If all of us reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, we could tie a bow around the planet, and if we all wrapped just three gifts in reused materials, we’d save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. These statistics, from the book, “Use Less Stuff: Environmental Solutions for Who We Really Are,” by Robert Lilienfeld, offer alternatives for producing less waste.
Lilienfeld is also the executive director and founder of the environmental think tank the Sustainable Packaging Research, Information, and Networking Group (SPRING). His research found the 2.65 million Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. “If we sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper,” he says.
Holiday gifts cause 25 million tons of garbage each year
‘Tis the season when we buy holiday gifts and wrap them using papers, ribbons, and bows. The result, each year, creates waste of up to 25 million tons of garbage. That’s a lot of trees. In the United Kingdom, the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) found it takes approximately 50,000 trees to make enough paper to wrap presents.
This is the time of year when holiday shopping and spending rise in almost every country on the planet. Americans spend approximately $2.6 billion on wrapping paper during the holiday season. It’s crazy that we spend so much money on something we rip and throw away.
A brief history of gift giving
Wrapping gifts supposedly started in Japan around 710 B.C. People wrap gifts in fabric called “furoshiki.”
In America in the early 20th century, people started wrapping gifts in tissue paper. It caught on and in 1917, the Hallmark brothers (of the card manufacturing fame) opened a stationery store in Kansas City where they sold tissue paper to wrap presents. Every holiday season, the paper sold out. It caught on and wrapping paper took off.
A changing sentiment
Research published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology in the 1990s found people not only loved getting beautifully wrapped presents, they felt happy when presented with gifts covered in decorative paper, ribbons, and bows.
Maybe that’s changing. Among U.S. adults, 75 percent say they are concerned about the environment, according to a Pew Research survey.
15 Beautiful alternatives to wrapping paper
To keep gift wrapping out of landfills and to present your family and friends with beautifully decorated gifts, try these suggestions:
#1. Use newspapers and magazines
Save newspapers and magazines and use the pages to wrap gifts. This also works with comic books and mailing circulars. Instead of throwing them out, give them a second life by wrapping gifts in them.
#2. An assortment of fabrics, kitchen towels, and pillowcases
If the person you shopped for loves to sew, wrap gifts in decorative fabrics. Kitchen towels double as a covering for a gift and we can all use a nice kitchen towel. The same goes for pillowcases. It covers the gift and the person you gave the pillowcase to will remember you each time he lies his head on the pillow.
#3. Scarfs are not only for warmth
This is another double duty item. It wraps most gifts and will keep the recipient warm on a cold winter’s day.
#4. It’s in the bag
Reusable gift bags are pretty. People who get them tend to hold onto them and reuse them to wrap other gifts, which means it won’t wind up in a landfill. Cloth bags also hold gifts and people reuse them multiple times.
#5. Baked goods
Receiving a tin of muffins, a cake in a pretty pan, or cookies placed on a fancy plate doubles your gift. Not only does the recipient get the yummy treat, he gets to enjoy the reusable tin, pan, or plate. You can enclose the recipe on a decorative card that the recipient will save.
#6. Reuse the cereal box
You can turn it inside out, decorate it, and place the gift inside.
#7. Keep the containers
Plastic takeout containers can hold everything from jewelry to a pair of gloves to tickets for a show, and more. You can cover the container with colorful fall leaves.
#8. Food glorious food
Make a small pot of homemade soup and place it in a decorative pot with a lid. It’s another yummy idea. Make sure to include the recipe.
#9. Mugs for coffee and tea
Fill a large mug with coffee beans or tea. Add festive cinnamon sticks.
#10. Baskets hold a lot
Place your gift in a basket and cover it with cloth napkins. This way, it hides the gift and the recipient gets three gifts: the actual gift, the napkins, and the basket.
#11. Glass jars and festive looking glasses
Glass jars can hold homemade jams, sauces, and other edible gifts. You can fill drinking glasses with chocolates, homemade cake mixes where each layer has a different ingredient and the recipe, or packages of seeds for a garden.
#12. Old maps, sheet music, or pages from a coloring book
If you have these items in your home and don’t know what to do with them, they make excellent wrapping for gifts.
#13. Clay pots for the gardener
You can add gardening gloves, a packet of seeds, and a small shovel.
#14. Keep the container
One of my favorite stores sells coconut body butter that comes in a plastic container. I removed the labels and used the containers to house jewelry. Everyone who receives these “boxes” keep them for their earrings and other jewelry.
#15. Delightful deceptions
The original Prank-O company sells boxes designed with weird and strange images on the outside of the box. You might think you’re getting a box of single socks (not pairs} and lids because we all have lost socks and lids. They have a line of cereal boxes hawking broccoli bites and shrimp snacks. You can put anything that fits inside. The trick is not to laugh when you give these gifts. The person on the receiving end is definitely in for a surprise.
Make it memorable
“As far as gifts go,” Lilienfeld says, “my advice is to give gifts of experience, not of things. We tend to remember them longer and more fondly.”
He suggests trips to sporting events, concerts, museums, restaurants, etc. “Not only don’t these use any stuff,” he explains, “but they avoid the ‘supply chain’” problems we keep hearing about. Ball games won’t be canceled because a container load of athletes can’t make it from China, through the Port of Long Beach, to Milwaukee, in time for their game.”
These decorative boxes originally contained coconut body butter from Trader Joe’s. I removed the labels and ingredients list, cleaned them, and use them as gift containers for small items like jewelry. (Photo credit: Michele C. Hollow)