With over 2 million pounds of wrapping paper ending up in the landfills in the U.S. alone and 30 million trees being cut down to produce said paper every year, single use gift wrap is steadily turning into an ecological nightmare right under our noses.
On the other hand, survey after survey reveal that people are confused about the recyclability of wrapping paper in the Western World.
“Can you recycle wrapping paper?,”
one of the surveys asked the British population a few years ago.
A whopping 60% replied that they did not know; and the confusion could be even greater in the developed, less eco-educated nations. Plus, if we look at the numbers, we see that wrapping our gifts in single use wrapping paper is a tremendously wasteful habit.
But the idea is so deeply rooted in our minds that we feel that the holiday season would not be complete without it (We’ll show you some surprising alternatives to debunk that idea in a bit.)
Surprisingly, though, the gift-wrapping tradition is fairly new.
How a Modern-Day Tradition Was Born
The modern concept of gift wrapping started in 1917, when the U.S. retail giant Hallmark decided to sell decorative gift wrap in all its Kansas stores.
At the time, gift wrapping paper was very simple, as people usually wrapped their presents in either newspaper or plain brown or white paper.
Hallmark’s gift wrap was different. It consisted of enticing colored tissue sheets with (or without) festive elements. The initial design of the first commercial gift wrap was a simple combination of red, green, and white, but it was a huge hit with customers.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Crunching the Numbers
The tradition, however, has proved very wasteful.
Meanwhile, the gift-wrapping industry ballooned to a $9.6 billion annual business (as of 2015), while 25 million more tons of paper waste gets churned out during the gift giving season every year only in the U.S.A.
It is estimated that
- Even though gift wrapping paper accounts for just 2 percent of the paper market by volume (because it is so lightweight), it accounts for 10% of the entire market by revenue (since it is so expensive)
- Every year, America spends a whopping $3.2 billion just on gift wrap, according to Hallmark, but the number could be a lot higher (around $7 billion), according to Sundale Research.
- 82% of Americans are set to carry on the tradition every single year, with 34% planning on spending more than $100 just on holiday decorations (gift wrap included)
- 30 million trees are turned into gift wrapping paper every year, as you need 15 trees to produce a tone of gift wrap.
- The U.S. alone produces 4.6 million pounds of festive wrapping paper annually, half of which ends up in the nation’s landfills by the year’s end
- The average American produces 25% more trash over the holiday season than in the rest of the year.
- Americans’ love for Christmas cards is so wasteful (more than 2.5 billion cards are sold each year) that a 10-story high football field could be filled to the brim with all the resulting trash every year
- If every U.S. household would reuse gift wrapping paper on just 3 gifts annually, we would could cover 45,000 football fields with the saved materials.
- A U.K. study found that 60% of the British population is confused about whether to recycle wrapping paper (the number might be higher across the pond)
Can You Recycle Wrapping Paper?
The big problem with holiday wrapping paper is that it is a recycling nightmare. Even paper recycling experts are reluctant to give a black and white answer to the question.
In a short interview for Marketplace.org, Atlanta-based paper recycling consultant Bill Moore explained why single-use wrapping paper is so hard on recyclers.
Gift wrap is very thin and contains so many dies that paper mills need tons of additional chemicals to process it. In many cases, recycling it is just not worth the effort.
When asked whether he’d put wrapping paper in the recycle bin, Moore – a self-professed “avid recycler” replied, “I’d throw it away.”
“I might use it to start my fire,”
Moore told the reporter on a second thought.
However, we do not recommend using gift wrap as a fire starter since the chemicals and additives in it can become cancer-causing or damage your lungs if burned.
Other reasons gift wrapping paper is such a pain to recycle include
- The glitter, laminated parts, velvety textures, plastics, and foil added to the gift wrap makes wrapping paper un-recyclable.
- Some gift wrap is so flimsy that it cannot produce enough quality paper pulp to worth the effort.
- Much of the gift wrap has plastic sticky tape on it, which also makes it a recycling hazard.
So, can wrapping paper be recycled?
- If it contains metal or plastics, it cannot be recycled, and many recyclers will reject it altogether.
- If it is made of paper only, it can be recycled.
Just make sure that it is not laminated on one side, which means added plastic. On the other hand, if the paper is shiny, it doesn’t mean that it is laminated. Magazines are shiny too, but they can still be recycled. Just do the scrunch test below to clear up any confusion.
A surefire way to learn whether a particular type of wrapping paper can be recycled or not is the so-called “scrunch test.”
The Scrunch Test
This one is very straightforward. If the paper stays scrunched after being scrunched up in your hand, it can be recycled, if it does not, it belongs to the landfill.
Watch Santa do it.
You could also test the ‘recyclability’ of wrapping paper by trying to rip or tear it. If it rips or tears easily, it can be recycled.
10 Green Alternatives to Wrapping Paper
1. Plain paper from the arts and crafts store
This tip means going back to basics. People have been wrapping Christmas gifts in plain white and brown paper (and even newspaper) for centuries.
One big bonus of plain paper is that it stays put and wraps very easily around whatever you want to give away, unlike slippery gift wrap. So, there’s no need for extra tape.
Plus, plain wrapping paper can easily stand out with the right embellishments which can be reused time and time again.
2. Those Paper Grocery Bags Lying around the House
A heavy-weight paper grocery bag can be an eco-friendly alternative to wrapping paper that is extremely friendly on your pocket too. Most of us have a pile of paper grocery bags lying around the house that could be put to good use.
Just google for DIY ideas to decorate this unconventional wrap paper and you’re set. We recommend using fully recyclable or natural decorations, such as natural raffia string, Christmas berries, fir tree sprigs, or pinecones.
3. Granny's Christmas Cookie Tins
These never get old. You can either buy the gift or make it yourself, line the cookie tin with tissue paper (optional), and place the gift inside the tin.
Some Christmas-themed cookie tins look like brand new for ages (just ask granny) and can be reused year after year within a family or a circle of close friends.
In some places, you can buy an empty festive tin for a few dollars (your local Goodwill is a good place to start.)
4. Yesterday’s Papers
Give old newspapers a new life as retro-inspired green wrapping paper. When compared to conventional gift wrap, newspapers are cheaper, less resource-intensive, and fully recyclable (unless you plaster them all over with plastic tape).
Use the comics pages, crossword puzzles pages, or pages from a newspaper in an exotic language, like Chinese or Korean, to make your gifts even more enticing.
5. The Humble Potato Chip Bag
This one ends up in the trash bin as soon as you finished wolfing down its contents, so why not extending its presence on the scene by turning it into a zero-cost environmentally friendly Christmas gift wrap?
Use the silver side of the bag after you have thoroughly washed with a good grease-fighting dish detergent. You can adorn the wrap with contrasting decorations that you can reuse the next year.
6. Scarves or Tea Towels (The Japanese Way)
Using an elegant scarf or a nice tea towel as a green replacement for wrapping paper has been gaining more and more traction in recent years. The idea is not new, though. The Japanese have been wrapping their gifts in fabric since at least the 17th Century.
Meanwhile, the habit has turned into a stand-alone art form and craft known as Furoshiki. You’ll just need a square piece of fabric, the proper technique, and patience. Here’s a short tutorial on how to do it, but the possibilities are endless.
Japan’s Ministry of Environment has even posted a visual guide to Furoshiki for various objects of different shapes and sizes on its official website.
7. Reusable Gift Bags
This is a no-brainer. You can invest in a nice pack of reusable gift bags, like Tote Bag Factory’s best-selling 6" MINI Non-Woven Gift Bag, shove the item inside, add a gift tag with the name of the recipient (this step is purely optional), and you make your Christmas truly special and sustainable.
You can later swap the gift bags with eco-conscious family members and friends for years to come before the bags fall apart.
8. The Good Ol’ Reliable Tote
The bad thing about reusable gift bags is that you can only give them a purpose on very few occasions throughout the year.
By contrast, a tote bag can be used as both an unconventional gift container and a shopping bag/ purse/gym bag/you name it over and over for several years to come.
If you have multiple gifts to wrap, pick a set of quality but affordable canvas tote bags (you can check out our entire selection here) and personalize them for an unforgettable Christmas celebration.
The great thing about totes is that they can be used as practical props to educate your loved ones on the importance of a zero-waste lifestyle while helping them reduce the negative impact of their plastic-shopping-bag habit on the environment.
Related: Click here to learn why totes are such a greener alternative not just to wrapping paper but to plastic bags as well.
9. A Thoughtful Gift Certificate
Gift certificates are not just a last-minute gift idea for the procrastinator holiday shoppers. They are also a great eco-friendly alternative to wrapping paper that will help reduce the need for wrapping paper, unnecessary product packaging, and a high product carbon footprint.
You can pamper you mother with a thoughtful wellness gift certificate or surprise your SO with a festive dining experience she or he has been talking about for years. The sky is the limit and you cannot go greener than that.
10. The ‘No Wrap’ Gift Wrap
Why not keeping things extra simple and give your loved ones the presents as they are in their original packaging or not, but wrapped in festive ribbon tape or twill tape.
You can then embellish the bare bones gift with decorations that you can reuse next year, like regular gift bows or these beautiful wrapping paper bows made from last year’s wrapping paper scraps.
Just make sure that you add a DIY gift tag with the name of the recipient to each gift so that Santa doesn’t have to give an hours-long explanation to why that neat pair of AirPods Pro are a gift for Dad, not Junior.
To Wrap It Up
You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to make smart choices for your home, wallet, and the planet. There are countless of ways to ditch the expensive and wasteful wrapping paper with gift recipients either not even noticing it or greatly appreciating the extra effort.
Reducing waste doesn’t equal living a bland and spark-less life. With a lot of imagination and just the right amount of elbow grease, you can turn everyday things into glamorous wrapping paper alternatives to marvel at. Your kids, the environment, and your budget-conscious significant person will thank you for it.
Do you have any other eco-friendly gift wrap ideas on your mind? Drop us a line below.
And a ‘Very Merry and Blessed Christmas!’ in advance
From the TBF Team