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"Green" Alternatives to Gift Wrap

[Editor's Note: In many areas, gift wrap is not accepted for recycling because of its high metal content. But it can be reused! At our house, we keep a large bag, and when we succeed in opening a present without destroying the paper, it goes into the bag. Some particularly nice ones have wrapped three or four presents so far, though when going outside our own household, we use paper that's only been used once before. Emily Darling offers a number of creative and artistic alternatives that still wrap a gift, but use no wrapping paper at all.]

At the holidays, birthday parties, and every other gift-giving occasion, I'm haunted by images of rolls and rolls of pretty paper wrapped around gifts momentarily, then torn off, crumpled up and tossed into huge trash bags. I want the gifts I give to look attractive and presentable, of course, but those huge bags just create too much waste and subsequent guilt for me.

So, here's what I've decided to do:

Wrap gifts in newspaper (aiming for comics, color, and no horribly depressing stories). Then I make tags out of colored paper (I have scissors that cut the edges in different patterns, metallic markers, hole punchers that punch out stars and other shapes, etc.)--the tags do help to dress it up. Starting with newspaper is already recycling, and it seems more likely to get folded up and recycled afterward than wrapping paper does.

Other ideas:

1. If you have kids (or you're a teacher or otherwise have access to children) have them paint or decorate the newspaper. You might also use their school assignments, or have them embellish the recycled paper available on large rolls at craft stores and use that-- then recycle the paper when the gifts are opened.

2. Use fabric. Cheap pillowcases work, as do the odd-looking ones from the old sheet sets you never use anymore, or remnants of fabric (very inexpensive at fabric stores). Plus, they can all be reused. Tape doesn't hold them well, but a cloth ribbon (also economical and reusable) holds it together nicely. If you're crafty, there's no limit to your options. Choose festive and appropriate fabric. Consider adding edging, patches, buttons, draw-ties, or other adornments.

3. Use shopping bags--the ones you get from stores or prettier ones you can buy. They're also very reusable, for giving gifts or just toting stuff around. They can be decorated with stickers, paint, markers, ribbons, etc. Sometimes just tying the handles together with a ribbon and hanging a gift tag on it works wonders.

4. If the gift came in a box, bag, or paper wrapping, just use that.

5. Maps (particularly relevant ones from a trip or hometown) are attractive and fun. The next time you clean out your car and come across all of those old maps or atlases, save them as gift-wrap.

Lastly, develop a plan for explaining the philosophy to people without seeming to inflict guilt for whatever wrapping method they use. Something like "I'm looking for alternatives to wrapping paper and newspaper seems much more recyclable to me" might go over well. Then take it upon yourself to fold up the paper and recycle it or bring a bag for storing the ribbons and fabric. You can offer the reusable wrappings to your recipient in case they'd like to use it again, or take it home with you for the next occasion. You might even end up with sentimentality for a specific wrapping--use the same one every year on a friend's birthday and they'll come to look forward to the familiar covering.

I wish you and yours all of the best in both giving and receiving.

Emily is a volunteer for Freecycle (, a worldwide network of local groups offering items to each other for free, as the owner of her town's group, the New Groups Approver for her area, and a member of the Group Outreach & Assistance team. She is a Sexuality Counselor ( offering services online and in person.

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