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Last-minute green gift-wrapping ideas

Many of these 36 ideas will work in a pinch. You likely have many of these materials in your home.

By Karen Datko Dec 22, 2009 8:04PM

This post comes from Myscha Theriault at partner blog Wise Bread.


Trying to maintain eco boundaries in the middle of winter holiday chaos? It can be tough, particularly with all of those ribbons and bows tempting us at every turn. If your tastes lean more toward silk and satin than burlap and tin foil, here are 36 green gift-wrapping ideas to get you started.

Some use less plastic. Others recycle materials that might otherwise go to waste, or include something that can be reused time and again. The overall theme is that they all take planetary impact into consideration in some way. Feel free to contribute your additional thoughts and ideas below so we are armed with strategies that will let us celebrate with style.

  • Tulle, lace or other semi-transparent fabric. Use this to wrap gift baskets instead of several sheets of cellophane and plastic ribbon. The clear cellophane tears easily and isn’t something most folks would think to save and reuse anyway. Embellish with live flowers and twisted paper ribbon.
  • Skip the tape. For gifts with simple shapes such as books, carefully fold the paper and avoid tape altogether. Finish off the overlapping points in the back with an attractive foil seal.
  • Wired fabric ribbon. It's reusable and much more elegant than traditional plastic curling ribbon.
  • Paper tape. Beth Terry’s plastic reduction blog was my inspiration for this, as she recommends paper tape over plastic for shipping purposes. Now, when it comes to gift giving, I’d advise going a step further and making paper tape loops that can tuck underneath the paper folds unseen. These would come in handy when the tape-skipping suggestion above won’t work -- for example, on larger boxes.
  • Paper gift bags. The ones I buy tend to be pretty sturdy and come in shapes suitable for wine, bath product collections and much more. If you are looking for affordable sources, Dollar Tree has a decent selection.
  • Fabric bags. These can be picked up inexpensively at various discount stores and international market stalls. I still have a small stash left from a trip I took to Thailand years ago. If you’re feeling crafty, however, you can make your own fabric gift bag.
  • Furoshiki. Otherwise known as Japanese fabric folding, this technique is basically origami with fabric instead of paper. This page shows instructions for numerous Furoshiki gift-wrapping styles, courtesy of the government of Japan.
  • Brown paper packages tied up with string ... these are a few of my favorite things. Unbleached brown craft paper brings a certain rustic elegance to the table that can be helpful if you’re going for that sort of look. Accent your packages with plaid hair ribbons, colored twine or other appropriate green items that suit your taste.
  • Canning jars. My love affair with canning jars is well documented, but for those who love to make homemade gifts, these things rock. Cut out a circle of fabric and tie it on the top with twisted paper ribbon. Then add a label. This idea works well for dry mix recipes like this one for beer bread mix in a jar.
  • Homemade gift tags. There are many ways to incorporate this, including using outdated business cards. I’d modify their suggestion a bit and glue the information side flat to the package, leaving the blank side available for writing or stamping.
  • Use the picturesque front flap of a topical greeting card. Use a glue stick to center it on the front of a gift wrapped in solid-color paper. This takes up enough space on the package that ribbon really isn’t necessary, and makes use of older greeting cards in a way that doesn’t look tacky.
  • Naked as the day it was born. Consider skipping the wrap job altogether when appropriate. This works well for hostess wines or homemade soaps tucked into gift baskets. It’s also a fantastic way to present that wooden train set under the Christmas tree.
  • Cash in a decorative folded paper envelope. Use an old-fashioned wax seal for extra drama and pizzazz.
  • Stuff it. Since smaller gifts are often easier to wrap without plastic tape, go smaller with the gift packages and fill a good old-fashioned Christmas stocking.
  • Hit the sewing department. In addition to craft stores, the sewing departments of various discount stores offer a selection of fabric ribbons and other embellishments. These offer attractive alternatives to the plastic bits and bobs you might otherwise normally use.
  • Take a tip from Tiffany’s. The blue paperboard boxes with the white satin ribbon make a classic statement. If you want to save even a few more pennies, order plain white boxes from a jewelry supply wholesaler and use thin black satin ribbon to tie the tops on. Black and white is not only incredibly sophisticated, it’s a classic gift-wrapping look you can use all year long. Experiment with other color combinations as you deem appropriate.
  • Use decorative paper stickers or labels to seal the ends of packages. You have a ton of latitude here. Just choose a basic design that you find attractive and can easily restock.
  • Plain paper boxes usually designed for Chinese takeout food. These are perfect for homemade candies and other baked goods. They are also low on packaging and can be decorated with stamps or glue-on gift tags.
  • Fabric gift items that can actually serve as the wrapping medium. Think bandanas, scarves, sarongs, baby blankets, etc. A colleague of mine even uses these eco-friendly garment bags. This technique provides a reusable wrapper and also doubles the gift you are giving.
  • Gift box with a removable top. These are like those great fabric gift bags in the sense that you can use them over and over again, year after year. Some stores even have them with a gift already inside, saving you time as well as extra money you might have spent on wrapping supplies.
  • Maps. Save old road maps and use them for wrapping presents you intend to give to travelers, teachers or students. Maps are colorful, sturdy and often free at your local tourist information center.
  • Organic elements. If you are tying fabric around a gift, consider tucking rosemary, holly or ivy into the knot. It adds a little something extra, and can easily be composted afterward, making it a perfect green gift-wrapping idea.
  • Wallpaper. Use your leftovers or free samples to wrap various gifts. Wallpaper comes in a variety of colors and styles. Just take care to select one that doesn’t look dated, unless you are going for a more vintage style of wrapping job to add to the theme of the gift.
  • Purchase sustainable or otherwise eco-friendly consumable supplies. If buying recycled wrapping paper or gift cards studded with flower seeds isn’t in your budget, pick up a good-condition, partially used roll of wrapping paper at a local thrift shop or yard sale.
  • Brown lunch bags. These can be stamped with topical designs and have holes punched at the top for fabric ribbons and gift tags. Use them for caramel corn, homemade crackers, etc. This is one of those ideas where you can recruit the kids to help you out.
  • Mother Nature. Use large leaves with twine, and tie on a cinnamon stick or pine twig. Those in northern woodsy climates can use giant oak or maple leaves. For those who live in island locations, banana palm leaves give a nice look that celebrates the location.
  • Sweaters. Some of those tacky holiday sweaters actually make decent gift-wrapping material. Cut off the arm of a Nordic-patterned sweater and stitch it across, leaving the seam inside. The cuff portion is narrower and will hug the top of a wine bottle nicely once it’s been tucked inside. Add a drawstring or tie-on if you desire. Here’s a tutorial.
  • Fabric envelopes. Cut an extra long rectangle of felt with a pointed triangle top at one end. Fold it up partway, leaving the triangle end as the fold-down part. Either glue the sides, add grommets or have the kids punch holes to string ribbon or twine through. You can come up with any combination of materials that suits the look you are going for. If you want to get a little more in-depth, this tutorial from Design Sponge offers another solution.
  • Old sheet music. There are tons of ways to use this stuff. I like the pages dyed with tea or coffee to give them a more vintage feel. Great for the musician in your life. I also like this idea because I am constantly on the lookout for ideas that use a classic black-and-white color combination in a way that feels traditional and elegant. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for stark and modern.
  • Embellishments that are also gifts. If you are a fabric ribbon convert but don’t feel like making elaborate homemade bows every time, this is a great way to go. Tie on things like cookie cutters, silver baby rattles, wine stoppers, tree ornaments, brass or silver bells, beaded hair sticks or a classic letter opener.
  • Yarn. Particularly the textured, popcorn-style kind.
  • Unbleached organic muslin. Cut a simple square and tie it on with hemp twine and leaf embellishments, or go crazy with stamps and fabric paint. You could also stitch it into a simple drawstring bag that the recipient can use for bulk-bin shopping.
  • Cheesecloth. Give a giant quart-sized jar of homemade jelly wrapped in cheesecloth with a recipe card attached as the gift tag. Thematic and eco-friendly. Gotta love that.
  • Calendars. I personally like the kind with the vintage travel labels or old-fashioned liquor ads, as they add a bit of pop culture while remaining firmly in the traditional camp. Plus, I love the darker classic colors they tend to use on those things. Just rip the pages out and use for small gifts.
  • Spell out the person’s name directly on the package by gluing on cut-out letters. Play around with newsprint letters from a glossy magazine placed on a solid red or black paper. Or try other combinations that work for you. I’d love to take credit for this one, but the idea actually came to me via the Bugs and Fishes blog. Very clever, and in my opinion a green gift-wrapping idea well-suited for children’s presents.
  • Bojagi. This is a Korean form of wrapping gifts in fabric that is very similar to Furoshiki, the Japanese technique mentioned earlier. You can use this link to find Bojagi instructions.

Related reading at Wise Bread:

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