Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas

Looking for sustainable gift wrap alternatives? Our creative zero waste gift-wrapping ideas will help you make a lasting impression without trashing the planet.

You have some thoughtful gifts to offer your loved-ones, but you aren’t so fond of the single-use plastic packaging, tape, ribbons, bells, and whistles? We feel you. It’s possible to forego wasteful packaging practices with some simple zero waste gift wrapping ideas.

The Problem:

Typical wrapping paper is laminated, which means the vast majority of the time it can’t be recycled. In fact, if you mix your non-recyclable wrapping paper in with your other recyclables, the whole batch of paper is contaminated and will likely get thrown out. Whoops.

Wrapping paper is no small problem. Every year, 2.3 million lbs. of wrapping paper ends up in the landfill in the States alone. If every U.S. family reused its wrapping paper to wrap just 3 gifts this year, the paper saved would cover 45,000 football fields. The good news is: it’s easier than you’d think to break free of wasteful packaging.   

The Solution:

Here are some zero waste gift-wrapping ideas that won’t trash the planet, and that you can feel good about!

#1 Zero Waste Gift-Wrapping Idea: Save & Reuse Packaging Materials

In my mom and mother-in-law’s house, there’s a stash of festive Christmas boxes and bags that gets swapped between family members and reused year after year. This drastically reduces the paper wrapping because folks just pop the unwrapped gifts straight into the bag or box with a colorful reused tissue paper on top to cover it.

Outside of this reuse circle within my family, I generally kindly request from friends that they not wrap my gifts at all, or encourage them to reuse last year’s packaging. Despite this, I have received my fair share of brand new wrapping materials throughout my lifetime. When this occurs, I salvage as much of the packaging material as I can (ribbons, bows, sachet, wrapping paper) and store it all in my crafts drawer for reuse. I also mention to the person offering me this present how I will reuse this beautiful packaging in the future.

Hot tip: When I reuse gift packaging, I am intentional about gifting it to someone I am confident will either reuse it themselves, or at least recycle or compost it (when possible). The idea is that the gift-wrapping stays in circulation rather than get sent to the dump unnecessarily or prematurely.

Wrapping with your stash of pre-used materials:

Wrapping:

  1.   Cardboard boxes
  2. Gift bags
  3. Gift sachets
  4. Gift boxes
  5. Jewelry boxes
  6. Tissue paper

Tying: bows, ribbons (skip the tape)

Decoration: gift tags

Protection: crinkle paper, packaging peanuts, bubble wrapping

#2 Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Idea: Reuse Scrap Materials

I recently moved overseas, so I no longer have my stash of reusable gift boxes and bags. It forced me to ask myself what items I already had on hand to wrap my gifts with.

Our no-junk mail sign has worked very well, so there’s been no spare newspaper or magazines to use. However, we generally do have a couple back-up compostable paper grocery bags to use. That, paired with some twine does the trick! (If you’re all out of materials, head on over to the thrift shop to see what you can salvage.)

Scrap materials you can reuse as wrapping:

Wrapping:

  1. Newspaper
  2. Scrap paper
  3. Scrap fabric
  4. Paper grocery bags

Tying: yarn, colorful threads, clothespins, safety pins, twine

Protection: scrap fabric, scrap towels

#3 Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Idea: Wrap your gift in a gift

Wrap your gift in another gift that your loved-one will be sure to use! This is the perfectly sneaky gift-wrapping idea for folks who you suspect might throw out your reusable, compostable, or recyclable packaging in the trash. 😉

This year, I am gifting my father and sister reusable produce bags, among other gifts. I simply put their gifts in the reusable bags. Tada!

Gifts you can use to wrap your other gift:

Wrapping:

  1.   Hand-knit scarf or hat
  2. Socks
  3. Travel towel
  4. Bamboo placemats
  5. Shirt or dress
  6. Custom pillow case
  7.   Mason jar
  8. Tote bag
  9. Produce bag
  10.   Reusable food containers
  11. Cloth napkin or cloth handkerchief

Tying: when using fabric, simply tie a knot to secure

# 4 Zero Waste Gift Wrapping Idea: Let’s decorate!

Ready to snazz up your wrapping? If you’ve saved ribbons, bows, and gift tags to reuse them, these would work great. However, I suggest only wrapping gifts with these for people who, in turn, will also reuse these!

My favorite idea is using natural decorations tied with twine or a wooden clothespin. You can dehydrate orange slices in your oven for several hours, for example (be mindful about energy use by doing your cookie-baking or veggie-roasting at the same time). Another idea is attaching sprigs of rosemary, thyme, or whatever you may be growing at home. You can also go foraging for pinecones or pine needles!

If you’re talented in origami, consider using scrap paper to make an origami decoration on the packaging.

Zero waste decoration ideas:

Decorations:

  1.   Dehydrated orange slices
  2. Rosemary or thyme sprigs
  3. Pinecones or pine needles
  4. Origami with scrap paper
  5. Reuse bow ties, greeting cards, gift tags, ribbons (gift to folk who will reuse this themselves, too)

Tying: twine, wooden clothespin

That’s it for our zero waste gift-wrapping ideas! (Although you might enjoy how to make homemade bottle toppers!) Will you be trying any of these out this year? Are there other ideas that you are fond us? Tell us in the comments below!

And if you want to skip the packaging altogether, check out our 40+ Zero Waste Gift Ideas that Aren’t Stuff.

Would you like to learn more about zero waste living? Be sure to join the 1,100+ students who have already signed up for our FREE video class on Zero Waste Living.

Warmly,

Christelle & Cristina

Permaculture principles applied:

Apply Self Regulation and Accept Feedback – Our addiction to single-use plastics (laminated wrapping paper included!) is damaging the health of our planet. By switching to zero waste gift wrapping, we are avoiding the unnecessary waste associated to offering gifts.

Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services – A plastic-laminated ribbon will takes years to break down in our landfills and may even accidentally end up in our waterways. Twine is made with non-toxic renewable material that will degrade naturally when exposed to the elements.  

Produce No Waste – Value the resources that you already have in your home to wrap your gifts. Get creative and resourceful with these zero waste gift wrapping ideas to stop wasteful practices around gift-giving.

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2 Comments

  1. Sarah

    I am just venturing into the zero waste movement. I thought of it recently for a friend’s baby shower and used the crib sheet and blanket I bought her to wrap her other gifts. Now, at Christmas time, the main thing on my mind has been greeting cards. My husband and I never send any out, but we receive dozens from loved ones each year. Many are just a social nicety and having nothing more inside than a signed name. I strung them up this year to decorate with like garland, but I am wondering if I could reuse or recycle them in another way. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Cristina

      Hi Sarah, 🙂
      Strung them up as decoration it’s a great idea!
      For the cards of just one signature, what I did last year, it’s saved them so I could use them this year. I use them to write meaningful cards to my closest friends and family. Also, you can make a fun message pointing out that it’s a reused card. Other options:
      – Save them as scrap paper, so you can later use them for art projects with kids, templates shapes (ex. sewing templates) or origami,
      – Cut them on rectangles and use them as Christmas gifts tags,
      – Cut the Christmas figures and use them to decorate your Christmas photo album or your house.
      – Finally, some stores like The Scrap Exchange, accept these cards as donations as they use them on crafting projects.
      We have a great Pinterest board where we pin many ideas for recycling crafts: https://www.pinterest.com/permacrafters/crafts-recycle/
      Let us know what you end up doing!

      Reply

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