Lower Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas

DIY reusable fabric gift wrap and ribbons
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Christmas is almost here! Where does the time go? Still shopping and wrapping? Yup, me too! Here are lower waste gift wrapping ideas for pretty presents and ideas for gifts that don’t require any wrapping at all.  Plus check out the DIY details at the end of our post on how to make reusable homemade fabric wrapping like the feature photo above (and more).  See our Christmas gift ideas for gardeners if you have a gardener on you holiday gift list and need some help!

Lower Waste Options for Wrapping Paper

Selecting a Paper for Lower Waste Gift Wrapping:

  • Use what you already have before buying more.
  • Opt for products with post-consumer content.
  • Choose papers that are recyclable in your local area (no glitter, foil, metallics, etc.).
  • Choose papers that can be (further) shredded and composted or fed to worm farm.
  • Save and re-purpose paper from packaging, shopping bags, etc.
  • Substitute butchers’ paper or brown paper (plain or drawn/stamped with your own DIY designs).
  • Choose embellishments, cords, ribbons, etc. that can be reused, composted, or recycled (see more on embellishments below).

If you’re crafty or have young artists to lend a hand, making painted, stamped, stencilled, drawn, or otherwise embellished wrapping paper (or bags, boxes, etc.) can be a fun creative project. Some or all may still become waste (if being ripped), but you get the joy of the creation and the bonus function of wrapping and sharing your art. Creative fun can be tricky if you’re aiming for lower waste, so a multi-function craft is nice.

Lower Waste Gift Wrapping When Using Paper:

  • Consider before cutting to reduce off-cut waste.
  • Cut to size and try not to over-wrap (or over-embellish).
  • Wrap without using plastic tape (use paper tape or secure with string/ribbon).
  • Avoid sticky tags that can’t be recycled.
  • Attach reusable embellishments is a way that makes it easy to remove them without damage.

Paper Gift Wrapping in Our Household

We still wrap presents, although probably much less than the average household. Our dogs love ripping (paper is more fun than the presents!) so we don’t want to go completely paper-free. Instead, we use recyclable wrapping. They don’t care about looks either, so anything goes! Recycling is still waste, but the boys often have longer lasting fun with a cardboard tube or box than some short-lived “tough” toys.  They’re very helpful with shredding for our home recycling system. Haha! The recycled cardboard tube gift wrapping pictured below can be found at Dalmatian DIY.
 
With no children, that’s the bulk of our wrapping. We tend to keep things pretty low-key for ourselves, with Christmas stockings and a few presents.  My Christmas stocking was knitted by my grandmother for my first Christmas and has travelled the world with me for every Christmas since, so it’s an extra special part of my holidays.
Gifts wrapped in homemade recycled cardboard tube pillow boxes

Reusable Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

Most papers are typically single use, but if you avoid using sticky tags or tapes, many gift boxes and bags can be reused multiple times before they’re too worn out for reuse. The perpetually returning gift bag that cycles between friends or relatives could even become a tradition. 

For wrapping, really, anything goes! Many of the other alternatives to paper wrapping can become part of the gift itself.  Baby blankets are my favourite way to wrap shower gifts. Think outside of the usual “wrapping” options as well. Last year, I discovered how to make Christmas socks (like the photo below from last Christmas) extra popular by using them as bottle wrapping.

Reusable Gift Wrapping and Packaging Ideas

  • Gift boxes and bags (avoid damaging them with tape or sticky labels).
  • Reusable fabric wrapping (see our DIY details below).
  • Useful fabric items repurposed as fabric wrapping, such as scarves, napkins, tea towels, tablecloths, pillow cases, etc.  If you’re using one item from a set, tuck the others inside as part of the gift.
  • Fabric drawstring bags.
  • Fabric tote bags.
  • Decorative boxes.
  • Jars, tins, and canisters.
  • Baskets.
  • “Naked” gifts topped with simple ribbons or bows.
Socks used as zero waste bottle gift wrap

Eco-Conscious Gift Embellishments and Toppers

Going minimalist and skipping embellishments is arguably the easiest way to be lower waste. If you still want to dress things up, embellishments can be kept lower waste with a similar approach to choosing and using as noted for paper and wrapping above. Ribbons, bows, tags, toppers, and other pretty embellishments can be gorgeous. I am admittedly a sucker for a beautifully wrapped and presented present, especially for extra special gifts or occasions, like weddings or major milestones.
 

Choosing a Using Embellishments for Lower Waste Gift Wrapping:

  • Use what you already have before buying more.
  • Use embellishments, cords, ribbons, etc. that can be reused.
  • Embellish with holiday decorations, ornaments, or other small keepsakes.
  • Swap a decorative bow for a ready-to-use hair bow, fascinator, bow tie, or broach.
  • Slide a pretty hairclip, bookmark, or oversized paperclip over the cord/ribbon for double duty decoration and card holder.
  • Use embellishments that can be eaten (with care as to how they’re wrapped).
  • Embellish with fresh or dried flowers or foliage that can later be composted.  The gift pictured below uses dried miniature roses from the garden and homemade seed paper cards. 
  • Make your own reusable/recyclable paper bows, flowers, pinwheels, or origami shapes.
  • Make embellishments by reusing materials from previously used wrapping. paper, cards (great for cutting tags), etc.
  • Use embellishments that can be recycled.
DIY seed paper Valentines with a ribbon wrapped gift box and dried roses

Presents that Aren't (or Can't Be) Wrapped

Aiming for lower waste wrapping is good, but skipping the wrapping altogether can be even better for some gifts. Here are some ideas for presents that don’t need to be wrapped at all:

  • Concert/sport/event tickets.
  • Memberships.
  • Subscriptions.
  • Gift vouchers/certificates.
  • Charity donations.
  • Local or online classes/short courses.
  • Contributions to an education fund or special savings plan.
  • Outings or activities together (free or your treat).
  • Personal vouchers for time/tasks (e.g. babysitting, cleaning, yard work, etc.).
As I moved around over the years, geography became increasingly tricky for shipping gifts for family (almost all live in other countries), and direct shipping options limited (many retailers won’t accept foreign credit cards and/or shipping to other addresses with online orders), gifting became tricky. Add to that my nieces and nephews getting older and me increasingly out of touch with what’s wanted and cool, and it became almost impossible. These days, many of my gifts arrive via email, as vouchers for experiences or gift cards. It lacks the personal touch I used to love about gifting, but I enjoy gifting fun together making memories instead of just more stuff.
 

Other Holiday Waste

Gift wrap is only part of the holiday equation. Check out our post on having a Merry Greener Christmas for a fun festive season with a mindful approach to waste. Every little bit helps! 

Lower Waste Gift Wrapping Ideas
Green in Real Life blog spacer bar with floral accent

Bonus: How to Make and Use Reusable Fabric Gift Wrap

DIY Reusable Fabric Gift Wrapping

When prepping my fabric for stash busting, I had a ton of fat flats and small fabric cuts bought for dog bandanas (one of my guilty pleasures) as well as cute prints and patterns snapped up in sales and clearances. With the Christmas holidays coming up, I was planning to make some bandanas as well as fabric napkins. Both of these items are great for double-duty gift wrapping and can be part of the gift, so I decided to do a little DIY fabric gift wrap demo feature here on the blog.

Selecting Fabric for Reusable Gift Wrapping

Fabric can be used for the Japanese gift wrapping style of furoshiki, but it can also be used in place of cellophane or paper for other wrapping techniques and held with ribbon instead of tape or ties. The material should be light and flexible enough to wrap and (if using furoshiki) tie, but sturdy enough to hold the wrapped item(s) and opaque enough to hide what’s all wrapped up inside. Fabrics can be single layered, but lightweight or see-through fabrics may be better with a backing or liner to give structure/support and create opacity.

Finished vs. Raw Fabric Edges

For homemade fabric wrapping, fabric can be used with raw edges or pinked to reduce fraying for a no sew wrap. It’s quick and simple, and a cute idea for wrapping a gift for a sewist or crafter who can then use the fabric. For a more durable wrap, the edges can be finished with fairly simple sewing.

Sewing Options for Finish Edges on DIY Fabric Wrapping

Making a sheet of fabric wrapping is exactly like making a napkin (or a square fold-over bandana). Ensuring the edges are cut straight and corners square is the only tricky bit, and you can easily scale the size to suit your preferences. Options for finishing the edges include:
 
  • Single layered, double fold hem.
  • Double layered, sewn right-side in, inverted to right-side out, and top stitched.
  • Single layered, bound edges.
  • Double layered, sewn right-side out, bound edges.
  • Single layered, overlocked or narrow/rolled hem.
  • Double layered, overlocked or narrow/rolled hem.
For speed and simplicity, as well as to keep the edges thin and flexible for knotting in my wrapping demos for the post, I opted to use my serger for a narrow hem. It takes longer to press, measure, and cut the fabric than to finish the edges this way. Seriously easy, if you have a suitable machine. On the downside, good sergers/overlockers are expensive and I resisted investing in one for a long time, but when I took the plunge, I was hooked from the get go. I have a Brother 4234D and like it very much. Here’s a great visual from Sew Mama Sew for any readers who may not be familiar with serging narrow and rolled hems.
Making reusable fabric wrapping with serged edges

Making Homemade Reusable Fabric Wrap

To make similar fabric sheets for wrapping (or napkins, dog bandanas, etc):

  • Wash/dry fabric to preshrink, if/as needed depending on fabric type.
  • Iron flat, fabric permitting. If the fabric is heat-sensitive, smooth out the wrinkles as best you can by hand instead for even measuring and cutting.
  • Cut to preferred shape/size. 
  • Sew to finish the edges in your preferred method. 
  • Trim any loose threads.
  • Optional: For a smooth wrapped look, iron again to prior to use, fabric permitting.
Making reusable fabric wrapping with serged edges

Making Homemade Reusable Fabric Ribbons

My napkins/bandanas are square, which often leaves me with a skinny offcut to linger in my fabric stash. Not so in this case! Those offcuts were snapped up and finished to make matching fabric ribbons. It is extra wrapping material, but I really like the versatility of using string or ribbon over knotting the fabric itself and it’s also easy to reuse/repurpose. Way better than languishing in my fabric stash. The ornament offcut was finished single sided to preserve the pattern, whilst the floral fabric was sewn into a long tube right-side-in, inverted, pressed, and the ends finished.

Making reusable fabric ribbons

Methods for Wrapping Gifts with Fabric

Folding and Self-Knotting Fabric (Furoshiki)

For furoshiki wrapping, a large flexible cloth will give the prettiest options. Making beautiful knots can be tricky with fabric, especially if thick or stiff. Sizes will limit wrapping options and styles. A cloth the size of a typical bandana or napkin (both items are similar in size for our big dogs) maxes out with a small object, like a book, which is what we wrapped in the example photos below.

Furoshiki gift wrapping using a dog bandana

Securing Fabric Wrapping with Ribbon or String

Knotting can be elegantly simple, but it’s not always the easiest or prettiest option. If wrapping with fabric and ribbon or string, there is much more versatility in how a package is wrapped as the tie-off to secure isn’t done using the wrapping itself. The example below shows a similarly sized book wrapped with the same size of cloth as above, but tied with coordinating fabric ribbon. So pretty!

Wrapping a gift with reusable fabric wrap and ribbons

Different Approaches to Folding

Depending on your personal preferences, there may be slight differences in how you choose to fold the edges to point the corners. For example, the box below is folded much like I would a paper present; however, the rectangle above is only slightly tapered to turn and then wrap. 

Wrapping a gift with reusable fabric wrap and ribbons

The size and shape of your object vs. the wrapping fabric will also influence the approach you might want to take for wrapping. For example, round objects may be easier to wrap by gathering or twisting. More angular objects may look better if tightly folded. The collage below shows different example styles of wrapping on canisters and boxes. Have fun experimenting with different approaches to discover what works and looks best for your wrapping project. 

For most shapes, a smooth start helps the finished wrapping look its best. Unless your fabric is heat sensitive, it can be helpful to start with pressed fabric. You may need to re-iron if changing methods.

Different methods of wrapping gifts with reusable fabric wrap
How to make and use fabric gift wrap

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