The holiday season is such a special time, filled with warmth, love, and gratitude. As we celebrate our loved ones and exchange gifts this year, let’s keep our mother in mind…Mother Earth that is! One of the easiest ways to do that is to reduce waste this holiday season. Below we’ve outlined tips and resources for reusable wrapping paper, eliminating food waste, sustainable holiday cards, and more! Between Thanksgiving and the New Year, we throw away up to 25% more trash than any other time of year–-adding about one million tons of extra waste to landfills per week. I’ve compiled a list of creative wrapping ideas that are a combination of our own traditions, the suggestions of readers, and recommendations from waste management resources.
GOOD OPTION: RECYCLABLE WRAPPING PAPER
Most of the colorful and glossy paper available today is treated in a way that makes it unable to recycle. Unless it’s clearly noted as being recyclable and/or compostable, it’s likely not. For purchase, your best bet would be Kraft paper. A plain brown paper roll would be the most earth-friendly option, but you can also find holiday-decorated Kraft paper, I’m just not sure about the dyes used. My favorite option for paper wrapping came in as a suggestion from a reader: paper shopping bags! They are a great option for smaller gifts. You can use the inside/plain side for a blank canvas. Tips:
- Got Kraft? Get some beeswax crayons and go to town! It’s a wonderful way to express creativity while customizing your gift!
- Pass on the ribbons and bows. I know they are pretty, but according to Stanford University’s Recycling Center, “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.” Imagine if we ditched it all together!
BETTER OPTION: REUSABLE WRAPPING PAPER
There are a couple of tiers of reusable wrapping paper options here, good and better.
Good: reuse old gift bags, wrapping paper, or fabric scraps. Our little family saves all gift bags and tissue paper that we receive throughout the year. Actual wrapping paper tends to be torn to oblivion, but if you’re able to cleanly unwrap your gifts you can certainly save that as well. Fabric scraps from old clothing or blankets can offer a beautiful look, but they are best used in situations where you can save and reuse them. Both the above options are great at giving something extra life, but may still end up in landfills rather quickly.
Better: Wrap the item in something useful to make reusable wrapping paper. I love finding an adorable canvas tote bag to hold and become a part of someone’s gift. You can also wrap the gift in a scarf which becomes another part of their present! Smaller gifts fit nicely into reusable produce bags or small muslin bags. Larger gifts can be placed in a reusable laundry bag for the avid traveler (they are great to store dirty clothes while traveling!).
- If you feel comfortable sharing your desire to save wrapping, family members may even return their wrap to you once they open
- If giving a uniquely wrapped gift, like a laundry bag, it might be helpful to include a note about the way they can use it
BEST OPTION: GO WRAP FREE!
If you think you can get away with it, going wrap free is your earth-friendliest option. According to Stanford University’s Recycling Center, “If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” Although we still wrap most of the gifts given outside of our home, we choose not to wrap any gifts given to our immediate family of four. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring! My kids are still young, and probably wouldn’t mind if the presents were simply left out unwrapped, but last year my son came up with the idea to create a scavenger hunt for Christmas morning. He was only three at the time, so it was just a hunt around the house searching for big red X’s. But as we carry on the tradition I’m excited to create intricate maps and leave clues around the home. We also place unwrapped gifts in our stockings. Tips:
- We grew up in a home where Santa left an unwrapped gift on the fireplace, while gifts from my parents were wrapped. But if it’s a tradition in your home that Santa brings a wrapped gift you may want to look into reusable “Santa Bags” that can be shipped back to Santa each year ;]
OTHER “GREEN” HOLIDAY TIPS
Holiday Cards: Go paperless. I’ll admit that I love checking the mailbox during the winter season for envelopes filled with yearly photo updates of my family and friends. But the same feeling of love and magic can be accomplished by a beautiful e-card from Paperless Post…and it comes with BIG earthy benefits. According to the same above mentioned piece by Stanford University’s Recycling Center, “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.”
Holiday Meals: donate the leftovers. The holidays are filled with big meals and plenty of leftovers. If you have more than you think you can eat within the week, try finding a local soup kitchen or church that accepts pre-cooked food. Not only will you be keeping food waste out of landfills, but you’ll be giving the gift of a warm meal through the season.
Gift Giving: get specific and stay simple. This is something I’m still working on, but find it worth sharing. Have you ever scrambled to find a gift just for the sake of giving a gift? Small trinkets for your kid’s friends, flimsy toys for stocking stuffers, or out-of-the-blue (and inexpensive) gifts for your extended family members? As much as I LOVE gift-giving, I’m not sure when it became so deeply programmed in me that it’s better to give anything just for the sake of giving. I’m not sure if there’s a quick and easy fix for this one, but here are some things I’m working on this year:
- Asking (and actually listening) to what people want instead of buying something that will be a big (and maybe unwanted) surprise. This will help cut down on return shipping resources and reduce waste.
- Creating memories/sharing experiences over gift-giving. Planning an adventurous outing, going on a weekend trip together, or visiting a destination like a theme park or aquarium are a few ideas I’ve played with this year. This will reduce packaging waste and can teach the kids the value of experiences and being a conscious consumer.
- Hand-made gifts have always come in strong as an option for me–I love creating! If time allows, and the receiver enjoys these type of gifts, creating a one of a kind item is always a lovely gesture. On the flip side, giving a handmade gift to someone that just doesn’t value that type of thing could be just as wasteful as buying trinkets!
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