Low waste gift wrap alternatives: How to be eco friendly when gift giving

When the festive season comes around each year, it can sometimes be easy to be whisked away into a buying spree of cheap and easy wrapping solutions for the gifts you plan on giving. Believe it or not, it’s actually super easy and cheaper to use items you already have as gift wrap!

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Unfortunately, which many people probably don’t realise, is that most gift wrapping paper is actually laminated – which means that it’s coated in plastic. Due to this, it actually means that the paper cannot be recycled – and can also effect batches of recycling, meaning that everything could be thrown away if mixed together!

There is of course alternatives, which is not only better for the environment, but better for your bank too! Instead of using your usual £5 rolls of wrapping paper, have a look at the list I’ve made below to help you find your most low waste gift wrap option!

Paper alternatives

If you’re looking for something to replace the everyday wrapping paper, or you need something a little more flexible for large or weird shaped gifts, then one of these might work!

Brown craft paper or shipping paper

A really super easy and cheap option is reusing old shipping paper! So many brands these days use brown paper rather than plastic or bubble wrap for padding, and I know sometimes my house is bursting with shipping paper during the holiday season.

One thing I really like about using shipping paper is that you usually get loads of it even from one parcel, so it can last a while! You can also easily decorate the paper in any way you like, which is a great activity to do with kids if they have presents to gift.

Newspaper

Although most newspapers are online now, I know whenever I visit my grandparents I’ll find a few copies lying around. Reusing newpapers is a good solution if you don’t have a lot of time for decorating gifts, but still adds a little bit of colour (just be sure you’re not wrapping anything that could get damaged by ink and you cut out any inappropriate pages!)

Tea towels, wash cloths or napkins

Depending on the gift, you could wrap it up with another gift! Tea towels, wash cloths, or even napkins could work really well, just tie them up with a bit of twine or ribbon.

Tea towels would be great for wrapping small kitchen ware items or even mugs, while wash clothes would work well for bathroom products like shampoo bars, safety razors, or even a candle! I really like these waffle knit cotton towels from &Keep!

Spare fabric

Large gifts could easily be wrapped up in spare pieces of fabric, or you could even sew some pieces together to make little gift sacks!

Fabric is a good way to wrap weird or oddly shaped gifts, or if you wanted to easily differentiate between gifts without having to label them. If you have any holiday themed fabric left over them you could use that too.

Furoshiki cloth

One type of wrapping beginning to become more popular is the Japanese method with Furoshiki cloths. Furoshiki cloths are pieces of fabric that are almost square shaped (the height is usually longer than the width) and are used to wrap goods or gifts.

You can get pieces of Furoshiki cloth pretty easily, in many different patterns and fabrics. If you’re looking for one that would be the least wasteful, try finding one made of natural material such as cotton or silk, rather than polyester, rayon, or nylon.

Old cardboard boxes

If you’re planning on ordering gifts online, you could reuse any of the shipping cardboard boxes as a quick wrapping alternative! If the boxes have any printed logos on (like from the brand you ordered from) you could always decorate the box with drawings or fun pictures.

Old maps

One of the sad things about physical maps is that they become outdated with new roads being build or old ones being replaced. Growing up while smart phones were still a kind of luxury, we had a lot of old maps around the house!

Using old maps as gift wrap not only repurposes it, but also means you could make something really pretty with it too – maybe you could make some gifts with maps from places you’ve been?

Scarves

When the weather starts to get a little chillier gifts like scarfs are perfect, but what if you made the scarf into the gift wrap? This could be especially cute if the scarf has a really nice design or you were going to gift someone other winter-wares such as a woolly hat or gloves!

Paper bags

I really love using paper bags as gift wrap because they’re so versatile! If you have plain brown paper bags then this is the perfect opportunity to decorate (you could even make it an activity with friends or family!), or if you have old gift or shopping bags then these can easily be reused year after year – especially if they are laminated or have metallic pieces as they can’t be recycled).

If you want to shop eco friendly and sustainable for presents this year, make sure you check out my zero waste gift guide!

Ribbon and tape alternatives

Okay now we’ve covered wrapping paper alternatives, what about the ribbon and tape?? Of course most store bought ribbon is made of plastic and isn’t recyclable, and the same goes for plastic tape too. Never fear, here are a few ideas you can try!

Paper tape

One thing that I’m really happy about, is that paper tape is being a lot more available and accessible! Most generic tape is made from plastic and so cannot be recycled, where as paper tape can!

Paper tape not only has a really rustic feel to it, but because it’s paper you can easily decorate it too. Another paper tape option you could look into is paper-based washi tape, if you’re looking for specific colours or patterns. I absolutely love this brown paper tape, but you can get them from most eco shops or even sometimes your post office!

Twine, natural yarn, or fabric ribbons

Although it wont have the same curl effect, the best low waste ribbon alternative is to use something made or natural materials like twine, wool, or cotton yarn. Twine is a great way to give your gifts a little rustic feel, but is also a clever way of keeping wrapping in place without using tape. There are loads of places to get twine from, but I really love this cotton bakers twine because it comes in a few different colours!

If you’re like me, chances are you probably have a huge stash full of fabric ribbons just waiting to be used. Of course you don’t have to cut them to fit the size of the gift (just make a really big bow!) if you don’t want to, and you can reuse them year after year!

Upcycled gift tags

Many people enjoy using gift tags when wrapping presents, but for most of the time the materials they’re made from tends to not be recyclable – this is usually when they’re either laminated in plastic or have metallic embellishments.

One super easy and fun way to make gift tags is to upcycle them from birthday/holiday cards or even cereal cardboard boxes! Not only can making these gift tags be a really fun decorating activity, but you’ll also save youself some money too! Cards can sometimes come with glitter or plastic decorations, so finding a way to reuse these cards is a great way to reduce your waste!

An alternative to tags of course, is to just write directly on the gift wrapping or have each gift wrapped in a specific material so you can tell them apart, but tags of course can be really helpful if you’re wrapping with fabric, and you can always save them for future years to come!

Other ideas

These other ideas can be really good ideas if you want to use them as part of the gift too! Having your gift “wrap” included in the gift can make it feel extra special.

Woven baskets

Woven baskets can be a really cute idea when it comes to gift giving, especially if you’re not wrapping gifts as a surprise!

Some gift ideas that are perfect for woven baskets include: baked goods or baking equipment, handmade items (like crochet or knitted scarfs!), books and blankets, mugs and tea or hot chocolate!

Reusable gift bags

If you’re quite crafting and know your way around a sewing machine (or you could even hand sew these) then making reusable gift bags could be a really sweet personal touch to make for your family or friends. You could make them any size you like depending on what you want to put in them, if you plan on putting many gifts inside or just the one.

Of course the best thing about making gift bags is that they’re reusable! If you have a young family you could totally make these and have it as a tradition to use each year as your family grows.

Empty jars

Empty jars can be used for so many things, but one of the best things is that you can basically get them for free if you repurpose the ones you already have! The possibilities are endless when it comes to glass jars, especially since they come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.

You could use your old jars for a number of things including:

  • baked goods (if you’re gifting them shortly after baking)
  • diy cookie, cake, or brownie jars (add in all the dry ingredients, write down what liquid ingredients it needs, and create a card with the recipe!) – you could even tie on a cookie cutter!
  • jewellery – just make sure the jar is small enough
  • hot chocolate or tea jars with added toppings or accessories
  • diy candles – I have a step-by-step guide on making your own candles too!
  • herb seeds and planters

Of course you can just leave the jars plain, but you could also decorate or paint the jars, which the recipient can then use for storage in the future!

Thrifted blankets

Blankets are not only a great gift to give in the winter months but they are also so big that they are fantastic for wrapping! Of course the most low waste option is to use things you already have, but the next best thing is getting one second hand as that will keep it out of landfill.

I would check thrift stores or charity shops first, especially since these will probably be the more cheaper/budget friendly option, but you can of course check Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or even places like Depop or Vinted if you have a specific brand or pattern in mind.

Tote bags

Tote bags are super popular at the moment, so chances of having some spare is probably quite high, am I right? Not only are tote bags super practical but they’re also really useful for daily life and countless activities.

Not only can you use tote bags for transporting gifts, but you could make them apart of the gift too. Tote bags and fabric paint is a great idea, or even an embroidery set with cotton threads and a needle!

Ways to decorate

Of course one of the best things about gifting is decorating the presents. There are many ways to decorate gifts while still being low waste, so don’t worry about ribbons or bows.

Dried orange slices

Although it takes a few hours to make, dried orange slices are a great activity and are super pretty to decorate not only gifts but you home too! They’re super easy to string up to decorate your tree or any gifts.

Drawn on designs

Of course the most simple way to decorate gifts is by drawing on designs to your wrapping paper! If you’re reusing old paper bags, maps, or even just shipping paper, it’s an easy way to really bring some life to any gifts design.

Stamps and ink

While this one might not work for everyone, if you have some old Holiday or gift-themed stamps then you could easily decorate plain or recycled wrapping with these! If you don’t have any but know it’s something you would use each year, see if you can find any second hand before sourcing out your local craft or low waste store.

Foraged and dried twigs and leaves

If you live in an area that has an abundance of fallen leaves or twigs – say your local park, then you could even use these as decoration! If you do collect fallen foliage, make sure you don’t take too much and always be respectful of the area and the local wildlife.

When you’ve collected them, make sure you get off any unwanted bugs and critters before bringing them into your home, and if you have leaves make sure you give them a little wash (you know, you don’t want any dog pee on them, so just to be safe!) and then let them dry out completely (minimum 20-30 minutes, depending on how wet or old the leaves are). You want to make to make sure these are completely dry because if not they could become mouldy! Once dry then you can decorate with them how you please!

Thrifted or handmade ornaments

A quick but effectively cute way to decorate your gifts would definitely be with thrifted ornaments! Providing they’re not too big to attach to your gift, they can not only make a pretty addition to the wrapping, but you could also make it apart of the gift too!

If you can’t find any thrifted ornaments that take your fancy, then you could make some instead! I’ve seen so many different variations all over my Instagram this year including crochet, knitted, or even embroidered felt decorations! Whatever your medium is, there will be a type of ornament to make and decorate with!

That’s all my ideas when it comes to low waste gift wrapping alternatives, let me know if there’s any ideas you love to do that I missed out!!

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