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Your Guide to the Least and Most Sustainable Holiday Wrapping Paper

The holidays are in full swing. It’s likely that somewhere in a closet, under a bed, or in your own super secret hiding spot - you have some holiday gifts that you haven’t wrapped yet. With more people turning to sustainable solutions, you may find yourself wondering, “What is the best option for sustainable gift wrapping this holiday season?”

We’re here to tell you that the answer is complicated. The material the item is made of, how many times you can use it, and what happens to it when you’re finished with it play a role in how sustainable a gift wrap is.

We’ve curated a list of holiday wrapping ideas from least to most sustainable. We know that the holidays are an expensive and stressful time. Our hope is that this list gives you plenty of options to pick a more eco-friendly wrapping paper than you might have.

Knowledge is power. Let’s get wrapping!

Un-Sustainable Gift Wraps to Avoid

  • Glittery Wrapping Paper
  • Glossy Wrapping Paper
  • Glittery & Glossy Gift Bags

Glossy, Glittery Gift Wrap 

Glossy Gift Wrap

If you have to go to a department store for your wrapping paper, we have two things that you should avoid at all costs. Stay away from glitter, and stay away from the glossy stuff. There’s someone, somewhere in a bedazzled jacket who just exited out of our blog post, but hear us out on this. At the end of the day, glittery and the glossy finished wrapping paper aren’t recyclable. You will be purchasing something that’s a single-use item and that can only go to landfills. Not to mention, glitter has a really negative effect on our environment.

So, if you do have to make a last-minute stop at a department store to get some wrapping paper, stay away from gloss and glitter. 

Glossy, Glittery Gift Bags

A small step up from the glossy, glitter wrapping paper are glossy, glittery bags. These gift bags are a bit more environmentally friendly because they are reusable. Each year, 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper goes to landfills. Choosing a bag over wrapping paper can combat some of that waste. 

So, don’t stick that to/from sticker to the bag itself. Or better yet, avoid the sticker altogether! Create a tag that’s easy to remove so others can reuse the bag.

Sustainable Single-Use Gift Wrapping Options

The following are what we like to call “good, not great.” These gift wraps are more sustainable than the previously mentioned options. They can also be a good substitute if you’re trying to move away from unsustainable materials but aren’t ready to give up wrapping paper. These eco-friendly gift wraps are single-use, which often makes them less sustainable than a reusable product.  

  • Plain Brown and White Paper
  • Single-Use Thrift Store Gift Wrapping
  • Newspapers
  • Recyclable Wrapping Paper
  • Etsy Eco-friendly Wrapping Paper

Plain Brown and White Paper

Recycled Paper Gift Wrapping & Twine

If you need to pick up a gift from a craft store, you can grab some plain brown and white paper while you’re there. By using plain paper for your gift wrap, you open yourself up to a world of opportunities when it comes to style of wrapping! Especially if you’re an artist (or if you just like to create.) You can create custom wrapping paper with stamps or sustainable decorations. It’s also a good idea to select paper that’s been Forest Stewardship Council Certified (FSC). The FSC’s mission is to promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically valuable management of the world’s forest. 

The downside to plain paper is that it will likely only be used once (unless you’re a really good artist, or your mom still puts everything you create on the fridge.) Then, it will head to recycling. But if you want something reminiscent of wrapping paper, plain paper can be a good substitution.

Single-Use Thrift Store Gift Wrap

If you’re not scrambling at 10 PM on Christmas Eve to finish your wrapping, plan a trip to the thrift store to find some items you could use as gift wrap. We love the idea of wrapping gifts in old maps and large book pages. 

The reason this isn’t a more sustainable option is because unfortunately, this type of thrift store repurposed gift wrap is single-use. After Christmas, it’s off to landfills or the recycling bin. But, this can be a fun, unique option if you’re looking for one-of-a-kind gift wrapping materials.

Wrapping Your Gifts in Newspaper

What was once maybe taboo is making a rather fashionable comeback! Wrapping your gifts in newspaper is a much more eco-friendly last-minute option than buying single-use wrapping paper. After the present is open, set the newspaper aside for recycling. In fact, newspapers are one of the most recyclable papers out there, which makes them great for gift wrapping! 

Be careful which articles you pick to wrap the gifts in. The last thing you want is grandma unwrapping her gifts covered in the obituary section.

Recyclable Wrapping Paper

If you’re looking for recycled wrapping paper, be sure you check out Wrappily. There are a few things we love about this business. First, they print their gift wrap at local newspaper presses, thus creating a new way to use printing presses. Second, they have a lot of great colors and designs to pick from. Finally, they print all their wrapping paper on recycled newspaper. 

The biggest downside to Wrappily is that they’re still creating a single-use item. Once you’re done with the wrapping paper, it goes to recycling. If you need to use wrapping paper, this could be a good option. But we have more sustainable options to come!

Etsy Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper

If you’re dying to use wrapping paper, even though it’s single-use, we recommend shopping for wrapping paper at local and small businesses. Etsy can be a great place to do this! There are lots of sustainable and eco-friendly wrapping paper options. We recommend also trying to find someone local to your area. Regardless of how close the seller is, Etsy will offset your carbon footprint for shipping. This makes Etsy a much more sustainable option than many other stores! Here are three gift wraps that we liked. 

The Best and Most Sustainable Gift Wrap Options

If you’re ready for your holiday wrapping paper to make a minimal to non-existent impact, you have some great options. Here are our recommendations for the most eco-friendly and sustainable gift wrapping paper:

  • Plantable Gift Wrap
  • Reusable Bags (Made of Sustainable Materials)
  • Tea or Kitchen Towel
  • Scarf
  • Furoshiki (Wrapping Cloth)

Plantable Gift Wrap

We love using seed paper to wrap gifts. Not only will your gifts look stunning, you’ll also be giving someone the gift of flowers or herbs in the months to come. Once the gift is unwrapped, set the paper to the side until the spring. If you’re in a warm climate, you can plant the paper immediately. The paper will compost in the soil, and the seeds will germinate and grow. We recommend finding a seed option that is local to your ecosystem if possible. 

Reusable Bags (Made of Sustainable Materials)

We recommend reusable bags made of sustainable material over compostable or biodegradable gift-wrapping or bags for one big reason. Reusable gift bags are reusable. Especially when they’re made of good quality material, like 100% organic cotton, hemp, or jute. These materials can be used many times and are compostable at the end of their life cycle. Reusable gift bags are also practical as bags for everyday life. The reality is, when you give someone a reusable gift bag, you’re actually giving them multiple gifts they can use throughout their life!

Tea or Kitchen Towels

Tea or kitchen towels are great options for an alternative sustainable gift wrap. Not only does this fabric conceal your gift, but it also comes in many fun colors, prints, and patterns. Once it’s done acting as wrapping paper, it can be used in your loved one’s home. They won’t only enjoy the gift you gave them, but they’ll think of you too when they use this towel. Be sure to shop for a sustainable towel that doesn’t include polyester. We recommend 100% natural cotton, or hemp, like for reusable bags! 

Scarfs

Are you seeing a theme here? The scarf is another great sustainable wrapping paper alternative. Like the towel, it too operates as a double gift for your loved one. Scarves come in many patterns, like towels, and are reusable for wrapping another present or keeping your loved one’s neck warm. Like the towels, be sure to buy a scarf made of sustainable material.

Wrapping Cloth

Furoshiki is a square piece of fabric or cloth used for gift wrapping, transporting items, and home decor. Translated from Japanese, furo means bath andshiki means spread. This craft originated in 710 B.C. in Japan. Furoshikis come in a variety of different sizes, but they are all square. There are many unique ways to wrap a gift with furoshiki, here’s a link to a couple of options. Again, be sure to select a sustainable, reusable cloth, like the ones on Wrappr!

The Final Touches for Sustainable Gift Wrapping 

Finish off your sustainable gift wrapping with the best eco-friendly finishings. First, avoid plastic tape if at all possible. Instead check out tape like the Kraft Gummed Paper Tape. It is completely compostable and recyclable as it’s made of paper. Keep in mind that if you’ve decided to buy Furoshiki wraps - there’s no tape needed! 

Use biodegradable or compostable decorations on top of your packages. Some fun winter-inspired decor can look like seed paper snowflakes, dried oranges, pine tree limbs, or cinnamon sticks. 

Avoid the sticker labels. If you’re going above and beyond to wrap a gift sustainably, don’t ruin it with a single-use, glossy, partially plastic sticker. 

Skip the plastic ribbons! We recommend investing in fabric ribbons, twine, or yarn. Many of these options are reusable and are compostable at the end of their life cycle. You can also purchase paper bows made by Wrappily.

The truth is, there aren’t a lot of great options for a true eco-friendly or zero waste wrapping paper that is just that… paper. Some are better than others, but it’s time we rethink the way we wrap our gifts. Especially given so many innovative and beautiful wrapping paper alternatives! With that being said, we hope this helps you make a more sustainable gift wrapping decision, even if you’re not ready to make the most sustainable decision yet. With a little time and a bit of an investment, you can create a more sustainable holiday season.

Henry Palmer

Founder of Lochtree

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