How to have a greener Christmas: Eco-friendly gift wrapping

Thank you to everyone who joined me for last week’s series on digital marketing for health and wellness brands – I hoped you picked up some useful tips!

I’ll be doing more posts on writing great content to boost your brand’s online presence before too long, but for now I’d like to look at something that is close to my heart: sustainable living. Specifically, how I’m aiming for a more eco-friendly Christmas this year.

The UK government has announced that up to three households can meet to celebrate Christmas, despite the high levels of coronavirus that are still affecting many parts of the British Isles. I’d like to tell you I have mixed feelings about this news but, selfishly, I’m over the moon.

My sister, who returned to England from the UAE this year after 3 years abroad, welcomed her first baby in October and I was devastated by the thought that we might not be able to go to see them.

But it has meant that a dilemma I have year after year has resurfaced; what to do about present wrapping?

Traditional wrapping paper is an eco-nightmare. Lots of it can’t be recycled – it is either too thin to yield good fibres to make new paper, or is covered in plastic, glitter, dye etc which can’t be recycled. Even if you choose a good quality wrapping paper that is free from gold and glitter, sticky tape can’t be recycled either, so you need to get all of that off before it can go in the paper-waste bin.

According to this article in the Independent, the UK throws away the equivalent of 108 million rolls of wrapping paper at Christmas time, most of which will go straight to landfill.

And then we need to consider the sheer number of trees that need to be cut down to make all of this paper. The Treehugger reckons it takes 15 trees to make one tonne of wrapping paper.

I think we can agree that traditional wrapping paper is not the way to go.

I’d love to be brave enough to just do away with wrapping altogether but even I have to admit there is a childlike joy to be had from being handed a mysterious wrapped present on Christmas day. Somehow just being passed a new pair of socks doesn’t have quite the same feeling.

And I think the kids would probably stage some kind of mutiny.

But what to do instead? Fortunately, there’s a growing number of eco-friendly wrapping alternatives for anyone looking to avoid traditional Christmas wrapping paper.

1. Brown paper and festive foliage

Mel Poole | Unsplash

Apparently, the rule of thumb for whether wrapping paper can be recycled is the scrunch test – if you scrunch it into a ball and it stays that way, it can be recycled. If it falls back out of shape, it can’t.

Or you could avoid the uncertainty and go for traditional brown paper instead.

This can look beautifully nostalgic, especially paired with some festive ribbon and Christmas foliage. Be as minimal as possible with the sticky tape (or leave it off altogether if you are a whizz at tying string).

Depending on your level of wrapping ability, you could even swap the brown paper for newspaper – save money by grabbing a free copy of your local advertiser (or the Metro, if you are London-based like me).

This does still create paper waste and you’ll need to be careful to remove any sticky tape before you put it in the recycling, but it is better than sending things to landfill.

If you are on a budget, this is the option I’d go for. It isn’t ideal, but it is cheaper than the other options on this list by an order of magnitude.

There are two reasons I’m not going for this – 1) it still creates waste and 2) I’m pants at wrapping, so I really struggle to get brown paper to look beautiful and not like I passed wrapping duties over to my three-year-old. Plus, while we are a long way from wealthy, my freelance writing has brought in quite a bit this year, so I have some money available to invest in eco-friendly wrapping.

So, on to option two.

2. Cloth wrapping

David Oliver | Unsplash

You might have heard of the Japanese furoshiki tradition, which involves wrapping presents in a simple piece of cloth but making it beautiful through decorative tying. Children in Japan use this to carry their bento boxes to school for lunch, but it has also caught on as an eco-friendly way of wrapping presents.

You can use any piece of cloth, although it will be easiest with something that is floppy enough to manipulate and tie well. A square shape is also the simplest for ease of wrapping. There are loads of YouTube videos available to help you master the tying.

Cloth uses more resources to make than paper but has the benefit of being reusable. Just make sure it doesn’t end up being scooped into the bin with the rest of the rubbish at the end of the day. Bonus eco-points if you either reuse a piece of fabric that would otherwise go to waste or opt for a more sustainable material like Tencel.

I love this idea and think it can look beautiful. But see above for my complete inability to wrap things beautifully…

3. Gift bags

Monicore | Pixaby

Gift bags seem like a no-brainer, especially for someone like me who is all thumbs when it comes to wrapping presents. Just stick the gift in and off you go. They can be reused, come in a range of colours, and you can get all sorts of sizes too.

Gift bags can be a great option, as long as you pay attention to the material they are made from. Cheaper versions are often made from organza, which is usually not an eco-friendly wrapping option. Plus, they tend to be see-through, which ruins some of the surprise.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options out there now which are made from more sustainable fabrics like hessian. Or if you are good at sewing, you could knock up your own.

I was all set to invest in a bunch of gift bags for this year’s Christmas gifts. But then…

4. Recycled cloth wraps


For me, it is as important to buy products made from recycled materials as it is to recycle my waste. If we don’t close the loop, then all our efforts to keep our waste out of landfill will come to nothing. So I was completely thrilled to find that someone much smarter than me has been at work on the whole Christmas wrapping paper dilemma.

The result, WragWrap – a range of cloth wrapping options made from recycled plastic bottles.

Even better, for the wrapping-challenged (like me), they offer stretchy wraps which are secured with a drawstring. They are as easy to use as a gift bag but give a more satisfyingly present-like shape (sometimes larger gift bags end up looking a bit like Father Christmas just forgot his present sack before exiting up the chimney).

I’ve invested in a whole load, which I plan to shamelessly reclaim from my relatives so I can use them year on year.

Not only are they good for the planet, they will save me an estimated 3,981 hours* struggling to make my wrapping look halfway decent.

*This may be an exaggeration…

To be clear, although I’d love to work with WragWrap if they are ever in need of a freelance content writer, I’m not being paid to write this post. They don’t even know that I am writing it. There are no affiliate links here. Just genuine pleasure at finding an easy solution to a problem that has been plaguing me for a few years now.

Plus, I was blown away by their customer service. They have a two for one promotion on at the moment, but it wasn’t applied properly when I checked out. I hadn’t realised. In fact, I hadn’t clocked the promotion at all. Entirely unprompted, they got in touch and refunded me the money to my PayPal without me asking.

That seems like a company worth supporting to me.

Hopefully, this has given you some ideas of how to make your gift wrapping a little greener this year too.

I’m a bit short on time at the moment, due to picking up a few more regular clients in the last couple of weeks, but I will try to continue to post on the blog at least once a week.

If you would like more eco-friendly Christmas tips in the run up to the 25th, please let me know in the comments. Or if you’d prefer to see more digital marketing tips, or posts on nutrition and health, let me know that too. It’s an eclectic place this blog, but I want it to serve you as well as me 😊.

Published by Lucy | freelance writer

I am a freelance writer specialising in creating compelling content for ethical businesses and health & wellness brands. I've worked for years in the non-profit sector and now use my experience as a professional fundraiser to help brands build their online presence and attract new clients.

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