Wednesday, October 5, 2022

How to wrap gifts and do it more sustainably

(Ross Godwin/The Washington Post)

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Waiting until the last minute to wrap your gifts? You’re not alone. Before you dive into the discount wrapping paper bin, consider your options. Gift wrap accounts for millions of tons of waste in the United States each year, and alternatives such as brown shipping paper, newspaper or fabric can help save your gift (and the planet).

“There are so many ways to make gift wrap more sustainable,” said Kathryn Kellogg, founder of Going Zero Waste, a website dedicated to eco-friendly and frugal living. “My family always used gift bags and we reuse the bag and the tissue paper year after year,” she added. Scarves from the thrift store, reusable grocery bags and upcycling are other options she considers.

Read on to find out how to wrap presents like a pro and reduce waste while you’re at it.

1. Consider your materials

What you use to wrap your gifts is perhaps the most important decision you can make.

“I try to think about the full life cycle of every product I buy,” Kellogg said, adding that you should take into consideration not only the wrapping but the gift itself. “Where did it come from, how long is it going to be in use, and what happens to it at the very end of its life.”

  • Choose your paper: Many wrapping papers are not recyclable because of the microplastics they contain, but shipping paper and newspaper are usually safe bets. “Generally, if you can scrunch it up and the paper stays in a tight ball, then it can be recycled,” said Heidi Brock, American Forest & Paper Association (AF & PA) president and CEO in an email. “However, other types of wrapping paper, made with foil or plastic or if it’s covered in glitter, should be reused instead of recycled.”
  • Ditch the tape: Depending on your local guidelines, plastic tape may need to be removed from paper before recycling. Consider using masking tape or washi tape, or wrap your presents using a method that doesn’t require tape.
  • Reuse things like gift bags, tissue paper and ribbons and bows. Alternatively, use non-disposable materials like fabric, tote bags or stockings for oddly shaped items.
  • Use natural hemp twine instead of plastic ribbon and decorate with reusable or naturally occurring items like flowers or fresh herbs.
(Video: The Washington Post)

Materials needed: A ruler, wrapping paper, scissors, tape

It’ll take a bit of mental math, but you can measure your wrapping paper to reduce waste.

  • First, measure the diagonal length of your box from the upper right corner to the bottom left.
  • Next, measure the height of the box and multiply that by 1.5.
  • Add the two numbers together: this is your magic number. Use it to cut a perfect square of wrapping paper.

For example, let’s say you have a four-inch tall square box. The diagonal length from corner to corner would be 5.5 inches and 1.5×4=6. So the equation to get the magic number would be 5.5+6=11.5. Cut an 11.5×11.5-inch square of paper and then wrap the box using the method shown in the video above.

This method was developed by Sarah Santos, founder of Math Busking, a service company that applies math in unexpected situations.

3. Wrap your gifts in fabric using the Japanese art of ‘furoshiki’

(Video: The Washington Post)

Materials needed: A piece of fabric large enough to wrap around the box or the item you’re gifting.

Use fabric scraps or items like vintage scarves, bandannas, tea towels or cloth napkins to wrap your boxes (and give a bonus gift!)

  • Place your box diagonally on top of the piece of fabric.
  • Fold one corner over the top, tucking it underneath the box if needed. Repeat with the opposite corner.
  • Grab the unfolded corners and bring them in to the top center of the box. Make sure to fold in the fabric so it’s nicely wrapped.
  • Tie a double knot with the corners and add your garnishes, such as fresh greenery.

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4. Use leftover cardboard rolls to make gift boxes for small items

(Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Ross Godwin/The Washington Post)

Materials needed: A cardboard roll, scissors, something cylindrical like a mug, glass or water bottle

Leftover cardboard rolls from toilet paper or gift wrap can be repurposed as gift boxes for small items or gift cards. An added bonus: they’re recyclable and don’t require any tape.

  • First, press down on the roll to flatten it. Cut the roll to your desired width.
  • Place a cylindrical item like a mug, class or can on top of the end of your roll and use scissors to score both sides. Repeat on the other end. This will make it easier to fold.
  • Fold the ends inward. Decorate it with wrapping paper scraps and twine.

5. Make (or find!) your own decorations

Like so much else, when it comes to wrapping presents, details can make all the difference.

Choosing garnishes that can be reused or ones that will naturally decompose is a sustainable way to decorate your gifts. Clip greenery from your yard or use found items like twigs and flowers. Dried plants, cinnamon sticks, old buttons or even earrings are also great options. Remember to use natural hemp twine — rather than plastic — to secure them to your gifts.

If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can make your own bows out of newspapers, magazines, shipping paper or even chip bags.

If you do opt for plastic bows and ribbons, you can always reuse them, but don’t try to “whishcycle” them, Brock said. “That’s when you put something in the bin hoping it will be recycled. But … it actually disrupts the recycling process.”

It only takes a little bit of creativity to make your wrapping more sustainable.

“I personally love to use a bit of brown paper. You can steam or iron it to get out the wrinkles,” Kellogg said. “Tied up with some nice string and a branch from your Christmas tree or some dried oranges, and it’s stunning.”

Videos and photos by Ross Godwin. Hand modeling by Ashlyn Still. Editing by Danielle Rindler.

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