12 Eco-Friendly Wrapping Paper Alternatives

Look around your house to learn how to wrap presents with less waste.

multiple presents wrapped without wrapping paper baskets fabric twine

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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."

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 colored 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?

1. Fabric

Fabric-wrapped present being exchanged between friends

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

You can do a lot with fabric. Think scarves, tea towels, handkerchiefs, large napkins, and more—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 or check out these various tying and knotting ideas from Better Homes & Gardens. Thanks to its pliability, fabric is good for wrapping oddly-shaped presents and going over corners. Look, even Marie Kondo's doing it!

2. Old Maps and Newspapers

two friends exchange presents with map wrapping paper

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

My uncle used to have a huge collection of old National Geographic magazines and each 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 They're out of date, not really used anymore, and have a beautiful vintage look. If you're wrapping for a recipient infected with wanderlust, there's no better way to present a gift. Use clear tape and basic twine so as not to detract attention from the map itself.

3. Other Papers

parchment wrapped coffee cup with christmas flair

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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 might be able to salvage the paper post-unwrapping and reuse it for baking. As much as possible, reuse paper you already have, like used envelopes in different sizes or brown paper bags (they really can look lovely).

Wax paper could do the job, too. In fact, you can even make your own patterned wrapping paper by cutting out patterns from tissue paper, such as big red hearts, and ironing between two sheets of wax paper (covered by a towel) to seal them in place. It creates an attractive transparent sheet that's more robust than the tissue paper on its own. Check out this fun tutorial.

4. Jars, Tins, Pouches, and Dust Bags

glass jar for wrapping a necklace as christmas present

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

See if you can 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 or even their boxes. Jars work well if you wrap them in tissue paper to obscure the contents; add a ribbon for some extra flair.

5. Old Newspapers

wrapping presents with twine and old newspaper

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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 fire-starter, 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—basic shapes cut out of the flat side of a halved raw potato that we dipped in brightly colored tempera paint. Foreign language newspapers and comic sections can also make it more fun.

6. Inside-Out Chip Bags

inside-out chip bag turned into gift wrap for Christmas present

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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 with a bit of dish soap, of course). If the bag is small, cut it down the sides and spread flat for easier wrapping. The recipient will get a fun surprise when they discover the packaging was once used to house Doritos!

7. Cloth Produce Bags

produce bag re-purposed as gift wrap for christmas present

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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. Explain that it can be used for grocery shopping as well, since that might not be immediately obvious.

8. Baskets

hands hold basket used as present holder with red ribbon

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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. Wrap the gift in a new tea towels or scarf, and tuck the sides down to secure it in the basket. You won't need any tape for this approach.

9. Children's Artwork

child's drawing repurposed for gift wrap christmas paper

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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. You could even put them to work ahead of time, encouraging them to created customized posters that illustrate the recipient's personal interests.

10. Boxes

plain brown box repurposed as christmas present with twine

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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. You can do fun things with stacking boxes inside each other, too, to create the illusion of a bigger present than what's actually inside.

11. Clay Flower Pot

clay pot used to hold a christmas gift with ribbon

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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) You can often find vintage flower pots in thrift stores for cheap, and many are quite beautiful. Think of it as a way to look forward to spring.

12. Don't Wrap

two friends exchange jade plant gift with christmas decor nearby

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

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.