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Wrapping Paper Isn’t Recyclable: 10 Sustainable Gift Wrap Ideas

Someone tying up a package with twine

During the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s), people in the U.S. toss 25 percent more trash than they do during the rest of the year. And trying to stuff all that torn-up wrapping paper into your recycling bin won’t help: Wrapping paper is just one of many surprising items you typically can’t recycle.

Part of the joy of any gift-oriented holiday is the chance to enthusiastically tear into a beautifully wrapped present. But you can get that same feeling without contributing more wrapping paper to the landfill. You just need to switch to something more sustainable.

Need some creative new ways to package up gifts this year? We’ve got you covered—here are our ten favorite earth-friendly gift wrap alternatives.

Paper Grocery Bags

If you need a simple, fun, rustic-looking solution, all those paper grocery bags you’ve been accumulating under your sink can actually make for good gift wrap—especially if you have young kids.

Cut open the bags and turn them inside-out if needed, so the store logos aren’t visible. Then, decorate the bags (this is a great place to enlist your kids). You can use Christmas-themed rubber stamps, trace cookie cutters with markers, or just let the kids free-form draw on the bags. You can also jot a handwritten note on the paper once the gift is wrapped for a personal touch.

Old Newspapers

Old newspapers are a classic gift wrap stand-in in a pinch. To class the idea up a bit, save the most interesting news pages throughout the year and use those as your gift wrap. A funny headline can definitely make opening a gift feel more personal and interesting. The comics pages are also ideal for wrapping presents.

Fabric, Scarves, and Old Shirts

If you’re the crafty type, you might have old scraps of fabric lying around. Instead of throwing them out, why not use them to wrap gifts with instead?

You can also use large, square scarves, oversized t-shirts, reusable bags, cute dish towels, or other fabric items to wrap gifts. The wrapping can even become part of the gift. Get creative next time you clean out your closet or visit the thrift store, and think about which fabric items you could repurpose as gift wrap.


If you want the packaging to double as a gift, a basket is another good choice. You can often find nice-looking baskets at the thrift store. Then, once the holidays are over, that basket can find a useful home holding magazines, toiletries, or anything else the recipient wants to use it for.

Fancy Jars and Tins

When you need to wrap up a small item, consider using a fancy jar or tin, like the ones that high-end tea leaves or candy come in. These pretty containers often don’t need anything more than a bow to make them look giftable. You might want to designate a kitchen cupboard or another part of your house to stash potential gift containers throughout the year.

Mason jars can also make nice, reusable gift packaging options, especially if the gift is for someone crafty: There are countless ways to use them in the home.

Old, Saved Packaging

We all know that online shopping often isn’t ideal for the environment, but it’s just not realistic for most people to avoid it altogether. However, you can make your online purchases a little more sustainable by saving the packaging to use as gift wrap.

Many companies send items in attractive boxes, nested in pretty tissue paper, or otherwise neatly packaged. Stash the best-looking packaging you get, then repurpose it for the holidays.

This same idea works with gifts you receive from other people. If it came in a gift bag, tied with a bow, or otherwise wrapped in something reusable, keep those items and use them again.

Vintage Maps

Remember those big, fold-out maps everyone used to pick up at the gas station in the age before smartphones? If you’re of a certain demographic, you might still have some of those old maps sitting in a drawer somewhere. They make for some really cool-looking wrapping paper.

Plain Paper

At the craft store, you can easily find large swaths of solid-colored, recyclable paper. This makes a chic canvas for minimalist gift wrap—or you can draw or write your own decorations on it to personalize it.

Sustainable Wrapping Paper

If you’re really attached to the idea of conventional wrapping paper, you can still shop around for a sustainable version of it.

Wrapping paper that’s shiny, glittery, metallic, or textured can’t be recycled. However, you can sometimes find unlaminated or pre-recycled wrapping paper that’s recyclable. Etsy is a good place to look for options.

Trinkets and Greenery

Bows and ribbons often aren’t recyclable either. Unless you already have some old ones you can reuse, finding sustainable replacements for these items can be a challenge.

One of the easiest solutions is to trim a bit of greenery from an evergreen tree for a classy touch. However, you can also replace a bow with just about any small trinket: Brooches and old Christmas ornaments both tend to work well. Or, use a piece of scrap fabric or a thin scarf to make a ribbon or bow.

Of course, if you have rolls of wrapping paper sitting around your house already, you might as well use them. But we’d encourage you to try to salvage the paper and reuse it once the holidays end if you can. In the modern world, it’s virtually impossible to avoid contributing to landfills entirely. But doing what you can to minimize it can make the holidays feel even more joyful.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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