Eco-Friendly Living

How to wrap and give sustainable gifts

How to wrap and give sustainable gifts

Photography: IStockPhoto

Eco-Friendly Living

How to wrap and give sustainable gifts

Starting your holiday prep? This year, make a plan to reduce your gift-wrapping waste.

With the holidays on the horizon, it’s time to start thinking about what to put underneath your tree. While gift-giving can certainly be a joyful experience, it can also be a source of excess and waste— whether it’s the wrapping paper that gets tossed in the trash or that sweater you received that’s long been forgotten in the depths of your closet. Luckily, with a few simple changes, you can reduce your household holiday waste by wrapping presents more sustainably—and giving greener gifts, too.


Check your wrap

The problem with conventional wrapping paper, gift bags and accessories, such as ribbon and bows, is that some of these items can’t be recycled. If the items contain any non-paper features— like foil, wax or cellophane—it means they’re made from mixed materials, which renders them non-recyclable in most curb-side recycling programs.

“Any paper that has glitter, texture or shine can’t be recycled. Not only gift wrap, but cards may have glitter, so they also can’t go in your bin,” says Shellee Ritzman, the campaign lead for Metro Vancouver’s Create Memories, Not Garbage holiday waste reduction campaign. “What’s misleading about gift bags is that some actually have a layer of plastic [on the inside] that you don’t see, so you can’t recycle those either.”

As a result, wrapping materials usually end up being single-use products, making their way to garbage cans and, eventually, landfills. The good news is that all of this is avoidable, and it’s easy to switch to more sustainable options, too.

To get started, Ritzman recommends thinking about the three R’s of recycling— reduce, reuse and recycle—and, more specifically, thinking of them in that order.

“First, reduce—try not to wrap as much. For instance, we give wine in wine bottle bags, and even though the recipient knows it’s wine in there, we still buy these bags that are often lined with plastic,” she says. Instead, a reusable piece of cloth ribbon tied in a bow around the bottle can work wonderfully. Another way to generally reduce is to incorporate the wrap as part of the gift itself. Think a tea towel, apron, scarf, blanket or a cloth tote bag—all of which can serve as decorative wrapping and remain behind with the recipient.

Reuse comes next, which is especially easy to tackle if you already have items lying around the house you can upcycle. “I grew up in a family where we had a [craft] drawer and we’d reuse the same paper from one person’s gift to another. We kept all our ribbons and my parents used to cut the Christmas cards we got and use them to write gift tags,” says Julie Skirving, owner of Logan & Finley, an eco-conscious shop in Toronto.

If you already have a stash of previously used wrapping materials like gift  bags, for example, then you’re well on your way. If you don’t, consider starting a drawer or box this year to save these items as you receive them for future use. You can also take a look around your house and see if you might already have anything that could work—newspapers, old maps or decorative boxes and tins, for example.

Another reusable option is to invest in some holiday-themed fabric that can be sewn into gift bags or cut into different shapes and sizes to be used as gift wrap year after year.

“At a fabric store you can [often] get remnants of fabric bolts; then you can use different wrap and tie techniques for a festive effect,” says Skirving. “I sell reusable totes [at the store], too, and people use them sort of like a stocking— everyone has their own bag and then you put your gifts inside.”

Of course, if you simply can’t part with the idea of wrapping gifts in paper, you can still opt for recyclable ones. Plain kraft paper and brown paper bags are recyclable options, and look lovely when paired with a reusable cloth ribbon or natural twine. You can also check with your municipality’s recycling program ahead of time for specifics on what can go in your bin. “The simplest wrapping paper is the best wrapping paper. Fancy paper is beautiful, but in the end it’s garbage. Look beyond the shine,” says Ritzman. Ultimately, whether you recycle, reuse or reduce your wrap, Skirving notes that you can still be creative when wrapping gifts sustainably.

“I genuinely love wrapping presents and always have a theme. Even if you use your own dried orange slices, you can make things really beautiful and still be reusing,” says Skirving. “Sustainability doesn’t need to be doing without things this time of year—instead, it’s about how you incorporate different ideas into your holiday celebrations.”



Use these tips to select gifts that are kinder to the environment— and still sure to satisfy!

THINK USEFUL: Whether it’s a reusable coffee mug, a frying pan or a new wallet, buying something that someone actually needs means the gift will be used; in other words, it won’t be discarded or forgotten. If you don’t know what someone needs, just ask.

CONSIDER COMESTIBLES: Buy wine, craft beer, coffee, artisanal chocolates, jam—and, if you can, source them locally. If you want to go one step further, bake some holiday sweets yourself. You can keep the wrapping to a minimum. GO WITH A GIFT CARD: Gift cards are great for both reducing your gift wrap and ensuring the gift will be used. You can still think outside the box: A gift card for a favourite local restaurant, hair salon or yoga studio the recipient frequents is sure to be appreciated.

SHOP LOCAL: Locally purchased goods often have a lower environmental footprint when compared to items that have been packaged and shipped long distances. Handcrafted art, jewellery, soaps or bath salts all make great gifts and support local makers.

EXPERIENCE IT: Gifting an experience can be a great way to make new memories, especially after the pandemic years. Experience gifts don’t have to break the bank either—try a dance class, visit a gallery or go for lunch!

For more ideas on how to wrap and give sustainable gifts, visit


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Eco-Friendly Living

How to wrap and give sustainable gifts