Adopt These New Holiday Wrapping Habits

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor
Wrapping Supplies

The holidays conjure up glorious images of cheerful mail deliveries, piles of freshly addressed holiday cards, and brown paper packages tied up with string, or, more accurately, festoons of sparkly plastic ribbon.

Sadly, all of that pretty paper, ribbon, and tape has to go somewhere, and it’s not the recycling bin or the compost heap. Instead, it’s just a whole lot of waste. During the holidays, Americans produce roughly 1 million extra tons of garbage per week, says Stanford University, adding some super-scary holiday waste statistics:

“If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.”

Okay, so you’re convinced, right? Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to be merry and bright without all that waste.

Wrap with Reusables

Wrapped Present

Get creative with reusable materials to wrap gifts this holiday | image: erika g/Flickr

Firstly, you’ve got to wean yourself from that wrapping paper addiction. That doesn’t mean you can’t wrap presents. Personally, I love sitting down to wrap a pile of gifts, but before I break into a new roll of gift wrap, I always look for greener alternatives first:

  • Wrapping paper scraps
  • Old tissue paper (which looks fabulously crumpled when wrapped around a book, say)
  • Newsprint
  • Other paper products (think cheerful magazine pages for smaller gifts)
  • Cut-open brown grocery bags decorated with this tutorial (just don’t buy kraft paper for the project)

I also love the ideas here about using maps or handkerchiefs as reusable wrapping paper. Mason jars and small brown paper bags are also great. Just be sure to stay away from ideas that have you buy these products in order to use them…that sort of defeats the whole reuse thing, right?

Wrap Less

Of course, you can just wrap fewer items. I’m surprised by how many people think they need to wrap presents for babies. They are babies. Just throw a bow on that book and toss it under the tree, peeps. This goes for many adults as well. If you’ve asked what somebody wants, why wrap it? There’s no point wasting when the surprise is already “ruined”…in a good way, of course.

I also like bags. There are some gift bags that have been in my family for quite literally two decades. I am not kidding. There are a few, in particular, we all love, and always fight over taking home for the next holiday. Bags and tissue paper can be reused pretty much indefinitely if you don’t use tape on either, so I try always to close the package up by tying the straps in a bow.

Here are some other great ideas for repurposed gift wrap, if you’re into that kind of thing. (Spoiler alert: I AM.)

Reuse Cards


Don’t forget to keep those cards and reuse the sides that have not been written on! | image: liz west/Flickr

I’m not sure who ever decided cards could only have a message on the right inside panel. However, when it comes to reusing them, this convention is actually useful, because it leaves the panel behind the front image blank. I take all the cards I get for the holidays (or birthdays) and chop off the right panel (when the card is open and the front is facedown), then write a new message on the back of the image. Boom. One-sided card. You’re welcome, Mother Earth.

I myself do not send out mass holiday cards, so it’s not an issue for me, but if I did, I would just save all my cards from last year and give them the chop treatment. I do save any and all ribbons, bows, bags, gently used wrapping paper and tissue, packing peanuts, and so forth. It not only reduces waste, it actually saves me a good bit of money.

And I’ll admit, I do keep a roll of wrapping paper on hand. But thanks to the above strategies, I use it less than you’d think. Join me in the wrapping revolution!

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.