Sustainable Step – Rethink gift wrapping

Did you know, in Australia we use 150,000 km of wrapping paper at Christmas? That is enough to wrap the world in paper almost four times.  And this doesn’t even include all the birthdays and weddings and other celebratory events throughout the year.  

You’ll be glad to know that there is a more sustainable approach to gift wrapping.

Drawing inspiration from furoshiki, a Japanese wrapping cloth that can be used to transport and carry things, we can avoid wrapping paper completely. Cloths of different sizes can be used to wrap almost any size gift. All you have to do is decide on your favourite pattern.

I have had success wrapping gifts in a range of different cloths including tea towels, scarves and even handkerchiefs.  Last Christmas I used Christmas themed tea towels, and the best part was the wrapping then became part of the gift. (I know I am always in need of more tea towels at Christmas time.)

Other sustainable gift wrapping options include using old newspaper, children’s pictures or pages from old books. While I still struggle with the idea of tearing pages from a book, if it is an old or damaged book that is destined for the rubbish or recycling, why not get use from the pages in any way you can.   

But is all this effort really worth it? Well the short answer is ‘yes’.

While most people put their used wrapping paper in the recycling bin, did you know that a lot of wrapping paper is not recyclable?  This is because wrapping paper is often laminated with plastic or foil or other non-paper materials. And as I found out last year, more wrapping paper than you would expect contains plastic or foil.    

Let me tell you a story… Last year we hosted Christmas. All my lovely family bought their gifts wrapped in beautiful Christmas wrapping, often adorned with striking decorations.

Once all the gift giving was done, there was a large pile of wrapping paper left behind.  

The next day I sat down with the pile and sorted through what I thought would be recyclable, what could go in my compost and what had to be sent to landfill.

Non-recyclable plastic based items that couldn’t be reused like excess sticky tape and plastic ribbons went in the landfill pile. Glossy paper that I don’t put in my compost but appeared to be paper went in the recycling (our council accepts glossy paper like that used in magazines so I thought this was perfect).  The final pile contained what I thought was paper based wrapping with no gloss or sparkles and this went in my compost.  

Months later when I returned to my compost bin, I was very surprised to find chunks of Christmas wrapping paper.  All the material had broken down except the Christmas wrapping.  So I sorted through my compost bin removing the wrapping paper from my otherwise perfect compost.

I couldn’t believe that even what appeared to be paper wasn’t. In my defence I am quite experienced in knowing what kinds of cardboard and paper packaging can go in the compost bin as it’s often my main source of brown material during the dry winter months.

I have now resolved not to put wrapping paper in the compost at all. But it also raised the question of how much wrapping paper that is put in recycling bins is not actually recyclable?    

Rather than take the chance, why not give a little thought to your gift wrapping and see if you can find a more sustainable option.

Happy wrapping.   


The Sustainable Steps series provides quick and easy tips about how to make more sustainable choices in your everyday life.