Zero waste {reusable} gift wrapping

I’m giving gifts this year, you’re giving gifts this year, and intentional gift giving and exchange is a central part of many celebrations. I’ve already talked about the best kinds of zero waste gifts, which also happen to be good guidelines for all thoughtful gift-giving. Christmas stockings have been covered, and there are plenty of ideas for affordable locally made gifts.

Moving on to gift wrap, it seems odd there’s still something left to say on the topic at all. I’ll spare you some of the recommendations that have already been made time and time over and instead show what worked for me last year and what has worked for me this year, since I’ve already wrapped all of the gifts I’m giving.

Build your stash

Be aware that starting now, I’m assuming you already have a bucket or bin of gift wrapping supplies. I could be wrong, but I believe that’s pretty common. If you don’t already save your gift wrappings, consider this to be the year to build up a stash; with the exception of one type of wrapping in particular, you can keep all of your gift wrappings. If you have none already, make this the year you fold, wind, and safely tuck away your gift wrappings for the next time they’re needed.

Gifts bags


Many gift wrappings are 100% reusable and will last you many seasons. There’s a purple, glitter covered gift bag I bought about ten years ago that we still fill with gifts annually. Gift bags are an especially easy wrapping to reuse and store because they fold up flat and aren’t torn when you open gifts-at least, they shouldn’t be. Keep the gift bags you are given and keep them around for next year.


Wrapping paper is one of the most wasteful parts of gift wrapping; it’s used once, taped down with plastic, and thrown in the garbage. Rather than wrapping boxes with tear-off paper, consider using reusable gift boxes. While I prefer boxes meant to be reused, use boxes you already have, even those meant to be disposable. Consider wrapping the lid and box of a shoe box or similar container with any wrapping paper you have left over (or wrapping paper alternatives from down below) so that it can be opened without destroying the paper and then can be closed tightly again for another gift.

Tissue paper

This is where I seem to lose most people. After opening a gift and thanking whoever gave it to me, I automatically begin folding any tissue paper into squares or rectangles. There is enough tissue paper stashed from previous years that we don’t need to use or buy new anymore; tissue paper isn’t as delicate as we think.. If it’s from a gift bag, keep it with the gift bag so it’s all together for the next time you use it, and if not, be sure to keep a pile to put away in your (possibly new) gift wrapping bin. Tissue paper is usually decorative and not used to actually wrap boxes, so a small hole or crinkles and fold lines have no negative impact on the appearance of the gift.


Christmas tins

These are my favorite zero waste options for gift wrapping. You may have them lying around from previous years of candies and cookies, but they’re a great size for small gifts, reusable, and don’t need any string or tape to hold them shut or paper to cover them since most tins already have festive designs. My favorite way to fill them (personally) is candy bought by weight in the bulk section, but like I said, anything that fits can be gifted in a gift tin.

Wrapping paper

Most of us have heard of newspaper for gift wrapping; it works well. In my house, we save the Sunday comics (the only ones in color) all year long to use as gift wrapping. It’s a little late in the year to amass much that way, but comics are non-seasonal and suitable for wrapping any gifts throughout the year.

I learned of another alternative to purchasing disposable wrapping paper from my sister. Since I’ve been living this way for a while (zero waste), she had to figure out how to wrap gifts for me because she’s a Christmas fanatic. When my sister receives a package that is padded out by paper, she saves that brown paper to wrap gifts for me, as well as for others. The best part about this option is that it is 100% reused, and since it’s heavy paper not made only for wrapping gifts, should be very recyclable.

With gift wrap, just use what you have around. If you already have some rolls of wrapping paper, do not throw them out. If you know of someone who would have use for them, you can always give then away and wrap more consciously right away. It there is nobody to take the unwanted wrapping paper in your home, use it anyway; honor the resources that went into making the product and get as much use out of it as you can. I haven’t ever tried to reuse wrapping paper, so I can’t really attest to how that works, but consider giving it a try.

Tape, ribbon, and bows

A reusable gift box filled with Christmas cards, string, old tags, and bows

A reusable gift box filled with Christmas cards, string, old tags, and bows

Well, you have to hold that paper on somehow. Consider going tape free and tying with ribbons, yarn or string. Chances are the gift wrapping ribbon you have now is polyester (mine is, too) so do as you would with wrapping paper. Disposing of these products without ever using them is just further wasting the resources that were unwisely invested in a needlessly disposable product. Use what you have, and then save it to be reused until it’s not working for you any more. When you do need more string, choose something natural like cotton or wool.

If tape free isn’t an option for you, try and find a paper tape with a compostable adhesive or even use plain old glue. While we’re here, I’ll mention as well that gift bows-like the ones make with plastic-y ribbon, staples, and a tiny adheisive covered piece of paper are also reusable; just glue or tape them down on the gift.

Gift tags

Save those incoming Christmas cards, enjoy the holiday message from the sender, and cut the second page of the card right off to be recycled. In my house, we keep and save Christmas cards fronts to attach to gifts as To:/From: style gift tags. These are also then reusable. I found one such tag while wrapping this year that gives me a strong feeling that our family dog will be giving me another gift this year.

There is always an option to go tag-less. If you were feeling particularly motivated, you could try and wrap gifts for each person with a particular color of string, type of reused wrapping, or other indicator of who it belongs to. I, personally, am not inclined to work quite that hard on wrapping, so instead, I just write on the gift itself. If I’ve wrapped with newspaper or another reused paper, I simply write on that paper wrapping the name of the recipient.

Paper fill

The scraps from wrapping paper, reused or brand new, can serve one more purpose before leaving our homes. If you have a paper shredder, you can run odds and ends of gift wrapping through and have strings of newspaper or wrapping paper that can be used decoratively in gift boxes as filler or can be used like packing peanuts to protect items being shipped from breaking.

Even if you have absolutely no gift wrapping supplies, zero waste gift wrapping simply begins right where you are with whatever you already have-be it old wrapping paper, gifts bags, or this weeks newspaper. None of were born into a zero waste lifestyle and it’s easy to look at all of your habits and feel like you have to completely overhaul and start new. Use the resources you have; just use them better. Happy gifting, wrapping, and celebrating.