If you are fortunate enough to inhabit a nice home full of good things and loving family members, and every holiday season you have the means to pile gifts under a tree or beside the menorah, bravo. If you wrap all those presents in store-purchased wrapping paper with bows and ribbons and lots of tape, then toss those used-once decorative elements into the garbage—bravo rescinded.
Because you are reading a column about sustainability, however, you probably are not that wasteful with your holiday wrappings. Later this month you likely will toss the torn-off paper into your recycling bin, hoping that Sacramento’s scheduled pickup is this week and not next, and salvage what you can for re-use with future gifts.
There might be more you can do, however, to lighten your festivities’ impact on the planet.
Earlier this year, the go-green website treehugger.com listed 12 “eco-friendly alternatives” to traditional wrapping paper. The first suggestion is fabric. “Think scarves, tea towels, handkerchiefs, large napkins, all of which can serve as a bonus gift,” is how writer Katherine Martinko puts it.
“Old maps” is the second suggestion. Imagine the wonder in children’s eyes and the confusion in their minds as you explain to them that these colorful, creased pieces of paper used to help guide you from place to place. “Grandpa, are you telling me that your phone didn’t tell you where to turn and when you’d get there? That’s inconceivable!”
The Tree Hugger article’s list of wrapping paper alternatives also includes parchment paper, newspapers (something else the kids might not be familiar with), “inside-out chip bags,” cloth produce bags, baskets, children’s artwork (that’s an inspired idea), clay flower pots and—dare to be different—no wrapping or wrapping equivalent at all. Rather, consider “a scavenger hunt and hide presents around the house with clues.”
A few years ago, a Wyoming blogger on prairiehomestead.com offered 15 wrapping-paper alternatives, including tissue paper. “If it’s not too crumbled, you use several layers to wrap a gift—and even decorate it with stamps or colored pencils,” Jill Winger wrote. She also suggested grocery bags (of the brown-paper or reusable variety), pillowcases, towels, blankets and—this probably applies more to rural residents than to city folk—feed sacks. (“Perfect wrapping for the homestead folks on your list.”)
Expert Home Tips, another calming website that exists outside the alarming breaking-news world, last year managed to conjure 18 alternatives to wrapping paper. The writer, who goes by “Joanne A,” advised gift givers to employ paper napkins, sheet music, posters, photos (to cover seams in brown-paper packages), and the established, reusable standbys of gift bags and gift boxes.
She began the article by pointing out, “You’d be forgiven for using wrapping paper year after year, but did you know that most of it can’t be recycled? With glitter, foil embellishments and tape remnants, it’s a real nuisance for landfill.”
In other words, forgive yourself if in the past you used lots of one-and-done wrapper paper. Rather, consider the options presented above (no pun intended) and maybe even come up with ideas of your own.
If your children or grandchildren have grown up, or you want to instill in them an appreciation for consumer restraint, giving fewer gifts might further soothe your eco-conscience. You could even stop gifting altogether, but that is a topic of sterner substance for another day.