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The element of surprise is essential when it comes to the excitement of opening gifts. Wrapping, boxing or bagging gifts to put under the Christmas tree, next to the menorah or wherever you may stash your gifts helps build suspense for the moment they are finally opened. However, all that beautiful wrapping paper is ripped up and soon enough ends up in the trash.

“When we’re talking [about] waste management of all the holiday stuff, reduce and reuse are the things we should strive for,” said Matt Grondin, communications manager at ecomaine. “In terms of what that means in terms of wrapping or gift giving we really want to push for reusable materials so we’re reducing the amount of materials that’s entering the waste stream in the first place.”

Gift wrap is complicated trash, too. Popular Science estimates that wrapping paper generates $7 billion in the U.S. alone and creates millions of tons of waste, much of which ends up in landfills. Some gift wrapping material cannot be recycled, either, because it contains plastic elements.

“Many wrapping papers have non-recyclable components combined together into a composite,” said Cindy Isenhour associate professor at the University of Maine. “Sometimes these include foils or glitter that contain plastics. People may put them in the recycling bin but they end up as contamination, often reducing the value of the materials that are recyclable.”

Also, many wrapping papers are recyclable in theory, but in reality, there are no recycling centers in the area that will take and process the materials.

“This is an old industry trick, labelling something as recyclable even when processors and markets don’t exist,” Isenhourm said. “The whole process of recycling takes lots of energy and other inputs needed to sort papers from other recyclables, bale them, store them, move them, get them to market [and] reprocess them into new products. By [reusing] wrapping paper, we don’t need to waste energy and resources on making new products or on recycling.”

If you are looking to have a more sustainable holiday season or are just looking to save a few bucks, consider switching your usable one-and-done wrapping paper for one of these alternatives. Some are upcycled, bringing new life to materials from your trash can and recycling bins, while others can be used year after year if you store them with your lights and ornaments.

Newspapers and magazines

If you have stacks of newspapers piling up, unfold your favorite colorful page and reuse it to wrap presents under the Christmas tree.

“Wrapping in the comics is a really fun way to wrap [gifts],” Grondin said. “It’s colorful and it’s ultimately a very recyclable commodity.”

Just because you are wrapping with newspaper doesn’t mean it needs to look like trash, though. Add a nice ribbon from bits and bobs you’ve gathered over the years (we all have that stash, after all). Or, head to your yard and look for some holly, pine springs or pinecones to festively top the present.

Newspapers aren’t the only paper you can upcycle either. Magazine pages make for lovely, colorful upcycled wrapping. You can make a colorful gift wrap bow out of strips of magazines and a little bit of tape as well. Try this easy DIY from the blog Tomato Boots to see for yourself.


Cardboard is another one of those infinitely reusable materials around the house. Repurpose old boxes for presents under the tree, and decorate them with markers and other odds and ends to make them look more festive.

Even cardboard tubes used for toilet paper and paper towel rolls can be used as a gift box.

“One thing that my coworker does [is take] a toilet paper roll and make it into a little gift box by folding in the ends,” Grondin said. “It makes this gift card sized pouch which is really handy. ”


Whether you are a crafter with scraps of fabric lying around or are looking for a way to upcycle an old t-shirt, wrapping a gift in fabric is a cozy and cute way to keep it concealed until it is time to open presents.

“I am not crafty, but there are people who are, and I understand they have a lot of fabric scraps,” Grondin laughed. “Sometimes those can make really good wrapping. Cotton especially can be composted after the fact.”

There are many stylish ways to wrap a gift with fabric. Take a tip from Japanese furoshiki, which is the art of wrapping with fabric, in order to make your cloth-wrapped gift look extra nice. The wrapping can even be a part of the gift itself if you use, for example, a gauzy scarf.

“There are many great holiday fabrics, many produced sustainably that can be used to wrap presents year after year after year,” Isenhourm said. “I’ve been entertaining my family with fabric wrapping paper for years. They always give it back to me to use the following year. My sister-in-law and nieces have even upcycled some of it to make reusable holiday bags.”

Gift bags

Paper gift bags are reusable. Stuff them with something recyclable, or with newspapers and magazines that you were going to throw away anyway. You can also purchase cloth gift bags that are even more durable if you plan to use them year after year.

“There’s a lot that can go into a cloth bag and allows somebody who receives the gift to use it again next year,” Grondin said. “Gift bags are really reusable.”

You could also wrap the present in a reusable grocery bag or tote bag if you want the bag to be part of the gift itself as well.

No matter what you choose to wrap your presents with, if you choose one of these options, you will be making the footprint of your gift giving season a little bit lighter this year.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misspelled Cindy Isenhour’s name.

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