Get Christmas or birthdays all wrapped up, with this guide to eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas – from the reusable to the recyclable, to the upcycled, and more. I’ll also advise you on what types of wrapping paper to avoid.
Did you know that each Christmas in the UK, we collectively bin the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper, and get through 40 million rolls of sticky tape? These are some pretty shocking statistics.
In writing about Christmas, I’ve already covered planet-friendly Christmas trees, as well as eco-friendly Christmas decorations (and even zero-waste Christmas decorations). And for birthdays, I’ve even 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 Gift Wrapping 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:
- Reuse Old Gift Bags
- Upcycle Packaging Paper Into Wrapping Paper
- Upcycle Toilet Roll Tubes Into Gift Boxes
- Embrace The Art of Furoshiki
- Use Old Jumpers To Wrap Gifts
- Buy Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper
1. Reuse Old Gift Bags
In the sustainability hierarchy, reusing what you already have trumps all as the most sustainable option. As such, every Christmas and birthday I stash away all the gift bags we receive to wrap my gifts the eco-friendly way.
After the gifts have been opened, I’m like a magpie swooping on the shiny bags before they get damaged! I then remove any tape and labels and store them flat to keep them looking their best.
Christmas-specific ones get squirrelled away in the box with the Christmas decorations until next year. Any plain bags or birthday bags get placed in a cupboard ready to be used again for future sustainable gift-giving.
At my partner’s workplace, they do a gift bag amnesty every December. If you had too many Christmas gift bags that you couldn’t use, you could donate them. The donations were then placed on a table, 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. I’d love to see more workplaces adopt this. Maybe one to suggest to your workplace?
2. Upcycle Packaging Paper Into Wrapping Paper
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 prints festive scenes onto reused paper for an eco-friendly way of wrapping Christmas gifts. This could also be easily adapted for birthdays – just pick a different design to draw on the paper.
Make sure you use coloured pens or pencils rather than paint or crayons. Using paint or crayon sadly means the paper will be unrecyclable.
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, and an ink pad. Using ink to decorate means the paper can still be recycled. Or you can skip that stage entirely – you don’t even have to decorate 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!
3. Upcycle Toilet Roll Tubes Into Gift Boxes
For another eco-friendly gift-wrapping idea simply turn to the humble toilet roll tube. It might sound a little wild, but I promise it’s easy and effective! You don’t even need glue.
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.
Use colouring pens to decorate the tubes rather than paint to ensure that the tubes can be recycled. However, again, you don’t have to decorate them. Tie up the tubes with some twine and add some foliage for gift wrap made from something that would otherwise go to waste.
Find the full tutorial here on Catherine’s blog. I love how Catherine has embellished her tubes with a snowflake effect for a festive touch.
4. Embrace the 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 reuse 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. Try Etsy for the widest selection.
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.
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.
5. Use Old Jumpers or Sweaters to Wrap Gifts
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.
6. Buy Eco-Friendly Gift Wrapping Paper
For Christmas wrapping paper that is fully recyclable, recycled brown kraft paper is also a good bet. Whilst it is a single-use product, the key is to make sure that the gift wrap you buy is 100% recycled.
I buy my brown eco-friendly wrapping in 10-metre rolls at a bargain-friendly £8 from Not On The High Street. As well as being made from recycled paper, the paper is also fully recyclable and compostable once you’re done.
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 roll of tape from &Keep. I use this for wrapping gifts instead of using plastic-based sellotape. It’s fully recyclable, and can go in with your paper and cardboard recycling.
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. Rewrapped specialises 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.
Its vast collection of wrapping paper has been designed by UK designers and is then printed in the UK for a smaller 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.
Check out my guide to recyclable wrapping paper for more ideas.
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 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 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 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!