I cannot stand gift wrap – I never liked it, even before I went zero waste. It always looked tacky and unappealing to me. Plus, actually wrapping it was a disaster for me – I’m not afraid to say I sucked at it. All the plastic tape I’d use was atrocious too, and it didn’t even look attractive. So when I learned there was a zero waste way to wrap things, without annoying tape, without tacky gift wrap, I got SO excited. It felt like it was meant to be. I knew I needed to do it – and once I did, I fell in love with wrapping gifts again. It’s SO much better, much more satisfying, and in my eyes – waaaay prettier. Each gift has a rustic charm to it just from the wrapping itself. Everyone I give a gift to always says they almost don’t want to unwrap it because it looks so charming. If you’re anything like me and want to avoid excess plastic, while bringing joy back to gift wrapping, here’s how to do zero waste gift wrapping.
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Zero Waste Gift Wrapping
There are several forms of zero waste gift wrapping: One of my favorites is upcycling packaging paper into gift wrap. As a blogger, I get my fair share of freebies every so often – they usually come in a cardboard box and use packaging paper to cushion whatever goodies they contain. Instead of wasting it, I figure why not save it? It’s free wrapping paper for me!
There are several other methods of plastic-free gift wrapping. Another method I adore is furoshiki wrapping. Furoshiki is the art of gift wrapping with fabric, which is huge in Japan. It’s become pretty popular by zero wasters too. Back in 2017 I wrapped a few of my gifts using the Furoshiki method. I used handmade lace I got at a thrift store to do it. The woman who sold it to me loved my idea so much, she gave me a free handmade crotched ornament too.
Something about plastic-free wrapping paper turns people to mush. Maybe it’s that sentimental rustic charm, or maybe it’s the attention to detail. Either way, I know there’s no going back for me. I’m here to stay.
I’ll be talking about each method individually, along with ways to embellish your gift wrapping with plastic-free decor and name tags. I go into step-by-step detail on how to wrap gifts with packaging paper and furoshiki style too.
Here’s a break down of each section you’ll find in my guide to zero waste gift wrapping.
- Wrapping paper alternatives
– Packaging paper
– Other plastic-free gift wrapping ideas
- Ties, embellishments and tags
1. Wrapping paper alternatives
Save any packaging paper you get from online orders and use it to wrap your gifts! It’s my all time favorite way to wrap presents and it costs me $0. Plus, it looks beautiful – so nice in fact, almost no one wants to unwrap it!
Here’s how I wrap gifts using packaging paper:
Step 1 – Place the gift in the center of your packaging paper. Make sure to use a sheet of packaging paper that’s a good fit for the size of the gift you’re wrapping. In this case, I’m wrapping a bar of soap, which is relatively small. Place it face down.
Step 2 – Fold the packaging paper over the soap bar on one side, horizontally.
Step 3 – Repeat the process again so that the gift is now covered horizontally.
Step 4 – Taking some twine, tie around your wrapping. I recommend tying the twine around the gift as many times as you can. Then tie a knot to secure it. If you want to get fancy, add in a bow.
Step 5 – Next, fold in one of the still-open vertical sides. This will create a flap.
Step 6 – Take the side you just folded and fold in the corners of the flap. It should kind of look like a triangle now.
Step 7 – Fold this part in on itself so it’s tucked in nice and securely. You’ll want to do all of this on the side of the wrapping that doesn’t have a bow.
Step 8 – Repeat on the other side, then tie it securely using twine. You don’t have to get fancy with this, just make sure the twine is on the two folded in flaps and tied with a knot at the end.
Step 9 – You’re all done! Add any tags or embellishments you’d like (more on that later).
Furoshiki is the art of wrapping gifts using fabric. It requires no tape and looks beautiful. Traditional furoshiki requires your cloth to be square and originates from Japan, but I like to add a western, zero waste approach to it.
Here are a few items you can use to wrap gifts furoshiki zero waste style:
- Pillow cases
- Spare fabric
- Dish towels
- Fabric scraps
- Old clothes
- Cloth napkins
All of these fabrics can be used to create beautiful gift wrapping. In fact, some of them would not only function as gift wrapping, but a second gift (ex: scarves, cloth napkins, sheets, etc.)! Two for the price of one.
There are many ways to do furoshiki wrapping. I’m no expert, so I can’t explain all the methods. It can get pretty complex though.
Because I like to keep things simple, I only use one main form of furoshiki wrapping.
Here’s how I wrap my gifts furoshiki style:
Step 1 – Grab your gift and chosen fabric. Make sure the fabric is big enough to properly wrap your gift with, but not too big to the point it overshadows it. Place your gift in the center of the fabric. For this demonstration, I’m using a compostable notebook and a pillowcase. To ensure it fit, I turned the notebook horizontally.
Step 2 – Take two diagonal corners of the fabric and tie them together securely.
Step 3 – Repeat this step on the other side. You’ve now completed your furoshiki wrapping!
Step 4 – Add any embellishments or tags you want. More on that to come!
Just remember, your furoshiki will look different and unique based on the size of your gift and fabric, the materials you use, and how you decorate it. That’s part of what makes it beautiful!
Other plastic-free gift wrapping ideas
These I don’t use as often, but still recommend highly. I’ve seen several zero wasters rocking these!
Fabric gift bags
If you’re good at sewing, you could make a specially decorated fabric gift bag that you can reuse over and over again every year. That, or you could take a pillowcase or burlap wrap, put a gift inside, tie it shut with some twine, and add an embellishment to it.
Got some old maps lying around? Maps are super unique gift wrap, that’s for sure. Perfect for someone who loves to explore and go on adventures. The map itself could be a part of the gift too, if it’s relevant and new enough.
Newspaper + magazines
If you’re anything like me and still love reading newspapers and magazines, try looking through your stash and seeing if there’s anything you can upcycle into gift wrap. Use a page or two that would mean something to the gift receiver – maybe the comics section for a comedian, or a picture of their favorite celebrity.
Got a calendar from 2019 and back? Upcycle it by using it as gift wrap. Depending on how big the calendar is, you’re probably better off using it for smaller gifts. Some calendars have really pretty pictures on it, so it’ll make for interesting gift wrap.
Metal tins can be used to hold jewelry, DIY lip balm, candles, hand salves, body lotion, gift cards, coupons, and more. Just get creative! You don’t have to label it, but you can decorate it with a bow made from twine, and attach a little embellishment.
Mason jars make excellent stashes for gifts. You can dress up the jar with some old ribbon or fabric. If you don’t want the receiver to see the gift inside right away, take a piece of fabric and stuff it into the jar before placing the gift inside. The jar can be kept and reused, so it’s kind of like getting a second gift!
Paper grocery bags
These make great gift wrap! You can place your gift inside, twist it shut, then tie it with a salvaged ribbon or twine for good measure. Then you can add any décor you want. If there’s a logo on the bag, try covering it with an old Christmas card using some zero waste glue.
Emptied and cleaned cans can be used to unique gifts such as jewelry, hair accessories, small toys and makeup products. If the can is missing a cover, try covering it with a piece of fabric and tying twine around it to keep the fabric in place.
Terra cotta pots
This is two gifts for the price of one. Get a big enough terra cotta pot, place your gift inside, cover with a terra cotta base and use it as a lid. To make sure it stays on, secure it with a tight fitting bow. This works perfectly for any gardening gifts you want to give (gardening tools, seeds, gardening gloves, etc.) but can also be used for other miscellaneous presents too.
I’m infamous for my hoards of tissue paper stowed away in my closet. Mom: Do we have tissue paper? Me: Pulls out long wads of tissue paper from closet inconspicuously. Jokes aside, it’s a great idea to wrap smaller gifts in a few layers of tissue paper. You can also reuse it in gift bags you have lying around. Which brings me to my next option…
Upcycled gift bags
Have some gift bags from last year you kept around because they were too nice to toss? Great! Reuse those! If you have some tissue paper stowed away (ahem, me), you can use it too!
2. Ties, embellishments and tags
You can use these to write something personal, or just the person’s name.
Toilet paper/ Paper towel roll name tags
I use these all the time – it’s a great way to upcycle rolls you don’t want to toss out just yet. To make them, just flatten the roll out, cut a piece off, punch a hole through it, and write on it. Then tie it to your gift. At the end of their life, you can just compost them.
Salt dough name tags
I’ve made cute salt dough ornaments before and cannot recommend them enough. But you can also use these for name tags! Instead of painting them, just take a marker and write whatever you want on them. They’re completely compostable, but can also be kept as ornament gifts!
Cinnamon ornament name tag
These cinnamon ornaments are simple to make and could double as name tags too. You just need cinnamon, applesauce and some ground cloves. You can write whatever you want on them, then tie them onto your gifts. They’re compostable, but they’d look way cuter on a tree!
This is what keeps your gifts from falling apart. Ties replace tape and look GREAT doing it. I don’t miss tape one bit to be honest.
Hemp twine is what I used to wrap all my gifts this year. It’s completely natural, vegan, grown without pesticides, and amazingly durable. It secures everything in place so well! I got mine from Earth Hero, a sustainable online store, if you’re in need of some.
I save a bunch of ribbon from gifts I’ve received in the past. The reason? It’s perfect for dressing up gifts and securing the wrapping in place. Most ribbons are tossed after one use, so doing this helps save them from going to landfill. See if you can start a trend: Challenge your loved ones to save their ribbons, or give them back to you this year!
This strong material is great for tying up gifts and is available in rolls. It also comes in a variety of colors, which will surely dress up any gift. You can also compost it – just cut it up into small pieces to help the process along.
You ever find yourself saving string used to bind cookie boxes from a bakery? No? Just me? Well, however you get your string, use it to tie your gifts.
Just to make things look extra pretty, rustic and charming.
I love making dried citrus slices! It’s so easy and it looks amazing as an embellishment on gifts. It just adds that certain pop of color I was looking for, you know? The best fruits to use for embellishing are: Dried oranges, limes, lemons, cranberries and apples.
Cinnamon sticks smell so good and look so pretty tied onto a gift. Just imagine how pretty some pine sprigs, cinnamon sticks, and dried citrus would look. I’m swooning already.
Pine sprigs make beautiful decorations on any gift. In the past I’ve taken some sprigs straight off of my very own Christmas tree (we always get a real one), so that’s an option. You can also walk around your neighborhood (or check your backyard) and see if there’s any pine trees growing. See if there are any branches that fell to the ground for you to use first. If not, consider snipping a small branch off – as long as it’s not on anyone’s private property. Sometimes local plant nurseries will sell broken pine branches this time of year too, which is something to consider as a last resort.
Dried herbs like sage or rosemary would make nice embellishments that also smell great. I recommend using a whole rosemary sprig for the best looking results. For sage, a few big leaves tucked under some twine looks beautiful. Decorate with these closest to Christmas to keep them looking fresher.
I was on a walk and saw this stunning bush that had nice green leaves and winter berries on it. So I figured why not take a small helping of it to embellish my gifts with? If you want to do the same, the best tip I have is to see if anything is on the ground already for you to take. If not, break off a small piece from the stem – just please be mindful of where the bush is. You don’t want to take a cutting from someone’s property! Also, the leaves may be a bit thorny, so be mindful.
Look outside for pine cones! Scan the ground like a child would and see what you can find. If you find some, tie them to your gifts as is for a beautiful and unique display.
I can only find Eucalyptus at Trader Joes, but hey, it makes a nice embellishment on gifts. It’s not completely waste free (they usually wrap it in plastic), so it’s definitely not my first choice. Just something to consider! Update: I actually found some fresh eucalyptus cuttings at my local farmers market, all plastic-free! So definitely check your farmers market for it too.
You can use fabric scraps to create cute bows and add an extra pop of color to your gifts. See how creative you can get – cut them into strands, make little fabric pompoms or unique shapes, then tie them on. How cute would a fabric heart or Christmas tree look on a gift?
Got any jewelry lying around you never use? Consider embellishing your gift with it – or even using it to tie your gift shut. An old necklace would work nicely as equal parts tie and embellishment. A pretty but old ring tied onto a gift adds an extra pop of shine. Get creative and explore that jewelry box!
Old Christmas cards
You can use last year’s Christmas cards for décor (and name tags!) this year. Just cut the parts of the card you want to use and decorate with. For example, if there’s a cute tree design you want to use as a name tag, cut it out and hole punch it so you can tie some twine through it and onto your gift. You can also use it for décor by attaching it to your gift using twine or zero waste glue.
What do you think of zero waste gift wrapping? Do you like it better than traditional wrapping paper?
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