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10 Eco-Friendly and Low-Waste Christmas Wrapping Hacks

By Hugo Douglas-Deane

Each Christmas we get through an estimated 227,000 miles of wrapping paper in the UK – that’s enough to wrap around the earth eight times!

Like all paper, wrapping paper is made from trees and requires an enormous amount of water to produce.

Worktop with a present wrapped with a ribbon and a pair of scissors

According to one estimate, for every ton (907kg) of paper that is recycled, 17 tree lives are spared – along with 380 gallons (1,727 litres) of oil, three cubic yards (2.29 cubic metres) of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy, and 7,000 gallons (31,822 litres) of water.

But did you know that after all of that, a lot of it isn’t even recyclable?

If your roll has added plastics, glitter, and other non-paper materials it’s best not to put it in your recycling bin.

Try the ‘Scrunch Test’: scrunch your wrapping paper into a ball and if it doesn’t immediately spring back it should be recyclable. Make sure you remove sticky tape and plastic decorations like bows and ribbons first, though.

Unfortunately, even if it scrunches, some of the cheaper wrapping paper is not strong enough to recycle, with short fibres that can’t be recycled and used again for new material.

This highlights the wider problem: we think of wrapping paper only as a single-use item. Once a present is opened, we throw the wrapping paper in the bin. Whether it’s recycled or not, there’s still an impact attached to that, from energy to labour and the chemicals used for treating it.

Luckily, there are plenty of more sustainable options out there which can save you money and add a special touch to your Christmas gift game.

So whether you’re looking for a single-use option with a smaller footprint, or something with more longevity to save waste, this is the guide for you.

Here are 10 great sustainable and eco-friendly ways of wrapping your presents this year.

1. Recycled wrapping paper

Several colorful rolls of wrapping paper

Getting wrapping paper made from recycled materials is a great start to reducing the impact of your gift wrap, using less water and energy than wrapping paper made from virgin materials.

Choosing sheets over rolls of paper can lead to less waste and removes the need for a cardboard tube. Re-wrapped make a range of affordable sheets with festive designs which come with swing-tags, all made from 100% post-consumer waste.

2. Brown paper

someone wrapping a present with brown paper

Brown packing paper can be a tasteful, vintage-looking option, leaving you with more flexibility and freedom to customise the wrapping with your own personal touches.

Try writing and drawing on the paper itself, or making your own simple stamps to create a pattern. With a free small touches like these, you can make each gift extra unique and remove the need to buy separate gift tags.

We all know how annoying it is to have five different lots of wrapping paper, each with wildly different patterns and an awkward amount left on the roll. Packing paper is a great solution to this, and something you can keep in the cupboard all year-round, reducing potential waste and saving you money on seasonal-specific and themed wrapping paper.

3. Old newspapers and magazines

Stack of newspapers

Rather than throwing out or recycling old newspapers and magazines, why not upcycle them for a new life of use which adds an extra touch to your christmas gifts?

Christmas is a time often spent with loved ones, and a time of reflecting and looking back, so using old newspapers and magazines is a great way of adding a nostalgia factor to your gifts!

Not only are you helping save trees through recycling – which is always a bonus of course – but it also has sentimental value. You could wrap your gifts in older copies of the Beano, or find news stories that relate the gift to add another fun ‘layer’ to the process of unwrapping.

4. Thinking outside the box

Stacks of boxes used to ship food in a backroom of a shop

Reusing and repurposing old packages and boxes is a great way to create some free wrapping with a unique twist and even theme the box depending on the gift.

If you don’t have any laying around the house, just ask at a shop or supermarket. Chinese condiment brand Halfway Kitchen makes tasty low-waste Chinese condiments like chilli oil and seasoning, and for every order they reuse asian food import boxes to package and send it. That’s all the work done for you.

Make use to use paper tape which can biodegrade after use, since it’s very difficult to reuse this in the future. Paper tape can look much prettier, too.

5. Natural alternatives to bows

A bow tied with natural string, with herbs and evergreen sprigs tied underneath

There are loads of great DIY alternatives to single-use plastic ribbons and bows – try adding spare pine cones, small amounts of leaves or a small bunch of berries foraged from the garden or nearby woodland.

You could even take some small clippings from the back of the Christmas tree, just make sure to adjust the Christmas lights and baubles first!

A spare cinnamon stick can be found in many food cupboards and works great for food and drink gifts.

6. Eco-friendly alternatives to ribbons

A present wrapped in brown paper with a natural twine tied in a bow, sat on top of some evergreen leaves

The plastics used in plastic ribbon is derived oil, and almost impossible to recycle. It’s therefore best to leave ribbon behind and pot for more eco-friendly alternatives that will biodegrade over time and can even be put in food waste bins for collection.

Tying your decorations on with cotton string twine made from a natural fibre is a great way to cut down on plastic, while adding a stylish flourish to your present.

Brown string in particular can add a rustic and old-timey look to your gifts, especially if you’ve wrapped them in brown paper or newspaper.

7. Furoshiki Wrapping

A photo of two presents wrapped in different coloured fabrics in a basket

This traditional Japanese technique of wrapping presents and gifts in cloth has become increasingly popular in recent years as more people become aware of its eco-friendly benefits – as well as its ability to add a special touch to gifts.

Using fabric you already own is a great environmentally friendly alternative to the conventional plastic gift wrap and bags, and can be part of the gift, as the person opening it can use the fabric, too. A stylishly designed fabric can transform even the most mundane of products into beautiful gifts with ease. The sustainable actions that come with using Furoshiki Wrapping speak for themselves - instead of sending somebody home with mountains of non-biodegradable packaging as well as their presents, you can give them something practical yet special in a decorative package that won't damage our planet.

You can even buy fabric made for Furoshiki wrapping from companies like The Fabric Wrapping Co. Just make sure to choose a fabric that will either be reused – for instance, as a cloth or a headscarf, or reused for wrapping their own gifts in the future. This means you’re not just creating more waste but rather keeping the wrapping in circulation again and again.

8. Gift tags

A gift tag sat on top of a Christmas present

Keeping old Christmas cards and cutting them up for gift tags the next year is a great way to save money, do things in a more eco-friendly way, and save waste!

Most Christmas cards won’t have writing on the inside of the front cover, making it super easy to cut out bits like a robin or a Christmas tree from the front of a card. This leaves you a blank reverse side to write a personal message on.

You could also make use of old Christmas crackers – even the most decorative of which will usually have a plain inside suitable for writing on.

As with many of our tips so far, it also adds a personal, handmade touch to your gifts.

9. Reuse gift bags

A number of different coloured paper gift bags together

This one is one of the easiest tips in this guide!

It’s very easy to reuse a gift bag or bottle bag – you simply fold it flat in a cupboard ready to be used the next year (or for a birthday or other celebration during the year).

Unless it’s a particularly memorable print or design, most people will forget they gave it to you in the first place if a whole year has passed. But if you’re worried they’ll recognise the bag, consider swapping around who you give it to in the future!

10. No wrapping ideas

someone sitting and potting plants with soil in terracotta pots

Okay, this might seem like a cheat, but there are ways you can practise truly zero waste wrapping. 

Consider giving gifts that don't need to be wrapped, such as plants or seeds. Or, give gifts in reusable containers, like mason jars or baskets, which can be used as part of the present. This can also jazz up what could otherwise be seen as a bit of a naff present (like a box of pasta) into a thoughtful foodie gift with a tasteful way of storing it that looks better in the kitchen and which can be reused many years into the future.

Other low-waste and no-wrapping-required gift options include subscriptions, tickets and donations to charities. Remember – giving the gift of a life experience can be worth much more than a consumable or material present, and can save on wastage.