5 Simple Zero-Waste Holiday Gift Wrapping Ideas

Presents are great, but the excessive wrapping can cause a ton of unnecessary waste.

December 4, 2017
gift wrapping

I come from a long line of thrifty Yankees. One of our holiday traditions was the "brown ribbon." Some decades earlier, an uncle had received a package trimmed with the most hideous ribbon anyone in the family had ever seen, made of dark brown gauze with gold threads running through it.

The following year the ribbon reappeared on a package addressed to another family member from the original (and now smirking) recipient. After that, the brown ribbon's fate was sealed: It reappeared on a package each year. And just who would be honored with it was the subject of much conjecture beforehand.


Brown ribbon tradition or not, here are a few suggestions to help you decorate gift packages for your family and friends without spending much (or any) money on wrapping. Plus, with these tips you won't add to the inevitable avalanche of ripped-apart paper that gets tossed into the trash this time of year. 

(Brag your love of gardening with the Organic Life 2018 Wall Calendar, featuring gorgeous photographs, cooking tips and recipes, plus how to eat more—and waste less—of what's in season.)

Just Trim It

Giving away wine or some other spirit? Tie a pretty, reusable ribbon around the neck of the bottle. Or dress up any gift with little bunches of greenery, berries, and other natural materials from your yard or local park (bunches of perennial herbs are especially nice and can be used for cooking too). Tie with twine or yarn scraps. (Here's how to forage for Christmas greens without hurting the environment.)

Watch the quick video below to find out how to make an upcycled bow from an old magazine:

Make The Wrapping A Gift Itself

Package small gifts in glass storage jars. Besides being useful food-storage containers that don't contain chemicals that leach into food, they make great drinking glasses and flower vases. (I'm partial to wide-mouth canning jars, which cost about a buck each.) Reusable shopping bags, or a scarf pinned shut with a brooch, also make great gift wrappers. It's even more fun to stick to a theme: Wrap something for the kitchen in a bright dishtowel, wrap a local guidebook in a local road map, or present that new electronic gadget in a protective carrying bag.

Related: 15 Old-Fashioned Gifts For Your Garden, Kitchen, And Home To Transport You Back To A Simpler Time

Box It

Make colorful, reusable gift boxes out of the shoeboxes, shirt boxes, and other boxes you’ve accumulated over the years. Glue leftover wrapping paper, pages from magazines and newspapers, and other images that match the recipient’s taste onto the box and lid (make sure the box will open without disturbing the paper). And, of course, save wrapping paper and trimmings that come your way this season to use for future gifts and holiday crafts.

Related: How To Turn Citrus Fruits Into Gorgeous DIY Christmas Ornaments

little girl decorating during the holidays
Terry Vine/J Patrick Lane/getty

Let The Kids Help

For an easy holiday craft that kids of all ages can turn old paper bags and plain newsprint leftover from craft projects into seasonal wrapping. Cut thin sponges into holiday stamps—stars, candy canes, trees, etc.—or use an X-acto knife to carve a raised shape into the flat side of a cut potato. Then let the kids stamp up a storm with nontoxic paint. (Instead of buying paint, I like to dice up a red beet and simmer it in a little water until only a thin layer of red juice remains. The juice makes great ink, and you can eat the beet or use it in a stew.)

Related: How To Make Rice Glue

Take A Half-Step

If you're not ready to give up wrapping paper just yet, buy recycled and recyclable brands (skip the foil type, it's difficult to recycle). And be sure to save (or properly recycle) all the wrappings, ribbons, and boxes that come your way.