Monday, December 19, 2011

Rigging up eco-friendly gift wrap

In the 450 billion dollar industry that is the Christmas season, I've wondered what portion of that goes towards straight up waste, or as others call it, wrapping paper. This is the third year that I've strived to only use reusable or reused materials for wrapping gifts, and I thought I'd share some of the things I've used myself.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that this can add a little more to your holiday budget, but with some creativity and a little planning ahead, most of the things I ended up wrapping with cost far less than a paper gift bag. I got a lot of my materials from dollar stores, discount stores like Big Lots, dollar bins at big box stores and craft stores, and thrift stores. If you live in or near a big city with a Chinatown or fashion district, that's a great place for things like accessories that can be used as reusable wrap or embellishments.

I hope you'll consider making your gift wrap more eco-friendly this holiday season and throughout the year. Share your ideas or what you're going to do in the comments! And, without further ado...

Reusable shopping bags 
"Five too-oooote bags!"
This is one of the easiest ideas, and was my go-to the first year I consciously did this. I was on constant alert throughout the year for free or discounted reusable shopping bags, and stocked up to have them ready for Christmas. Use just like a gift bag: insert gift, tie with a pretty (preferably reusable fabric) bow, and you're set!

Tote bags
Taking a step up from the shopping bags, this year, I decided to make custom canvas tote bags for everyone. It takes more time but can be a bit more special, and each bag cost less than $2 (I got a dozen blank bags for $20, Stained by Sharpie markers for $12, and a couple $1 knick-knacks). I looked up different patterns online based on what I thought the recipients would like.

Both long and square scarves work
For those things that feel like they should be wrapped instead of bagged, scarves are perfect. Depending on your budget, you can get them anywhere from $1 (I got several from the 99cent store), $5 (most of the scarves I own cost $5 from a variety of Chinatowns across the country), or more if you were planning on gifting a scarf already. For square scarves, you can pull the corners up and tie a bow around the gathering, and for long scarves, you can roll the items up and fold corners just like with paper. Or, for items that just need an embellishment, use long scarves to tie a bow.

Golf and bar towels
Towels can wrap the same way as scarves. There are so many kinds of towels you can use: tea towels, dish towels, bar towels, hand towels, golf towels, beach towels, and probably some I can't even think of. This can be a good opportunity to let your wrapping be a hint to the gift (tea towel for a mug, dish towel for cookware, bar towel for a cocktail shaker, hand towel for fancy soaps, golf towel for golf balls, beach towel for a wetsuit, etc.)
Promise that weird shape isn't a baby

Baby blankets
Again, can be used the same was as scarves and towels, and fits great for themed gift (or even any gift to a family member with a baby).

Found the cute glass box at Goodwill
Any reusable container
Any reusable container you can think of is a great alternative to paper products. I've used decorative containers and buckets, cosmetic bags (the kind that come with the free-gift-with-purchase), cookie tins, jewelry boxes, and even tupperware (nice tupperware though!) to replace boxes or bags. I just top them or hide the objects in a little recyclable and reused tissue paper (I try to save tissue paper, and when you're using it for these applications, a few wrinkles are ok) or ribbons. I didn't do it this year, but I also considered making small pouches from felt (which is very affordable!), such as an iPad sleeve to gift some notebooks, or small zippered pouches for next year.

Don't wrap and read.
Reusing items
Newspaper is an old school eco-friendly wrapper. I try to make it a little fancier by again fitting it to the gifts theme (the comics section for a gag gift or a funny book, sports section for sports equipment, current events for a gift for the wonk in your life) and finishing it with some reusable embellishments. A lot of my online shipments also come with brown craft paper, which is the perfect blank canvas to be reused (DailyCandy has some awesome ideas). Gifting something for the office or a desk toy? Reuse some office paper you already have! If you're a crafter (and better yet, if your recipient is), sturdy craft paper or fabric is great for using your scraps but also giving them something for their craft box. The important thing with this is to look around and keep your eyes open. I think the most unique item I'm reusing this year for wrap is a plastic produce basket (seen above) from the farmer's market, for a vegetable themed gift.

If you must...
If you must use traditional paper gift wrap options, please consider bags or pretty sturdy boxes instead of wrapping paper, and in solid colors or non-holiday patterns. These can be reused throughout the year (and do encourage your recipients to do so!). A holiday ribbon or spare ornament can make plain packaging festive, and increased the odds of that packaging being reused.

More ideas from the internet
Easy Knit Produce Bag on Delia Creates (this one's not a holiday wrap list, but I think it's a great DIY idea that works as well!)

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