The Four R’s of Gift Wrapping


Tis’ the season for sharing. It’s also the season for giving gifts and that means gift wrap. Lots of gift wrap. Tons and tons of gift wrap. Americans generate an additional 5 million tons of waste during the holidays, and according to the Clean Air Council four million tons of this is wrapping paper and shopping bags. Fortunately there are fun and festive ways you can make a difference by generating less waste. Just remember the 4 Rs of Sustainability — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rethink — this holiday season.

Using less wrap and ribbons to decorate your packages means that there is less to throw away later. Consider a simpler wrap or even a plain paper wrap decorated with gift-themed accessories. For the pet lover on your list, wrap a funny book about dogs with plain recyclable paper and sub out ribbons for a fairly traded or hemp dog collar.

Wrapping paper can be so much more than the snowman-print stuff on the roll. Get creative and try making your own custom wrappers using what you have on hand. Last week’s newspapers, old magazines or brown paper cut from grocery bags make a perfect beginning for an artful wrapper.

If your child is a particularly prolific artist, lesser works that don’t make the fridge make distinctive gift wrap. One caveat: don’t forget to get the artist’s permission first. There is nothing less holly-jolly than an affronted artist’s attempt to reclaim the wrap from the gift you just presented to great-grandma.

Most of us have a few decorative gift bags hanging around from gifts we received in prior years. If so, these can and should be reused. They’re not typically recyclable because of the metallic bits and coated paper but they are so durable that as long as it doesn’t get too mangled by an overzealous recipient, a decorative gift bag can have a useful life of many years.

If you choose traditional wrapping paper, try to select one containing recycled content. Then, when the festivities are over, recycle what you can but proceed with caution. It is important to check your community’s recycling guidelines; follow this link to see the Phoenix guidelines as an example. When you check the requirements first, you can be sure what you put in the bin will not cause more damage than good. Glossy and metallic papers are usually not recyclable and tape can interfere with recycling equipment. Cellophane and plastic films are rarely recyclable in curbside bins. If your community doesn’t list something as an acceptable material and you can’t find a way to reuse it, it is better to landfill a wad of wrapping paper than contaminate an entire load of recycling and break the equipment.

Skip the box and paper altogether in favor of gift baskets, a reusable shopping tote or furoshiki, which is the Japanese style of wrapping gifts in fabric. There’s a perfect furoshiki tutorial on the Etsy blog. Packaging homemade treasures in a reusable bag makes a gift-within-a-gift. Your favorite culinarian will appreciate a bamboo salt box and fancy salt wrapped in a useful tea towel.

Consider giving gifts that don’t require wrapping. The gift of an experience, service or charitable donation not only reduces the wrapping paper burden but dampens the out-of-control consumption that can so easily carry us away at this time of year.

In the end, no matter what you give or how you wrap it, it will be good. When it comes to sustainability, it really is the thought that counts. When we think about our options, we have the option to make subtle smart changes. Those small changes combine to make a big difference – a cleaner, safer, healthier Earth. That’s the best holiday gift, no matter how you wrap it.

What are some of your ideas for “greening” the holidays? The Wilderness Girls love your tips and tricks, so please post them in the comments below.

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