garden
- A Few Final Thoughts for A Greener Christmas and More Eco-Friendly Holidays This Year
How to Have a Happier Holiday with Less Waste (And probably save money, too!)
Simple changes to the materials we wrap and trim packages with, combined with up-cycling, recycling (compost style), reusing, and repurposing, can make your post-Christmas and holiday waste go from barrel-busting to barely there.
1. Wrap in compostable materials
Wrapping waste is a big problem. But it’s not a problem if you can reuse, upcycle, or compost the paper after you’re done with it.
The problem is that a lot of wrapping papers aren’t able to be composted or recycled. They’re often coated in shiny, waxy coatings or foils that won’t break down in a garden or compost bin. Any wrapping papers are not supposed to be put in the recycling bin, either.
Choose more natural papers to wrap your Christmas, holiday, and other gifts throughout the year.
There are some nice, eco-friendly wrapping papers on the market now.
You can also make your own and create a lovely, rustic look by using a simple roll of craft paper.
- Craft paper is available in white or brown
- It is readily available
- You can easily find kraft paper for sale online, but it is also sold in home improvement and hardware stores
- Find rolls of kraft paper in store departments such as flooring or paint departments—it's used as a floor protector for home improvement and finishing projects
- You can find eco-friendly paper rolls in garden departments, too, where it is sold as a compostable mulch (it is often more expensive than kraft paper, but still very affordable)
- Craft paper rolls have the added benefit of being much cheaper than wrapping paper, at around $10 to $15 (USD) per 100 x 1 foot roll
- You can stamp, paint or vegetable print your paper if you want to take it up a notch
- You can easily dress up packages with pretty, rustic flair by using ornaments, bows, strings, and more
2. Reduce wrapping and packaging
Does that gift really need a box and wrapping paper?
Why not just choose one or the other?
This may not be the best option for all gifts—for example, when an item comes in the box, it is packaged and sold in. But we often box clothing items and other gifts in a box before wrapping.
Unless the item will poke or cut through the paper without a box, there’s really no need to box and wrap a gift. You could just wrap it, or you could just box it.
If you don’t like the idea of putting drab-looking boxes under the tree, opt for decorative printed boxes instead. They still look nice but save an extra layer of paper and waste. And it saves you time, too!
3. Use shredded paper as padding and filler
If you have a paper shredder at home, you can use those shreds to pad packages for shipping or boxing.
The shreds also work well for padding and fillers in gift bags.
What’s even better is that after the shreds have served their purpose, they are perfect for mixing into a compost pile or using as garden mulch. Because the paper is already broken down into small pieces, they will compost and mix that much quicker.
Paper shreds are useful for many home and garden tasks, including storing fruits, vegetables, and tubers in cold storage.
If you don’t have a home paper shredder yet, you might consider asking for or getting one just because it helps you control and reuse the paper and light cardboard waste in your house. The upcycled waste has a wide range of good uses—especially for gardeners and growers!
4. Shred and compost holiday waste
While we’re on the topic of shredding, don’t forget to shred and compost or repurpose your paper wrapping waste (as long as there’s nothing in it that would make it a bad idea for the compost pile or other up-cycled use).
Again, there’s a lot you can use that shredded waste for, and you’ll keep all those bags of paper and waste out of your trash bin and out of the forests, streams, and landfills (which are filling up way too fast!).
Before you compost or recycle any kind of wrapping, plastic and cellophane tape and other non-recyclable materials, need to be removed.
5. Use reusable, recyclable, and up-cyclable wrapping
Wrapping and packaging aren’t so bad if they can be reused instead of thrown out to fill up landfills.
Instead of buying roll after roll of expensive paper wrapping, consider some of these reusable alternatives instead:
- Gift bags
- Pretty gift boxes
- Fabric bags or squares of “wrapping” that can be reused or turned into quilts or other sewing projects in the future
- Reusable shopping bags that your gift recipients can use for shopping at grocery stores, department stores, or farmers’ markets—there are many pretty prints and nice options!
6. Tie it with an earth-friendly string
Coated wrapping papers, cellophane and plastic bags, and foils are only one part of the pretty packaging problem. Another part is plasticky and coated ribbons, bows, and trimmings.
There are far more earth-friendly and reusable options for trimming your pretty packages, too!
Ribbons, strings, and twines that are made of natural fibers give you the option of both reusing them or recycling them. Natural fibers can compost like natural paper, and cardboard can, too.
String and twine can be put to good use with your houseplants and in the garden for tying up plants.
Fabric ribbons can be used in clothing, sewing, craft projects, and more. Or they can be saved for future gift wrapping!
Instead of those plastic bows and ribbons, use something made of an earth-friendlier material like
- Yarn made of natural fibers
If you can’t find these with the wrapping, look for them in different areas of the store, like the craft section, garden department, home improvement stores, or even in the baking aisle (where you’ll find food-safe and natural twine for baking and cooking).
7. Top it off with something prettier (and more environmentally sound) than a plastic bow
You don’t need to give up style to make your packages look nice. There are other things, very natural and eco-friendly things, that you can use to top off your gift trimmings.
Some ideas include:
- Pretty slices of dried citrus fruits, like orange slices, tied with string
- Sprigs of Christmas tree trimmings or evergreens
- Sprigs of natural berries
- Simple hand-tied bows from natural string
- Paper bows, flowers, or origami shapes
- Cutouts of paper Christmas trees, menorah, stars, etc.
How rustic and pretty would these trimmings be set against a pretty kraft paper package with a nice, naturally dyed yarn or string?
8. Top with an eco-friendly or up-cycled tag
Make your own tags out of eco-friendly or up-cycled materials.
Here are a few ideas:
- Paper cutouts—which you can shape and get creative with
- Cut the fronts off holiday cards and greeting cards—people don’t usually write on the inside of the card’s front, and these make beautiful gift tags!
- Use scraps of the paper you are wrapping with
- Cut and stamp tags from simple card stock
Tags don’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time, either. A simple white card stock tag written in a pretty color is a nice touch, too!
9. Give green gifts—literally!
Holiday and gift-giving waste doesn’t only come in the form of wrapping and its accessories. A lot of the waste that is generated during the holidays is born out of the obligation to buy without real thoughtfulness backing up the gift purchase.
Read: unwanted or useless gifts.
These eventually (and often sooner rather than later) end up in the landfill.
So, buy with purpose. Also, consider giving green gifts of living plants.
Some greener gift ideas are:
- Live plants
- Potted perennials
- Potting and growing supplies
- Yard and garden tools
- Indoor gardening supplies for winter gardening like sprouts, seeds, and microgreen growing supplies
10. Think before you buy
If the person on your list isn’t a gardener or doesn’t enjoy houseplants, at least put some solid thought into what they might want, need, or like to use and buy something more useful and appropriate for them so it doesn’t become one more broken toy or more discarded trash in the barrel.
Alternatives to “filler” or obligation gifts include:
- Experiences (a trip, seminar entry, movie voucher, museum ticket, etc.)
- Gift certificates
- Home cooking or healthy food delivery clubs
11. Up-Cycle Boxes, Cardboard, and Paper Waste in the Yard and Garden
When the big day comes and goes, composting all those shreds and compostable papers is an excellent way to upcycle. But there’s more that you can do with your waste!
In addition to composting kraft paper wrapping, you can put it aside to use in the garden. It’s perfect for mulching garden rows instead of durable landscape fabrics or plastics (read, “fabrics” that can’t degrade and break down).
All that cardboard can be broken down and used to make no-till garden beds and weedless gardening projects. In fact, if you don’t have snow on the ground, you can get a jump on the next gardening season and set those beds now!
These kinds of beds work by covering and smothering existing grass and weeds, and all you need to be able to do is lay the cardboard and/or paper over the area. Wet it and cover it with mulch chips or heavy layers of leaves, pine needles, or natural materials, and you can plant right through it in the spring—and not have to weed it!
(Before using up-cycled paper or cardboard for gardening and landscaping, remove plastic tape and unnatural decorations.)
An indoor winter cardboard box compost system is a great way to reuse much of this waste, too!
A Few Final Thoughts for A Greener Christmas and More Eco-Friendly Holidays This Year
With a little thought and planning, we can make gift-giving a much greener experience and one that is more in tune with nature and the world we live in.
It means making some changes, but there are ways we can do that without giving up too much or making our holiday traditions seem unrecognizable.
We can feel good about doing it, too, secure in the knowledge that we’re taking steps to reduce waste and at least make what we do use have as little impact and as small a footprint on the earth as possible.
If you can’t make all the changes this year, do what you can, and keep these tips in mind for other holidays, future Christmases, and other gift-giving times. Any small step is one in the right direction!
Though we’ve talked most specifically about Christmas, these tips and tricks all work well for holidays and gift-giving at any time of the year. Embrace a greener gift experience, and you’ll feel better about it, knowing you’re giving a gift not only to those you care about but to future generations, the earth, and all of us living on it!