10 Eco-Friendly Ways to Wrap a Package Without Spending a Dime

Before “green” was anything other than a choice in the box of Crayolas, many folks religiously saved and reused wrapping paper and bows. My grandparents’ generation didn’t even realize they were being “eco-conscious,” just frugal and not wasteful.

Old habits die hard: It’s almost painful watching my dad, one of nine kids whose parents were well-versed in what the Great Depression felt like, open a present. He painstakingly peels off each piece of tape and always folds the paper into a square before he opens the box, even though it probably will not be saved anyway. In a lot of ways, it would be better if our culture would return to the “waste not, want not” mentality.

Did you know:

“If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.” (source)

That’s a serious impact!

Saving, Foiled Again!

One year I had folded up some gigantic wrapping paper from toys as big as my son (one guess how I felt about him receiving these things at age two) and set it aside, knowing that I could reuse it on a handful of gifts without even a torn tape line to show for it. My in-laws very helpfully cleaned up and trashed it all!

When they realized their mistake, they felt badly enough to buy me ten rolls of new wrapping paper. I don’t think they quite get it. Being frugal isn’t my only motivation for saving, reusing, and buying secondhand.

Let’s do our part this year to wrap the earth in ribbon and cut down on the million tons a week of extra waste we generate during the holiday season.

Try these ideas for your next gift wrapping session:

  1. Reuse old wrapping paper, bows, and bags

    The classic. Just be sure to figure out a system for storage (an under-the-bed box or drawer works well to hold folded wrapping paper) so you don’t have a mess of used ribbons and tissue paper.

  2. Wrap with road maps…

    Just make sure you don't need the map anymore! Old atlases and outdated world maps (with U.S.S.R. still intact, for example) are great finds.

  3. …calendar pages…

    Calendar pages are especially appropriate for small gifts, and can be very striking.

  4. …Sunday comics…

  5. …or newspaper ads.

    This is a jar of homemade jam wrapped in a food store ad. So thematic!

  6. Get creative with cloth, preferably something old

    If you know how to sew, it takes very little to make reusable gift bags out of cloth (drawstring optional). You can use them year after year in your home or give them away as part of the gift.

  7. Use old baby blankets or new towels

    This creative gal skipped the wrapping altogether, but the presentation is still very attractive.

    Photo by knitgirl63 on Flickr
    At my bridal shower, someone wrapped a gift in the tea towels I had asked for with hand towels as accents. It was not only eco-friendly, but the cutest darn thing I’d ever seen! You could tie up an oddly shaped gift in an old receiving blanket (if you don’t cut those up to be hankies), or just be creative if you have something cloth as part of the gift anyway. Use twine to hold towels around a box.

  8. Get the kids involved


    I love to repurpose gigantor packing paper with children’s handmade drawings on it as wrapping paper. The kids take great pride in creating something for family members to enjoy, it makes for a fun crafty afternoon, and you don’t have to feel guilty about recycling that perfectly clean packing paper that our house is always drowning in.

  9. Reuse: turn wrapping paper into stuffing

    No need to buy this stuff; make your own!

    Photo by Liz West
    Using traditional wrapping paper no matter what?  Try running the used stuff through your shredder to make pretty packing material if you mail a lot of gifts, or for stuffing in a gift bag.

  10. Hold onto your boxes


    Photo by Mark Hillary
    Even if a box has printing on the outside or is too marked up for U.S. Mail, you can still cut the boxes open, turn them inside out, and retape. Tada! A plain brown packing box! Remember to use brown grocery sacks to wrap smaller items, like books, for mailing. If you’re a big reusable bag person, you may need to make a special effort to grab a brown sack, or check first to see if some of the internal packing paper from another package will cover.

Bonus tip: Hate to fill the landfills with packing peanuts, but you just can’t keep them all? I don’t mail enough packages to reuse all the peanuts that land in my house, and I recently discovered, to my great joy, that my local post office accepts large boxes and packing peanuts to help people mail their packages safely. Check out loosefillpackaging.com for a site near you that will reuse or recycle styrofoam peanuts.

Or you can let your kids play with them, especially if you’re pretty sure they’re the cornstarch-based kind. (Those stick together with a quick touch of the tongue or wet washcloth – super fun!) Here’s what my kids came up with:

What’s the hardest part about “greening up” the holidays for you?

Find a few more eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas over at Simple Mom.
All photos not otherwise cited by Katie Kimball

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39 Comments

  1. jamie

    When packaging in maps or news paper a color coordinated bow is a nice touch. These can be used as hair ribbons after the holiday.

  2. Rebekah from Simply Rebekah

    Love, love, LOVE this! I’m pretty sure I’ll never buy wrapping paper again. Ok…maybe that is a bit extream to make that vow at this young age, but STILL! I love this!

    I was already planning on doing all my wrapping in newspaper this year. Plus I am well known in my family for saving gift bags & tissue paper. Did you know you can IRON tissue paper?? Is that awesome or what?!?!

    I love the idea of using calendars for gift wrapping. I’ve used them for making cards & envelopes, but I almost like this idea better.

    • Kara

      You can iron tissue paper? How does that work? What settings, etc.?

      • Christine

        I iron my tissue paper with a thin hand towel or tea towel over it. Works great! It doesn’t get it looking NEW, but I think it gives it a nice “once wrinkled” look. To me, it looks like the tissue paper was supposed to look that way. I’ve even ripped up a bunch of mismatched, damaged tissue paper into strips as a type of stuffing, too (for when I was too lazy to iron! 🙂 ) Nobody noticed it USED to be tissue paper!

        • Karen @ Abundance on a Dime

          I’ve ironed tissue paper for years. You can save some pretty wrinkled up stuff by ironing it! I mist it lightly with water, then iron on a low setting – I don’t cover with a cloth and I’ve never had a problem doing it this way. I’ve also ironed wrapping paper, too.

          • Christine

            I thought misting with water would make it too wet and delicate, but I guess not! I’ll have to try that. 🙂

      • Rebekah from Simply Rebekah

        How about this for the slowest response in history!! TWO YEARS LATER! 🙂

        I use a low setting for my tissue paper. I haven’t used a towel, but I did use some spray starch from time to time. If you are using spray starch you want to be sure it lets out a very fine and even mist. I would experiment with it.

        You certainly don’t NEED spray starch.

        Like others said, it won’t look like brand new, but it looks good enough to pass off as new. 🙂

  3. Allison

    This is fabulous! I totally remember my grandmother carefully unwrapping every gift to salvage the paper. At the time, we thought she was crazy, but now I know she was just too wise for us 🙂 Thanks for the great wrapping and recycling ideas! I was about to do a similar post on my blog. Do you mind if I link to yours with credit of course? Thanks!

  4. Sarah

    I threaded a chain of packing peanuts together for a “popcorn” garland. It’s pretty stinkin’ cute, if I do say so myself. 🙂

  5. HereWeGoAJen

    I bought some pretty gift boxes on sale after Christmas one year. We’ve been using them to wrap all the presents ever since! They are like the typical sweater gift boxes (and some larger ones), but they are printed on the outside like wrapping paper. So we just stick a new gift tag on each year and reuse the boxes over and over again! Plus, they make wrapping presents really easy!

  6. priest's wife

    I love using Sunday comics- and sometimes fabric

  7. Jill

    The map idea is awesome! I’ve never thought of that before and I just happen to have several old maps that I was going to throw away! Thanks! 🙂

  8. Kelly

    The hardest part of greening up Christmas has kind of taken care of itself! Despite my claims to not get into the giving frenzy that stems from impulse buying (I enjoy shopping and giving!) this time of year, I still stumble. This year however, we’re quite cash poor and have some great ideas for making gifts. There will be less packaging this way, thus less trash.
    I’ve always reused gift bags and boxes, not so much the paper though. There’s actually a running joke regarding which bags I expect to get back if a family member receives a gift in it! I do only use those bags to give gifts to those that will understand though.

  9. Steph (The Cheapskate Cook)

    really like these ideas! Thanks for the inspiration. I think the hardest part of greening the holidays for me will be watching it being less green on Christmas day when we hang out with family. I keep picturing that gigantic trash bag being crammed full of paper…. and feel a little sick inside.
    Oh, well; I’ll do what I can.

  10. Erika

    Years ago, after Christmas, my mom bought colorful Christmas boxes that she used for gifts. We are still using them! After opening gifts we have to be very careful to keep ALL the boxes, fold them up, and into the basement they go until next year. So that’s another idea, after Christmas, when the gift boxes that look wrapped are on sale, buy some and use them for years to come. It makes wrapping super easy too!

  11. Betsy (Eco-novice)

    I posted on the same topic, but several new ideas here, including maps and old calendars! My mom actually saves and reuses old calendars, but that’s too much effort for me, so I like the idea of reusing them this way. I like a treasure hunt for large, strangely shaped gifts.

  12. Sandra Lee

    Katie,

    These are such excellent tips. I love the way you introduced this article with the story of your father. If only we could all have this consciousness not to be wasteful and slowly learn to consume mindfully. Thank you so much.

  13. Christine

    I’ve always saved tissue paper and gift bags and try to save wrapping paper when it’s not too damaged. For friends gifts and such, I’m always re-using from my stash.

    However, at this time of year, when you’re Santa wrapping for the little kiddos, I struggle with how to make it look “authentic” … in other words, making it look like a present NOT from Mom and Dad? Anybody have any suggestions?

    • Karen @ Abundance on a Dime

      When I was growing up, our gifts from Santa were never wrapped, just left in front of the tree – and funnily enough, I guess I always assumed everyone else’s were like that, too! So it’s never occurred to me to wrap Santa gifts for my kids, lol! Maybe you could create a special stamp or seal to put on all the Santa gifts (like “From Santa’s Toy Factory” or something like that?).

      • Christine

        Love the “Santa Seal”, what a really cute idea!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Christine,
      Like Karen, my Santa never wrapped the gifts. I think after their 2yo was still sleepy-eyed opening gifts after church and lunch, they decided to simplify. My husband was absolutely scandalized b/c he loves the process of unwrapping gifts! We had to compromise that at least Santa doesn’t wrap every single stocking stuffer at our house. Our Santa brings 3 gifts for each child: something to wear, something to play with and something to read. At least there’s a little less “special” wrapping that way! 🙂 Katie

  14. Nicole

    The bags that the store gives you are often very nice (e.g. Anthropologie). You can repurpose them into gift bags by cutting out the store’s name to create a window. Then, take scrap paper (scrapbook, newspaper, old Christmas cards, whatever) and tape it on the inside of the bag so that the print is facing out. Then you have a free, great gift bag!

  15. Ashley

    I actually just mailed out a package where I wrapped the gifts inside in grocery ads and shipped them in a reused box :o) Thanks for posting this, I shared it on Facebook!

  16. Alicia

    You can also get newsprint end rolls from your local paper, generally for free, and let kids decorate them. It’s blank and perfect for gift wrap. You get yards and yards of it and it’s nice and big and rolled up already, plus it makes for a fun holiday activity. 🙂

  17. Alicia

    PS For Christine, our kids get one “Santa” present each for the holidays and the rest are from us. The Santa present is generally in a fancy gift bag. I buy them on a separate trip away from the children and hide them the same as I hide the presents. After Christmas, the special bags are used again and again for other presents and for holding stashes and other uses, so even though they’re new the first time they get well used from then on. 🙂 Also, since Santa splurges on the quality gift bags, they hold up really well over time too!

    • Christine

      I like this idea! Thank you!

  18. Shirley @ gfe

    Love the ideas, Katie, and do so many of them already, but always need reminders. 😉 When my son was about 8, I purchased some white and brown gift bags at our local dollar store. Then he decorated them all with stamping. We cut stamps out of potatoes together and he used different color paint so he could make Christmas trees, stars, etc. The bags were loved by family members and they are STILL making the rounds! Son will be 24 on Jan. 2. 🙂 I think that’s a good way to keep stuff out of the landfill, make gift recipients happy, and still have a fun activity for the little ones.

    Shirley

  19. Shirley @ gfe

    Oops, thought I was still on Katie’s site. So sorry. Great ideas!

    Shirley

  20. Nikki Moore

    Last year I wrapped everything in fabric, complete with fabric (cut in long strips) for “ribbon.” Everyone thought it was so fun, and I just picked up all the scraps after gift-opening and will use them again! I get fabric at garage sales and thrift stores, and I like using solid colors – like the ten yards of heather brown stuff leftover from decorating our wedding – so I can use it all year long, not just Christmas time. We’ve wrapped wedding and other gifts in fabric too. It can be kinda tricky to get it to stay on if it’s like a box (where you’d normally use tape to hold the ends together), but it just takes a pair of hands and plenty of “ribbon.”

    Thanks for all the other great ideas! I actually don’t find it difficult to ‘green’ my holiday…although the rest of my family makes no effort in this area and it can cause tension.

  21. Laura

    Another idea is to use a poinsettia (or flowers from your yard when the season allows), some small pine boughs, or pine cones attached with twine to a brown paper package. When you’re done, you can reuse the twine or compost it and the flowers. I’ve done this with striking results, and the recipient really liked it.

  22. Laura

    Another idea is to use a poinsettia (or flowers from your yard when the season allows), some small pine boughs, or pine cones attached with twine to a brown paper package. When you’re done, you can reuse the twine or compost it and the flowers. I’ve done this with striking results, and the recipient really liked it.

  23. Kathryn

    The hardest part of greening the holidays for us is shifting our focus away from Stuff, not just gifts but also Christmas decorations, Christmas-themed housewares, new clothes for holiday parties, etc. Every year, we try to be a little less Stuff-centered–and encourage our loved ones to do it with us.
    My in laws have always reused wrapping paper–it’s just a family tradition. They love to tell the story of my MIL’s father, who swapped Christmas gifts for years with a friend he made while serving in WWII. The two men reused the same piece of wrapping paper for years, sending it back and forth in alternation. As the edges became worn, they just cut it down to size and sent each other smaller gifts until it literally fell to pieces. It was a game they played, trying to see how long they could keep this one piece of paper in use.

  24. Anna@Green Talk

    I just wrote about the same thing over on my blog including how to eco-tize your greeting cards, bows, etc. I happen to love simplistic gift wrap. A white box with a simple ribbon. No tape! Add a sprig of lavender or rosemary and done. See http://bit.ly/ec0dTE

    Love wrapping with old scraps, tea towels, pillow cases, handkerchief, and old fabric. I am eying that torn sheet sitting in my laundry room!

  25. Terri Talarek King

    I love, especially, your idea of using old maps or calendars for wrapping.
    When my daughter was little, I let her paint huge sheets of brown paper and newsprint paper (from those end-rolls) with (non-toxic) poster paint. It started with shaped sponges and large paintbrushes, moved on to hand prints, and then on to foot prints! : )
    I remember my mother being amused about my Aunt Doree carefully unwrapping gifts, saving the paper, ironing it and reusing it, and that you might get the same paper on a gift from her that you had used! I thought “what a good idea…” and I’ve been doing it ever since! 🙂
    I find the hardest thing about making my holiday greener is in being more careful about the gifts I give others. I have trouble thinking about Christmas gifts until it’s December, or at least after Thanksgiving, but really thoughtful, personal, time-consuming gifts take more preparation, so I end up buying stuff again. 🙁

  26. Hippie

    I am notorious for using news papers there eco friendly and the tend to be easier to use. I also have bags I gather after each Christmas and store them away for next year. Many of my bags have seen 4 or 5 Christmases by now my family often jokes didn’t I see this bag last year.

  27. Ben

    Those stats are pretty amazing. It just goes to show you what we can accomplish if we all work together to reduce waste. I’ve been wrapping things in newspaper for a long time. Mostly because I’m lazy though 🙂 jk. I’ve never seen something wrapped in cloth before. That’s very creative.

  28. Milla

    Thanks for some interesting tips, I especially love the one with the calender and the map wrapping. It’s a great idea for an alternative to the massive waste that happens around the Christmas tree.

  29. Eric

    Hello there I enjoyed your informative article on 10 Free, Eco. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.

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