Holiday

Waste-free gift-wrap ideas beyond kraft paper

Beautiful and eco-friendly ideas to try this year.

Beautiful and eco-friendly ideas to try this year

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Whether you dread or relish the task of gift-wrapping presents, it's definitely become an expected social nicety, especially during the holiday season. Unfortunately, all those beautifully-encased gifts can mean a lot of waste and landfill fodder long after the celebrations are over. According to one oft-quoted document by advocacy group Zero Waste Canada, Canadians throw out 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and shopping bags and use 6 million rolls of tape for Christmas presents each year. 

Unfortunately, many common gift-wrap supplies such as foil wrapping paper, most gift bags, almost all types of tape (including masking tape, painter's tape and cellulose tape) and ribbons and bows probably cannot be recycled depending on the municipality that you live in. And many recyclable materials may still end up in the garbage; in Canada, about 1 in 10 households still don't have access to paper recycling programs. 

But, there are many eco-friendly ways old and new to attractively package your presents year-round. Linh Truong, co-founder of Vancouver zero-waste grocery and refill shop The Soap Dispensary + Kitchen Staples, suggests the Japanese art of fabric wrapping, furoshiki, as a potential starting point. "If you purchase something like a handkerchief or scarf, that would make a great gift wrap. It's basically the same size [as Japanese furoshiki cloths]," says Truong. 

"Of course you can make it yourself. I recommend going to a thrift store and buying some secondhand fabric or curtain or bed sheets, cut it into squares, and (if you can) sew up the edges and you've made your own."

Another suggestion from Truong is to put presents in a reusable cloth bag that could be repurposed by the recipient. "For example, we sell plain cotton produce bags with a drawstring; you can put your gifts in there and it's like a gift within a gift... they can reuse that cloth bag to go shopping," says Truong. 

If you're planning to stick to paper, Truong suggests utilizing readily-available materials such as old magazines and maps or easily recyclable options such as parchment, kraft or even wax paper. "If you're going to buy paper, really avoid anything that's coated, anything that's metallic, anything that's glossy," she says. Wrapping papers with textures, multi-layered materials or things glued onto the surface should all be avoided as well since they tend to not be recyclable either, says Truong. 

For trim, Truong recommends sticking to materials that are as natural as possible, for example: twine and baking twine, cotton ribbon, even wool or cotton yarn, and decorations from nature such as pine cones, evergreen sprigs and dried plants or leaves. At her shop, Truong uses a biodegradable and recyclable water-activated paper tape to seal packages instead of regular masking or cellulose tape, which are generally not recyclable. And, it's even possible to wrap some presents using paper only and not any tape! (Watch a demo here.)

Ultimately, the best, most sustainable gift wrapping should be done with the materials you have on hand. For if or when reusing and repurposing isn't an option, here are 7 eco-friendly gift-wrap suggestions to try for the holidays.  

Kelowna-based The Market Bags offers handmade upcycled and organic cotton bags with a drawstring closure that can be used for gifts, groceries and just about anything else that will fit. And 1% of sales go to the Mamas for Mamas Sustainable Nourishment Program

Holiday Set, $22 for 3, The Market Bags

If you can't sew and prefer to use new materials, Etsy is a good resource for affordable, handmade-in-Canada furoshiki-style wrapping cloths of all sizes and colours. And, many sellers are able to customize your purchase or help with special requests.  

Louloumini and Minilou Furoshiki, $15, Etsy

Winnipeg's Botanical Paperworks offers a plethora of seed papers, which are biodegradable papers made from post-consumer waste that can be planted after use to grow flowers, herbs or veggies. Use them for very small presents, gift tags and more. (Of course, you could make your own seed paper at home, too.)

Pre-Packaged Coloured Seed Paper Sets, $20.95 for 10, Botanical Paperworks 

Plain paper or lunch bags can be used as cheap, quick and recyclable gift bags. To jazz them up, add a few natural trimmings and some quick illustrations or stamped patterns. 

Goodtimes Large Kraft Paper Lunch Bags, $2.59 for 50, Staples

Mason and canning jars are a reusable, recyclable vessel that could hold anything from homemade cookies to gourmet teas to beauty products. And those lovely hand-dried orange slices are optional. 

Korken Jar With Lid, $2.99, IKEA

Like kraft paper but with a more interesting texture, bubble wrap alternative EcoEnclose GreenWrap can make for a unique wrapping material as shown here. Reuse it from packages you might have received. It protects your gift and is both compostable and fully recyclable. Available in bulk quantities only.  

They're not cheap, but the recipient of a gift packaged in a stand-up, silicone Stasher bag will be able to use it for storage, baking, cooking and much more. It's dishwasher and microwave safe and can even go inside an Instant Pot (!). 

Stasher Stand Up Reusable Bag, $27.99 each, Indigo


Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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