Zero Waste Tip: Creative Reuse Gift Wrapping

Wrap gifts with reused materials to stay zero waste | Zero Waste Chicago

Love it or hate it, this time of year is the season of gift giving. People all over the city are stocking up on gifts for their loved ones, small and large. Most of us give or receive gifts not just in the item's original packaging packaging, but also wrapped up neatly in wrapping paper adorned with colorful ribbons and bows or in a gift bag billowing with tissue paper. Americans spend more than $7 billion a year on wrapping paper to give our gifts that extra personal touch. 

Notwithstanding the aggregate cost, there are excessive amounts of resources used to produce new wrapping paper and gift wrap every year. Because most wrapping paper and gift wrap is neither recyclable nor reused, those resources are expended for gift wrap to be thrown promptly in the garbage. Instead, we're offering a few ideas for ways to wrap gifts with an eye towards a lighter footprint. Our top tip? Reusing materials you have on hand to wrap your gifts can add up to a big impact. Of course, you can always go naked and skip the act of wrapping altogether to save time, money, and materials. But for those of us who enjoy the act of wrapping presents and watching loved ones unwrap them, we wanted to share a few ideas on how to reuse materials to wrap your gifts. 

We always advocate for using what you already have first. One of the easiest switches is to use old newspapers you might have lying around. Any page will do, but we're big fans of using the comic section to add an additional layer of entertainment to your gift, or finding a nice photograph to feature. Or, maybe you ordered something online and it came with that brown packing paper? Save them! Ditto brown paper grocery bags. There something simple and beautiful about a gift wrapped in plain brown paper. Bonus: both newspaper and brown packing paper are compostable or recyclable after they've been opened (just be aware of the small bits of plastic tape, which aren't!).

Ribbons and bows are not recyclable, so lean toward reusing ones you've received on gifts in past years rather than purchasing new ones. If you don't have a stash of ribbons or bows to reuse, you can still make the package festive. Unearth a ball of twine (bonus: it's compostable!), and tie a bow around the gift. You can tuck in a sprig of pine needles or rosemary for a festive, natural touch. Or, forego ribbons entirely by doodling on the paper. You can draw a bow, a tag, anything you'd like to make the package stand out!

If you don't have papers and other materials lying around the house already, try asking your friends, family, or colleagues if they have extras that they aren't planning to use. Chances are, someone has something that they don't need. If you need to grab new materials, we're lucky to have a few resources in Chicago for secondhand craft supplies like these: The Wasteshed in Humboldt Park, the Creative Reuse Warehouse in Riverdale (a program of Resource Center Chicago), and Joe's Garage (a program of Animalia Project). All of these spots accept donations as well, if you're looking for a new home for your bulging bags of carefully hoarded ribbons.

Try saving up items throughout the year to reuse - gift bags, pieces of ribbon, tissue paper, etc. That way you'll have an array of things to get creative with next year. And, if you wrap something that you're particularly proud of? Share a photo of it on social media and tag us; we'd love to see! Happy holidays to you and your family from all of us here at Zero Waste Chicago.

CeliaZero Waste Tip