5 Eco-Friendly Ways To Wrap Your Presents This Holiday Season

There's nothing quite like tearing open a pristinely wrapped present — the satisfying rrrriiiiiipppp of the paper, the excitement of guessing what treasure lays inside. But behind all that joy is a terrifying amount of trash. According to Popular Science, each year Americans toss out 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper, much of which contains plastics rendering it non-recyclable.

Living a low-impact life doesn't mean you have to give up wrapping gifts — and certainly not presents. However, an eco-friendly lifestyle does ask you to consider the waste you create when you do give gifts. Wrapping paper is a $7 billion industry in the United States alone (via Popular Science), and buying new wrapping paper that quickly ends up in a landfill only adds to the problem. By 2025, 10% of greenhouse gas emissions will come from landfills (via Active Sustainability), meaning that the wrapping paper you toss out on Christmas morning might actually help contribute to global warming — not so merry after all.

But don't despair! There are plenty of great alternatives to traditional wrapping paper that provide your gift's recipient with the same thrill of the present while also treading lightly on the planet we all share. Here are a few of our favorites.

Reuse your old wrapping paper

Many of us save beautiful wrapping paper we've received as gifts. Why not return the generosity and repurpose what you've already got to give to someone else? The best part is that you're absolutely not limited to wrapping paper to ensconce your gifts. Just about any material can become an Earth-friendly way to share your love.

Forget your reusable cotton shopping bags at the grocery store and have a few brown paper bags on hand? Flip the bags inside and paint yourself some truly custom wrapping paper — a gift as special as whatever goody is inside. Borrow this resourceful and creative idea from Kristen Hubert of Upcycle My Stuff: She took a random empty box bottom and created a custom gift box for her son using old tissue paper and a pair of her husband's pajama bottoms that had outworn their wear. The final product is a beautiful gift box sure to be remembered as much as the present itself. 

That non-recyclable foil plastic bag of potato chips? The glossy pages of a high-end fashion magazine? Tiffany Threadgould's ReMake It tutorial on Instructables turns items otherwise destined for the landfill into truly unique and special wrapping for any occasion. When you repurpose paper, the 1.5 degree temperature rise is the limit!

Donate while you wrap with Giftiply

If propriety and aesthetics simply won't allow you to raid your recycling bin for gift wrap, consider buying wrapping paper from Giftiply – a company connecting non-profits, artists, and sustainability. With each 25-square foot flat pack of wrapping paper, Giftiply donates 33% of the purchase price to charities. Their fetching, 100% recyclable, high-quality wrapping paper features designs by artists with proceeds benefiting national non-profits including Be The Match, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, and Best Friends. Giftiply's diverse and talented group of artists bring delight to their work — and it shows in these charming, better-for-the-environment alternatives to traditional rolls from the store.

This boutique wrapping paper will absolutely stand out under a tree or stacked up on a table. Choose from holiday-themed illustrations; evergreen patterns like lemons, recess, and wildlife; and a true piece of the zeitgeist: Emoji Winter Wonderland. Plus, your recipients can then reuse Giftiply's gorgeous designs until they're ready to be properly recycled. (And, thankfully, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that about 68% of all paper is recycled — the highest percentage of all solid municipal waste).

Turn your gift bag into a digital card with Tokki

Love the ease of a gift bag but hate the fact that tissue paper is not recyclable? Well, so do the inventors of Tokki – a beautiful, sustainable bag made from three recycled water bottles, a snap close top, and a shareable QR greeting card you can customize for your recipient. Send a bag of cookies with a video explaining the recipe to your family across the country. Give swag from a concert with a link to a Spotify playlist to a friend. The possibilities are endless!

Haunted by visions of "used, crinkly, glitter-full Santa paper rolling like tumbleweeds across a desolate wasteland of trash," the women behind Tokki, which means "rabbit" in Korean, wanted to create a new gift wrapping tradition that could "hop" from recipient to recipient, eventually traversing the world in a virtuous cycle of reuse. For those reusing the paper they still have, Tokki even offers QR bows that can be attached to any gift for any occasion. Based on their estimates, if Americans used a Tokki gift bag for just one out of three gifts, this year alone we could prevent 45,000 football fields' worth of paper from winding up in landfills (via Tokki). What a fun and simple way to show those you love exactly how you feel and help reduce waste.

Find ritual in the art of furoshiki

If you've got more trash bound clothing than you have trash bound wrapping paper, you might look into the traditional art of Japanese fabric wrapping called furoshiki. Home organization phenom Marie Kondo writes on her blog that the word furoshiki means "bath" (furo-) and "something to spread out" (-shiki) — a connection to Japanese bath culture where people bring everything they need to the spa in large, square cloths they use as both carrying totes and changing spaces in the dressing rooms. 

As wrapping for presents, furoshiki can also embrace just about any gift you want to give. Like many parts of Japanese life, furoshiki is more than just a way to make a present a gift; it's an opportunity to consider the person for whom the gift is intended. There's no right or wrong way to tie your present. Simply still your mind and let your hands do the rest.

Practicing furoshiki with fabric whose original form is no longer useful is a truly sustainable act of gift giving. In 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that less than 15% of all textiles were recycled, including clothes, shoes, rags, sheets, and pillowcases. Those items could easily become furoshiki with true eco-consciousness tied into the gift. What's more mindful than that?

Forget the wrapping – gift an experience

If you find yourself feeling disappointed at the idea that gift wrapping is a relic of the carbon intensive past, that's understandable. Our brains love surprises (via Popular Science). When a gift is wrapped, the reward system in the brain triggers a release of dopamine. The pleasurable tingle you feel with ASMR also happens in anticipation of what's inside that box or bag, and the anticipation alone is often times better than the gift itself.

You can create anticipation for your experience gift in a number of ways that don't require hoards of paper to be printed, shipped, wrapped, and trashed year after year. Family Favorites came up with 13 unique ways including classics like a scavenger hunt, handmade gift certificates, or even a tool your recipient might need for the experience (like ballet slippers for dance classes, a soccer ball for the soccer team, or even a new suitcase — for the adventure you're about to embark upon!). Tap into your creativity to find the meaning behind your experience gift, and you'll find a fun, heartfelt way to bring the excitement of tearing open a present into a wholly sustainable gift giving experience.