12 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

Wrapped Christmas gift
Public Domain.

DiEtte Henderson / Unsplash

Look around your house and you'll discover all kinds of ways to wrap presents beautifully with less waste.

A friend messaged me last week to ask about green alternatives to wrapping paper. "I haven’t wrapped anything yet and refuse to buy paper," she wrote. "I thought of old newspaper, but it is ugly, and brown paper bags are still wasteful. I might have to use an old newspaper and tell the kids Santa made a conscious choice this year not to waste."

It got me thinking because I'm facing the same dilemma. I have used up all the old rolls of wrapping paper that were left behind in the house we bought and have worked my way through the boxes of old wrapping supplies that I've stockpiled over the years. We're down to almost nothing and I, too, haven't wrapped a single present yet.

My friend's concerns about replacing wrapping paper with brown paper are valid. It is wasteful, although brown/kraft paper is easier to recycle than shiny coloured wrapping paper (which is usually non-recyclable). So if you have to choose between the two, I'd say go for the brown paper.

But what other options exist? Here are some ideas, based on Internet research, conversations with friends, and ideas of my own. The key to success, of course, is planning in advance. In an ideal world we'd be accumulating these packaging items throughout the year so that Christmas doesn't feel like such a scramble. That will be one of my goals for next year!

1. Fabric

You can do a lot with fabric. Think scarves, tea towels, handkerchiefs, large napkins, all of which can serve as a bonus gift. Many of these can be found at very little cost at a thrift store. If the piece of cloth is big enough, use a funky furoshiki-style knot to fasten it. Look, even Marie Kondo's doing it!

2. Old Maps

My uncle used to have a huge collection of old National Geographic magazines and every one seemed to come with a map. Now when I think about it, those would make fantastic wrappings for gifts. They're out of date, not really used anymore, and have that beautiful vintage look that everyone's going so crazy for on Instagram these days.

3. Other Papers

Parchment paper is light and white, yet opaque enough that a person wouldn't be able to see through to the gift. Tape does not stick to it easily, so you can salvage the paper post-unwrapping and reuse it for baking. Wax paper could do the job, too. Repurpose old envelopes in various sizes as gift-wrap.

4. Jars, Tins, Pouches, and Dust Bags

See if you skip the wrapping paper altogether and put your gift in an alternative form of packaging – a reusable container or bag that hides the contents from view without any waste, but still delivers a feeling of anticipation. Lush's shampoo bar tins come to mind, as do cute little zippered makeup bags and the dust bags that fancy shoes come in.

5. Old Newspapers

I still wouldn't give up entirely on newspaper, even though many people don't read paper ones anymore. I go to the local corner store to ask for old papers as firestarter, and I'm allowed to pull them out of the recycling bin. Why not use these to wrap gifts, if they're already earmarked for the trash? You could get kids to paint them as a craft activity; my mom used to make us potato stamps, like the ones pictured below. Foreign language newspapers and comic sections can also make it more fun.

6. Inside-Out Chip Bags

This ingenious idea comes via EcoCult. It suggests flipping chip bags inside out to reveal their shiny silver side and using that to wrap a small gift (after washing out the salty residue, of course).

7. Cloth Produce Bags

Pass on the gift of reusable produce bags by wrapping a present in one. Whether it's a store-bought drawstring bag or a simple handmade bag with a ribbon to tie it shut, you can't go wrong with this option. (Learn how to make your own bags here.)

8. Baskets

Baskets are super cheap at thrift stores and highly practical. Buy a basket that suits the size of your gift and the recipient will be able to enjoy it as well.

9. Children's Artwork

If you have young kids, then you probably inhabit an art zone. Put some of these original paintings to work by turning them into wrapping paper. Your kids will be so proud.

10. Boxes

Do not overlook the humble box. With the amount of online shopping that happens these days, there's a good chance you have a stash of boxes somewhere in the house, awaiting recycling pickup. Use these to hold gifts, and dress them up with paint, twine, evergreen boughs, or fabric ribbons.

11. Clay Flower Pot

This is a great idea, sustainable and practical. Put a gift inside a clay flower pot, decorated if you wish. If it comes with a bottom dish for catching water, put this on top as a temporary lid and tie with twine. Otherwise, "Set the pot in the center of a large square of fabric. Bring the edges up in a bundle over the top of the pot and secure with ribbon or and elastic." (via Inhabitat)

12. Don't Wrap

In the end, my friend decided to forego the wrapping altogether. Instead, she's going to do a scavenger hunt and hide presents around the house with clues. It sounds like a great alternative and one that will prolong the Christmas morning excitement.