Sustainable Alternatives To Wrapping Paper: Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap Ideas

You might be well on your way to celebrating the holidays in an eco-friendly way, but how much thought have you given to how you’ll wrap the gifts you give?  Wrapping paper is one of the most wasteful aspects of the holidays…wrapping paper is one use and comes from our precious trees.  Unfortunately, the fibers in the paper and the ink used often make it unrecyclable at facilities (although you can of course reuse it yourself!)  The solution?  Wrap your gifts in reusable materials instead of paper.

How to Wrap Gifts the Sustainable Way

If each family in the U.S. wrapped three presents in reusable materials instead of new wrapping paper, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields!  It also saves money: In 2010, gift wrap sales totaled $9.36 billion in the U.S.  Imagine if you wrapped ALL of your gifts in reusable materials…and encouraged your friends and family to do the same.  (Turn it into a contest…whoever has the most creative eco-friendly wrapping job wins a prize!)  In addition to using the materials listed below, you can use fabric, reusable ribbon instead of wasteful plastic ribbon: if every family in the U.S. reused just two feet of ribbon, it would save 38,000 miles worth of ribbon—enough to tie a bow around the entire planet.  You can also decorate the gifts with other items, like pinecones, herbs, or holiday-shaped cutouts you make yourself from old cardboard or paper.  You can include a stick of palo santo as part of the gift, or a twig of pine tree and some holly berries.  Get creative!

If you’re stumped for ideas of what to use if you’re ruling out those shiny green and red premade rolls of paper, look no further: here’s a list of alternatives to wrapping paper, and they’re all eco-friendly!

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

  • newspapers
  • maps
  • magazines
  • brown paper bags
  • books
  • sheet music
  • old shopping bags
  • scarves
  • handkerchiefs
  • comics
  • pillowcases
  • bandanas
  • posters
  • dish towels or hand towels
  • banana leaves
  • elephant ear leaves
  • reusable shopping bags (the recipient can use them for grocery trips)
  • decorative tins
  • baskets
  • boxes (you can decorate them with markers or stamps)
  • old clothes
  • pages from a phone book
  • blueprints


More Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday

Give durable, long-lasting gifts, consumable gifts, or experiential gifts instead of “fast fashion” or “fad” gifts that will end up in the landfill.

Give gifts that keep the health of the planet in mind (check our holistic gift guides for ideas!).  Things like a thermos, reusable shopping bags, or healthy, sustainable candles make good gifts for almost anyone.  You could also thrift your gifts to cut down on landfill waste.

Make your gifts in addition to your wrapping paper!  Try foods like cookies or jams, beauty products like scrubs or lotions, or creative nature-based crafts.

If you send holiday cards, look for recycled ones…or consider switching to electronic versions.  If you have a few friends or family members who aren’t “online” yet, you can limit your paper card list to them and give everyone else electronic greetings to save trees (and the cost of stamps).  In the U.S., enough holiday cards are sold each year to fill a football field ten stories high.  Help make a dent in this statistic.

If you receive gifts wrapped in traditional paper, unwrap them carefully so you can save and reuse the paper next year.

Make it easy for guests to recycle when you host holiday parties or overnight guests.

If you opt for a live tree, make sure to compost it.