Get Christmas or birthdays all wrapped up, with this guide to eco-friendly wrapping paper – from the reusable to the recyclable, and to the upcycled, and more. I’ll also advise you on what types of wrapping paper to avoid.

Did you know that each Christmas the UK bins the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper, and gets through 40 million rolls of sticky tape? These are some pretty shocking statistics.

In writing about Christmas, I’ve already covered eco-friendly Christmas trees, eco-friendly decorations (and even zero-waste Christmas decorations). And for birthdays, I’ve covered eco-friendly birthday cards. But what about gift wrapping? Is there a way to gift wrap the green and sustainable way?

The good news is the answer is a resounding yes! Thankfully, there are ways to make our Christmases (and birthdays) a little more planet-friendly, without missing out on the fun of unwrapping gifts. Or watching our loved ones unwrap our carefully selected gifts. The best bit, am I right?

Stylish Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper Ideas for Christmas and Birthdays

Image of a gift wrapped in brown kraft paper and tied in red and white twine, with a blue text box that says stylish eco-friendly wrapping paper ideas for Christmas and birthdays

I’ve got lots of planet-friendly ideas for wrapping up gifts. From sustainable gift wrap to upcycled wrapping paper. I’ve even got some novel zero-waste and eco-friendly ways of wrapping birthday and Christmas gifts.

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Reuse Old Gift Bags

reusing old gift bags for birthdays and at Christmas

In the sustainability hierarchy, reusing what you already have trumps all as the most eco-friendly option. As such, every Christmas and birthday I stash away all the gift bags we receive.

After the gifts have been opened, I’m like a magpie swooping on the shiny bags! I then remove any tape and labels and store them flat to keep them looking their best. Christmas-specific ones get squirreled away in the box with the Christmas decorations until next year. Any plain ones, or birthday bags, get placed in a cupboard ready to be used again for future present giving.

At my partner’s workplace, they once did a gift bag amnesty in December. If you had too many gift bags that you couldn’t use, you could donate them. And if you needed some gift bags, you could take what you needed. I thought this was such a great idea to keep these bags out of the bin.

Upcycle Packaging Paper Into Wrapping Paper

Image showing a Christmas gift wrapped in eco-friendly wrapping paper that has been upcycled using packaging paper, and painted with Christmas trees.

In keeping with the not buying anything new theme, pretty much any paper can be upcycled into wrapping paper. Artemis, from the blog Junkaholique, reuses any packaging paper she receives. Here she paints festive scenes onto reused paper for an eco-friendly way of wrapping Christmas gifts. This eco-friendly Christmas wrapping paper idea could also be easily adapted for birthdays – just pick a different design to paint on the paper.

If you don’t think your artistic skills are up to par, then you could try printing the paper with a stamp or with a potato. Or you can skip that stage entirely – you don’t even have to paint the paper. I would just avoid using glitter, as it renders the paper unrecyclable.

In a similar upcycling vein, I also store any tissue paper, ribbons, string, and other adornments that come our way. I keep them all in a little box in my kitchen and crack this out at birthdays and Christmases, to add a bit of fancy to our gifts. It’s a fun habit to get into – this box is always a delight to rifle through!

Recycle Toilet Roll Tubes Into Gift Boxes

eco-friendly wrapping paper ideas

I made some gift boxes made from toilet roll tubes for a sustainable Christmas event we did at my work a couple of years ago. We had a host of other sustainable gift wrapping ideas on show, but this one was by far the most popular. It’s a great way to wrap small gifts, like jewellery, the zero-waste way.

The skill level for this sustainable Christmas gift wrap alternative is zero. A quick fold at each end, and you’re good to go. I spray painted the tubes with some green and gold spray paint we had leftover from another project, for a festive effect. However, again, you don’t have to paint them. Tie them up with some twine and add some foliage for gift wrap made from an item that would otherwise go to waste.

Find the full tutorial here on Catherine’s blog. I love how Catherine has painted her tubes with a snowflake effect for a festive touch.

Embrace the Art of Furoshiki

Image shows three gifts wrapped in pink fabric - demonstrating the Japanese art of Furoshiki.

The Japanese term for wrapping gifts in fabric is Furoshiki. It’s a great sustainable alternative to wrapping paper, as the recipient can re-use the fabric or give it back to you for wrapping future gifts. And as you simply tie the fabric to secure it, no plastic sticky tape is required.

The most sustainable way to approach Furoshiki is to use the existing fabric you already have. Perhaps you have a stash of fabric going spare? Simply cut the fabric into a good-sized square and seam the edge. Or perhaps you have a collection of vintage scarves that you don’t use. These would work wonderfully for gift wrapping.

If you don’t have anything that could be used, keep an eye out on secondhand sites for vintage scarves. If that’s too time-consuming, you can buy Furoshiki fabrics online.

In particular, look out for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified fabrics. In a nutshell, this means that the cotton has been grown organically. What’s more, it also certifies that in the growing of organic cotton and in the production of the fabric, workers have safe working conditions, they have not been discriminated against, and no child labour has been used. 

If this sounds complex to track down GOTS fabrics, Frugi has a small but perfectly formed selection of GOTS certified Furoshiki fabrics* from £5. These can then be used year after year.

And don’t tie yourself up in knots over Furoshiki! Find the full tutorial on how to wrap gifts in this eco-friendly wrapping paper alternative at the bottom of this post on how to naturally dye fabric.

Use Old Jumpers or Sweaters to Wrap Gifts

Image shoes a gift wrapped using the cuff of an old grey sweater.

For a clever bit of recycled wrapping, you can use an old jumper or sweater to wrap gifts. Find the full tutorial here, where you can learn how to wrap a manner of birthday or Christmas gifts using a jumper. From bottles of wine to boxes of chocolate there’s a way to use recycled materials, such as old jumpers! These can be reused again and again, and when this alternative gift wrap reaches the end of its life, simply place it in a fabric recycling bin so that it can live on.

Buy Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper

eco friendly Christmas gift wrapping ideas

For Christmas wrapping paper that is fully recyclable, then recycled brown kraft paper is also a good bet. Whilst it is a single-use product, it is key to make sure that the gift wrap you buy is 100% recycled.

I buy it my brown eco-friendly wrapping in 10 metre rolls at a bargain-friendly £6.95 from Not On The High Street*. As well as being made from recycled paper, the paper is also fully recyclable and compostable.

Brown paper doesn’t have to mean boring or plain. There are loads of plastic-free, low-waste, or zero-waste ways to jazz up your parcels. Sprigs of herbs, such as rosemary. Tiny sprigs of conifer or holly. Recycled string or ribbon. Christmas tree decorations from charity shops. I could go on! The only real limit is your imagination.

For an extra sustainable touch, I like to use compostable paper tape, like this £2.20 one from &Keep*. I use this for wrapping gifts instead of using plastic-based sellotape.

If you would prefer to use patterned recycled wrapping paper, then don’t worry, you still can. There are lots of options online.

My favourite is Rewrapped*. They specialise in vibrantly coloured and patterned Christmas and birthday eco-friendly wrapping paper that is far from boring.

Their gift wrap is made from 100% recycled paper which has not been bleached, and is printed using environmentally friendly vegetable-based inks. Their vast collection of wrapping paper has been designed by UK Designers, which is then produced and printed in the UK for a low-carbon footprint. What’s more, it’s delivered to you completely plastic-free. Buy from £3.95 for three sheets of wrapping paper and three tags.

What About Eco-Friendly Gift Tags?

In the spirit of recycling and reusing, one of the most eco-friendly ways to add a gift tag to your wrapped present is to reuse old birthday and Christmas cards.

When we take down our Christmas decorations, I hand my kids the Christmas cards and a pair of safety scissors and get them to cut out objects from the cards. You can also buy a set of pinking shears that you keep for just cutting paper with for a bit of extra fanciness. You should never cut paper with the scissors you cut fabric with as this blunts them – hence why you should have two pairs.

I then store these in with my Christmas decorations until the following Christmas, when they are ready to be used on gifts. Simply use a hole punch, and cut a bit of string and you have got an eco-friendly gift tag. You can do the same with birthday cards, and keep a stash to hand to use throughout the year.

Other eco ideas include recycling plain bits of cards or postcards that come your way.

The Wrapping Paper To Avoid

Gift wrap isn’t always recyclable. This is because some brands use glitter or use foil-based patterns. Some brands of wrapping paper are even laminated in a fine layer of plastic.

Wrapping paper can only be recycled if it passes the scrunch test. To do the scrunch test, simply take a square of paper in your hand and close your hand. If the paper has formed into a ball and stays in that ball when you open your hand, it can be recycled. Just make sure you take off any plastic sellotape, ribbons, bows, or other embellishments first.

If, when you open your hand, the paper unfurls and does not stay in a ball shape, then it cannot be recycled. This paper should then be placed in your general waste bin.

Of course, it’s hard to do this test when you are actually buying wrapping paper. Stick to my guide to eco-friendly wrapping paper ideas and you should be fine!

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