Thursday, February 13, 2014

Eco-friendly Gift Wrapping

This isn't a timely post, but I just found these pictures on my camera and decided to write the post I planned back in December when I was wrapping Christmas presents.

I've long been put off by the incredible amount of waste generated by wrapping paper, and over the past few years I've taken a few steps to try to mitigate that. This year, I thought I did a particularly good job at cutting down on the amount of wrapping I used on Christmas gifts, and thought I would showcase some of these strategies here.

While these are all Christmas gifts, most of the strategies work just as well for wrapping gifts for other occasions throughout the year.

The first is the prettiest. I took several smaller gifts for my mother-in-law and wrapped them in one package, to save on paper. For wrapping paper I used brown paper bags that I had saved throughout the year. It's rare that I buy breakfast or lunch at work, and when I do I often refuse a bag, but sometimes it's necessary, or the meal is bagged before I can say no. When that happens, if the bag is clean, I always save it. I rarely have any other use for these small paper bags, so I usually just save them until I have something appropriately-sized to wrap. Then I dug into the bags of wrapping paper and ribbons I've saved from gifts over the years, and found the perfect red ribbon to make the package beautiful and seasonal. In past years, I've also used brightly-colored yarn to make the bows for this type of gift wrap.

For other gifts, I just straight-up reused old wrapping paper. Many people who've gotten married recently will recognize the paper on the first of these gifts; it's from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We registered there before our 2011 wedding, and I made a point of saving the wrapping paper from any gifts that were shipped to my home. (It didn't seem practical to do the same at my bridal shower, though I would have loved to.) My family all thought I was crazy, but it's been nearly 3 years now and I haven't had to buy wrapping paper once. I've been slowly reusing the nice, neutral paper for all occasions ever since our honeymoon. My big bag of wrapping paper has various other wrapping and tissue papers as well, and I used some blue tissue paper to wrap a gift for my husband.

The next strategy was to just pretty up the bag the gift came in. We bought a craft kit for our niece at the Build it Green! NYC holiday market. It came in a white bag, and all I did was add tissue paper (also BB&B wedding left-overs) and a bow. It still looked festive enough for Christmas morning, not much different from any purpose-made gift bag.

And finally, there's the plain-old wrapping-free tactic. One gift my husband received was a gift certificate to the movies, which was accompanied by boxes of theater-style candy. The gift certificate (from Swagbucks, incidentally - use that link to sign up and you can start earning gift cards, and I'll get a referral) went inside the card, and the candy just got taped to the other side.

I went a little further with the "no wrapping" on some other gifts, to the point that they didn't even merit a photograph. For my family, I just distributed unwrapped gifts around the dinner table. My secret Santa gifts at work were wrapping-free to the extent that I'm not entirely sure the recipient actually recognized that they were her gifts. I may have gone a bit overboard there; I suppose I could have sprung for a bow.

Still, having come across the statistic (which I cannot find at the moment) that 50% of waste generated in America is wrapping, I'm perfectly okay with my more modest wrapping techniques, many of which are just as festive and aesthetically pleasing as any roll of wrapping paper you can buy.

UPDATE: The statistic that 50% of trash by weight is packaging materials comes from Stanford University's page on recycling. H/T Kitchen Stewardship.