During the holiday season, gifts are exchanged in millions of households across the world. Gift after gift, wrapping paper and bows are tossed in the trash, leaving extra piles of garbage at the street, waiting to be taken to the landfill.
As someone who is environmentally conscious, I’ve always tried to reuse gift bags, bows, and occasionally tissue paper. Sometimes I just feel like a cheapskate, but I can’t bear to throw away perfectly good boxes, bags, and wrapping decor. Each year, I watch as mounds of wrapping paper, tags, bows, and ribbons are thrown away in the garbage. I think about the amount of waste we Americans throw away every holiday season, just to wrap gifts. How much gift wrap do we throw out? Can we recycle these items or use something more environmentally friendly? Why isn’t reusable gift wrap more popular?
So I did some research.
Here are the facts on holiday wrapping:
- Half of the paper America consumes is used to wrap and decorate gifts! (Source: The Recycler’s Handbook, 1990; recycleworks.org)
- According to Hallmark, Americans spend $3.2 BILLION on gift wrap (wrapping paper and gift bags). Because of the amount of money spent of wrapping gifts, there is actually a gift wrap INDUSTRY worth billions of dollars, most of which it earns during the holidays. (money.usnews.com)
- 38,000 miles of ribbon is thrown away each year, enough to tie a bow around the earth. (hearts.com)
- The problem with recycling most gift wrap is that the dyes, lamination, and metallic accents on gift wrap make the paper NOT recyclable. (intercongreen.com) It may be called wrapping “paper” but it’s filled with foils and plastics.
- According to the Clean Air Council, “In the U.S., an additional 5 million tons of waste is generated during the holidays. Four million tons of this is wrapping paper and shopping bags.” (treehugger.com)
- If we assume 15 trees are needed to generate one TON of wrapping paper, this amounts to 60 million trees being cut down JUST TO WRAP GIFTS! (treehugger.com)
- Gift bags are much more likely to be reused (than gift wrap). However, ribbons and bows cannot be recycled and are seldom reused.
- Different cities have different recycling programs. Some programs accept non-metallic wrapping paper (without glitter) while others do not. Check your city’s recycling rules to be certain of what you can recycle. (livegreen.recyclebank.com)
Ok, so we Americans waste A LOT of wrapping products during the holidays. We’re told to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but we don’t always consider that when we wrap gifts or after the gifts are opened. People are too busy thinking about the holiday, visiting with family, and cleaning up quickly to focus on reusing and recycling.
What holiday gift wrap is recyclable?
CAN BE RECYCLED:
- Cardboard boxes
- Plain gift wrap without foils and glitter (tape scraps are ok!)
- Plain tissue paper
- Plain gift bags (remove the handles first!)
ITEMS THAT CANNOT BE RECYCLED:
- Wrapping paper with foils and glitter
- Gift bags with shiny accents, foils, and plastic coatings
- Curling ribbon
- Bows, tinsel, and shiny accents
- Cellophane from gift baskets or packaging
Be sure to check the recycling guidelines in your community for specifics on recycling wrapping paper.
What about tissue paper?
Plain tissue paper is recyclable. It’s also usually made from recycled materials. However, because it has a low fiber content, it’s difficult to recycle and results in a low yield of recycled product. Because of this, it’s better to reuse tissue paper as much as possible. You can even compost it! Reuse tissue paper for kids’ craft projects, wrapping fragile items into storage (I wrap my ornaments in old, reused tissue paper), and for packing boxes.
What can I do to help the environment when I want to wrap a gift?
- Buy plain gift wrap (like craft paper) and/or buy gift wrap with recycled content
- Buy reusable gift wrap that can be used over and over again
- Use newspapers, old maps, wallpaper samples, old calendars, or blueprints for gift wrap
- Reuse decorative gift bags, ribbon, and bows
- Only buy fabric ribbons and reuse it
- Purchase reusable gift bags or cloth bags and encourage the recipient to reuse the bag next year.
- Wrap with scraps of fabric, place gifts in jars, or use plain boxes you can decorate.
- Make reusable pre-wrapped gift boxes (with the top and bottom wrapped separately)
- Buy reusable decorative boxes (skip the wrapping paper!), tins, or baskets
- Consider giving gifts that require no gift wrap, like gift cards, service gifts (like massages or cleaning service), or donations to charity
- Get creative and make gift tags from boxes, last years Christmas cards, or card stock
What gift wrap should I buy?
I’ve compiled a short list which features my favorite eco-friendly gift wrap. All of these items can be purchased at Amazon. Click on the links below to visit these products on Amazon’s website. (Disclosure: I earn a small commission if you purchase through these links. Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect you or your price.)
What else can I do around the holidays to help the environment?
- Avoid using disposable plates, cups, utensils, and napkins and use reusable ones instead.
- Shop retailers that are conscientious about excess waste. For example, choose Amazon’s frustration free packaging that reduces the amount of package waste and only uses 100% recyclable packaging.
- Avoid buying plastic gift cards and purchase/send E-gift cards instead.
- Skip sending paper cards in the mail and send Christmas cards via email.
- If you buy fresh Christmas trees each year, purchase a potted tree and replant it in the spring.
But eco-friendly wrapping isn’t cheap!
Yes, eco-friendly gift wrap can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There is always the option of buying plain kraft paper, using old fabric, or old newspapers. If you choose to spend the few extra dollars on recyclable or reusable gift wrap, know that you are cutting down on the millions of pounds of gift wrap that’s tossed into landfills each year! If you make a small investment buying reusable gift wrap for your family, hopefully the trend will catch on, and in a few years time, everyone will be using the family’s stock of reusable bags! Then, you’d hardly ever have to buy more gift wrap. If you don’t like that route, buy plain, cheap bags and decorate them yourself. Some stores will package your purchased items in a small paper bag that you can simply reuse as a gift bag. You can be frugal, be environmentally conscious, and beautifully wrap a gift.
As companies today are trying to show that they are environmentally sensitive, they should take the extra step to encourage environmentally friendly wrapping. Perhaps they could include a plain gift bag in a shipment or add a few colorful shapes to boxes for people to cut out for gift tags. After all, retailers are the ones that make up a large portion of our landfill waste.
Know that each small thing you do for the environment has an impact, even though you may not see its effects right away. If every person in this country wrapped just one present in reusable gift wrap, just think of how much less would go in our landfill!
One gift at a time, YOU can make a difference on our planet.
sources: money.usnews.com, intercongreen.com, southernliving.com, dnainfo.com/chicago, treehugger.com, livegreen.recyclebank.com, recycleworks.org