How to cut down on gift wrapping waste

Under Evelyn Schellenberg's Christmas tree, gifts are wrapped in candy reds and forest greens dotted with wreaths, reindeer and poinsettias, but there's not a lick of paper to be seen. Instead, she has been wrapping holiday presents with cloth for more than 30 years. Schellenberg said the decision to cut out conventional gift wrap was initially born from economic concerns.

"It was the late 1980s when we started this, after I noticed that gift wrap was getting so expensive. For a yard and a half of gift wrap, I'd spend $5 on a tube," said the resident of the rural municipality of Nipawin, Sask. 

One year, she spotted Christmas-themed fabric on sale post-season. She thought, "This makes way more sense than buying paper and throwing it out every year."

Schellenberg bought a few bought a few different types of fabric, cut them into various sizes, and her family has been using them to wrap gifts ever since.

Evelyn Schellenberg

"I have some pieces that are the size of tablecloths, some that are much smaller, and I made a few cloth gift bags, too. If the kids come home for Christmas, they'll wrap their gifts here with the fabric," she said.

To fasten the fabric, they use safety pins and fabric ribbon. Instead of bows, they use old ornaments to decorate the gifts.

Evelyn Schellenberg

"If we're going somewhere else, then I'll use gift bags and boxes, which I like better than paper because you can reuse them," Shellenberg said.

"Waste of any kind is a terrible shame and there's so much of it. It's not only gift wrap, but everything gets tossed out. Nobody fixes anything anymore and you just buy something new. So I think anything we can do to minimize waste is a good thing."

Household waste increases by an average of 25 per cent over the holidays, according to Zero Waste Canada. The organization says approximately 545,000 tonnes of waste is produced in Canada each year from gift wrap and shopping bags alone.

Laura Neufeld, co-owner of The Better Good store in Saskatoon, said one of the issues with conventional holiday wrap is that it's made of mixed materials, rendering it unrecyclable.

Evelyn Schellenberg

"Gift wrap with metallic or glitter finishes can't be recycled, and anything that expands when you crinkle it up has some kind of plastic component in it, which can't be recycled," Neufeld said.

The cities of Saskatoon and Regina accept some conventional items for recycling, and for wrapping paper, both recommend following a rule of "if it rips easily, it's recyclable." Tossing materials in your recycling bin that cannot be recycled can contaminate otherwise clean recycling.

Naomi Zurevinski

Neufeld recommends using gift wrapping options that are reusable, moving away from single-use items that end up in the landfill. Look for ones that are not season-specific, as they can be used all year.

"I also recommend getting rid of gift tags; just write on packages or cards directly, which cuts down on paper waste. For decorating or replacing bows, use natural, biodegradable items: twine, greenery, evergreen branches or berries are all compostable and can look really pretty."

Alternative reusable and recyclable ideas for wrapping gifts

  • Cloth wrap and cloth ribbon.
  • Cloth bags.
  • Scarves, tea towels, decorative pillow cases, other household cloth items.
  • Newspaper.
  • Old magazines.
  • Old maps.
  • Brown craft paper (not waxy).
  • Glass mason jars.
  • Tins, decorative boxes or other containers.
  • Baskets.
  • Cardboard and paper boxes.
  • Twine.
  • Natural decor, like berries, greens.

Neufeld also recommends incorporating the wrap into the gift itself, "like a tea towel or a swaddling blanket if it's a baby gift," she said.

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When it comes to the gift itself, Neufeld said switching from material items to gifts that are experiences or consumables is a great option. Try gifting a class, tickets to an event or plan a date for a loved one.

"Our planet is in a desperate state right now and the holidays do bring about an excess. There's no doubt that we are capable of cutting down that extra 25 per cent holiday waste to be the same as the rest of the year," said Neufeld. If this is something that's important to people the rest of the year, then it needs to be important over the holidays."