Sustainable Gift Wrapping Ideas

07 December 2023 by Natanja

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  • Wrapping gifts doesn’t need to result in a whole pile of plastic. Today we’ll take a look at beautiful gift wrapping ideas that are sustainable and easy to recreate.

    A small present wrapped in brown paper and decorated with holly

    Christmas time is a cheerful and beautiful season but unfortunately also a time where the most waste is produced. A good example of this is gift wrapping. It is used once, only for a short period of time and then immediately gets thrown away. The problem often being that many materials used in gift wrapping cannot be recycled.

    A large gift wrapped in brown paper decorated with a fern leaf

    The problem with wrapping paper and Co.

    Wrapping paper oftentimes contains non-paper additives (glitter, gold and silver printed shapes,…) or is laminated and thus cannot be recycled. The sticky tape, as well as any plastic bows and ribbons are problematic as well, as it takes many years for them to decompose. The problem isn’t just the fact that they aren’t recyclable, it’s also the sheer volume of trash that accumulates during the holidays. Imagine, if every second household wraps their gifts. In the US alone, that’s over 61 million households! 

    A better solution

    However, there are ways to package presents beautifully, without contributing to the problem. I have collected a ton of ideas and put together a list of recyclable gift wrapping ideas that are all 100% plastic free and either low waste or zero waste. Let’s jump right in!

    Brown Packing Paper – the alternative to its plastic pendant

    I decided to wrap most of my gifts this year in brown packing paper because it is made from recycled paper and also can be recycled again. For family and friends who have furnaces, they can dispose of them by burning it themselves, and the others who do not, can recycle the paper after unwrapping their gifts. 

    Various gifts wrapped in brown paper and decorated with greenery


    …however, brown packing paper alone looks a little simple. Adding greenery and things you find in nature is a great way to add some elegance and festiveness to your gifts. Here a few materials you could use:

    • twigs of evergreens, such as fir, holly, red cedar, boxwood, pine,..
    • pine cones
    • berries from trees and bushes, such as holly, winterberry, spotted laurel (keep in mind that the berries are often poisonous, so keep away from children and pets)
    • dried fruit slices such as oranges and apples
    • eucalyptus
    • dried ornamental gras or dried flowers

    What about sticky tape?

    Maybe by now you are asking yourself – how the heck does it hold together though? The good news is –  it’s actually not necessary to wrap most gifts with sticky tape. If you fold the sides firmly and then tie everything together with a yarn or uncoated string it will hold quite well. Granted, it is a bit more difficult to do so though. If find it too gruelling a task, you can use a paper-based sticky tape (e.g. washi tape) for your gift wrapping.

    A cardboard box decorated with ornamental grass

    Cardboard and wood boxes

    Boxes are a great way to package things that are difficult to wrap. They also save you quite a bit of time. Cardboard and wooden boxes can be reused many times and come in all kinds of different sizes and styles. You can add some plastic-free ornaments or greenery and call it a day.

    Buttons in a glass jar decorated with a pine cone and greenery


    While glass can be recycled, it takes a lot of resources to do so. The better alternative is to reuse it. Empty and cleaned jam or peanut butter jars work well for DIYs and gift packaging. In addition the person receiving the gift can also continue to use the glass jar for various purposes. 

    To decorate your glass jars, you can tie some string around it and fasten a bit of greenery or a pine cone on top of the jar.

    Small glass containers are also an elegant way to gift jewelry. 

    A large gift wrapped in brown paper and decorated with blue holly


    Certain items are wrapped easier in soft material as opposed to wrapping paper. For such instances you can use 

    • scraps of textiles you have in your home
    • an old coffee bag
    • shawls or scarves – make a two in one present by using the textile you are gifting as wrapping material
    • natural fabrics such as cotton and linen 
    A bath bomb packed in a jam jar decorated with small pine cones

    Free materials

    If you don’t want to buy anything for your gift wrapping, you can also work with things you already have in your home. For example:

    • newspaper
    • old cardboard boxes
    • toilet or paper towel rolls

    If using newspaper, I suggest using articles with ‘happy’ news printed on them. 

    Toilet and paper towel rolls are great to collect and use for DIYs. You can add some string on both ends and use them for wrapping small gifts.

    A gold frame decorated with ornamental grass

    Unpackaged gifts

    You don’t necessarily need to wrap your gifts to make them look festive. You can also just add a bit of decor to them. An example is this picture frame I am giving my grandma this Christmas. I decided to ‘hide’ the picture part behind ornamental grass. This creates no waste but still looks beautiful and festive.

    Hand lettering on brown envelope

    I hope you found these ideas inspiring and wish you a Merry Christmas! 


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    Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, but these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used.

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