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Wrap your holiday in style—eco-style that is. With so many environmentally friendly ways to dress up gifts, send cards, or invite guests—whether for Christmas or Hanukkah—you’ll have a hard time choosing! We’ve got heaps of resources to help get you saving money and cutting holiday waste—everything from reusable gift wrapping to e-cards to gift tags to homemade gift boxes to natural ribbon. Just remember: there's a lot of greenwash out there! So if you want to be secure in your eco-friendly purchases, look for certifiably-green products whenever possible.

Ideas for eco-friendly giftwrap, cards, and invitations

We consume and discard enormous quantities of wrapping paper and ribbon as we tear into the treasures left for us by family and friends. But choosing reusable or recycled options can significantly reduce our consumption and save us money! In fact, by wrapping just three gifts in recycled paper from around the house, our combined efforts would save enough paper to plaster 45,000 football fields with the stuff.[1] Similarly, if US families reused a mere 2 feet of ribbon every holiday, it would amount to enough ribbon (38,000 miles) to tie a bow around our globe![2]

Wrapping paper, ribbon, gift boxes, and bags

Inspire even the staunchest non-wrappers in your family to get in on the gift wrapping action by trying these great eco-friendly wrapping ideas.

  • Fabric gift bags: No more 2 am wrapping parties! Whether you make your own or purchase store-bought fabric gift wrapping and bags, you’ll save money and time with these stress-reducing options. In fact, these fabric wraps and bags are so much quicker and easier than wrapping with paper, even un-nimble fingers won’t mind the work.
  • Reusable bags and boxes: Earth-conscious gift givers can wrap their presents in an eco-friendly fashion by purchasing reusable gift bags or boxes that can be passed from gift recipient to gift recipient—they may even find themselves halfway around the world! Many are made with sustainable ingredients like recycled cotton or paper.
  • Recycled and tree-free giftwrap: If you’re still interested in using old-fashioned paper to dress-up your gifts, go for paper made with post-consumer recycled content. Tree-free options also exist, and are made from bamboo, kenaf, hemp, cotton, and even sheep poo!
  • Renewable, biodegradable, and recycled finishing touches: When thinking about how to finish off your gifts, consider resilience and recyclability. A lot of ribbons and bows found at your local store are made using petroleum products which means they’re not sustainable nor are they recyclable, but many renewable or recyclable options do exist. If you’re going for longevity (a great idea if you want to reduce waste), then choose long-lasting ribbons made from organic or natural fibers such as cotton, silk, hemp, or bamboo. Less durable options also exist, such as recycled paper and biodegradable crepe paper. Don't forget the biodegradable tape!

If you’re handy with scissors and craft tools, you may wish to fashion your own items for bundling up your gifts:

  • Sew fabric gift bags: Whip up some homemade reusable gift bags to use from year to year by repurposing old sheets, pillow cases, scraps of fabric, or even holiday-themed sweaters and T-shirts. But if nothing around your home inspires, try purchasing good quality, eco-friendly fabrics made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, or even silk. Get all kinds of patterns online: Craft Stylish, The Artful Crafter, or Furoshiki to name a few.
  • Recycling paper for wrapping: Wrap up those gifts in paper found around your house, like old maps (for the traveler), comics (for the humorist), or children’s artwork (for parents). Last year’s holiday wrapping (ironed out) and used paper bags also work nicely as home-grown recycled options.
  • DIY gift boxes: Found items—holiday greeting cards, cereal boxes—from around your house can also be reused to make gift boxes in a variety of shapes and sizes, all of which’ll save money and reduce trips to the recycling bin.
  • Give two useful presents instead of one: Wrapping a gift within a gift. For example, tuck cooking utensils in an apron or "package" gifts in a jewelry box, flower pot, or basket.

Gift tags, cards, and invitations

The US Postal Service estimates that they deliver more than 20 billion pieces of mail between Thanksgiving and Christmas.[3] In fact, nearly 300,000 trees are cut down to serve as raw material for the approximately 1.9 billion holiday cards sent each year—enough to fill a football field 10 stories high.[4][5] You can reduce the trash associated with cards and invitations by using tags and cards that relieve the earthly load.

  • Growing gift cards and tags: Use gift tags that go on to live second lives in your recipient’s flower garden. These unique touches contain paper embedded with flower or herb seeds that can be planted straight in the ground, so that no card trash is leftover!
  • Reusable gift tags: Make your own reusable gift tags or buy some that you can use from year to year. Some come with smooth surfaces which can be written on and wiped off many times over; others are more durable and meant to be permanently addressed to a particular recipient and reused for that same person in years to come. These’ll keep saving you money long after you’ve purchased them!
  • Recycled or renewable content gift tags and cards: Pick up some gift tags made from recycled paper or make your own from used paper, file folders, or cardboard. Other alternatives include tags and cards made from hemp, kenaf, or bamboo fibers. And you can even repurpose last year’s holiday cards as gift tags!
  • Electronic invitations and cards: Need to send family newsletters or invitations to your holiday bash? Try out evites and cards to save paper, stamps, and money! Or create your own family newsletter in your word processing software, save it, and send it as an attachment using your regular email program. You can still send paper invites and cards to those few non-emailers on your list.

Recycling used giftwrap, cards, and tags

Regardless of what you’ve used for your gifts, you’ll likely be left with some non-reusable items. Just be sure to safely dispose of it all, whenever possible.

  • Reuse old cards: When the holiday’s over and you’ve got a stack of cards leftover, reuse them for bookmarks, postcards, and kids crafts. Or save them for stylish decorating options next holiday season!
  • Recycle boxes, Styrofoam, and plastic packaging: Don’t forget that many new gifts come wrapped in layers of cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam, and more. Ensure that your holidays are waste-free by searching Earth 911 for ways to recycle these materials (or avoid them altogether by choosing the eco-friendly packaging option whenever possible).

Find it! Eco-friendly giftwrap, cards, ribbon, and tags

Stock up on eco-friendly paper, cards, tags, and more with these green gift-finishing options.

Choosing eco-friendly giftwrap, cards, and tags helps you go green because...

  • Reusable options reduce your waste—more so the longer you use them.
  • Recycled options reuse materials, save energy, and reduce waste.
  • Tree-free options cut forest destruction.

Nothing ramps up your gift-giving wattage like the dazzle and shine of wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. Unfortunately, all this pretty trim can add up to a mountain of waste and depleted resources. Indeed, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day, Americans chuck a million extra tons of trash each week, and as much as half of the 85 million tons of paper products America consumes every year goes toward packaging, wrapping, and decorating consumer goods.[2][6] Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the US.[7]

The ugly side of giftwrap

Like most forms of paper, giftwrap impacts the environment adversely during its disposal and production alike, initially consuming virgin resources (trees, water, fuel) before ending up in landfills. Compared to other industries, pulp and paper manufacturing uses the most water per ton of product.

Add to the paper production problems the fact that most conventional giftwrap is not recyclable, and you've got waste at both ends of the usage line. Giftwrap's impact on our waste flow becomes especially noticeable during the holiday shopping season when Americans create an average of 25 percent more trash than usual, to the tune of 1 million additional tons each week between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.[8]

Local waste management centers often differ in their approaches to giftwrap recycling. For example, New York City recycles wrapping paper as part of its standard mixed-paper flow, while the city of Boulder, Colorado, accepts giftwrap for only one month each year after the holiday season, listing it as a contaminant within the normal paper recycling stream for the remainder of the year due to its high clay and ink contents.

Tape troubles

Most adhesive tape sold in the US is made from synthetic acetate and petroleum byproducts that aren't biodegradable or recyclable. Because millions of miles of tape are sold each year, the environmental impact can be significant. 3M alone (maker of Scotch Tape) claims to sell enough tape annually to circle the planet 165 times.[9]

As environmental standards tighten, some tape manufacturers are looking to replace petroleum-based adhesives with water-based materials, but few are yet available. One alternative, available mostly in Europe, is tape made of biodegradable regenerated cellulose, derived from wood pulp.

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