Greener Gift Wrapping Ideas: Holiday Presents with Less Waste

Think about it: Gift wrap is a product that is manufactured solely to be thrown away. No matter what gifts we choose for our family and friends, eco friendly gift wrapping ideas and creative packaging creates less waste. Rethink your usual Christmas gift wrapping methods to green up your holiday giving. 

3 PACKAGES wrapped in eco-friendly reusable cloth.

Come December, consumerism tends to run a little rampant. For many families the holidays are often fraught with tension over how to afford a special holiday celebration complete with the requisite presents and baubles and feasts.

Those of us who strive for less waste and a simpler lifestyle have the added dimension of trying to tone it down and green it up without seeming Scrooge-like.

gift wrapped with burlap

Eco Friendly Gift Wrapping Ideas

It’s been years since I’ve bought gift wrap. Instead, I’ve implemented some different Christmas gift wrapping ideas.

My family uses a variety of reusable or upcycled methods for wrapping presents. We save pretty paper, old maps, newspaper, and nice-looking boxes for wrapping. I have a collection of cloth bags that we use from year to year, and some gifts go out in upcycled containers and jars. It’s not ever a magazine-perfect holiday scene at my house, but it’s festive nonetheless.

3 fabric gift bags tied with ribbon.

And it goes without saying that these gift wrapping ideas can be adopted for any celebration that requires a prettily wrapped gift! 

Choose Upcycled & Biodegradable Gift Wrap 

Let’s face it. There’s just something fun about ripping the paper off a package during the holiday festivities. If you want to stick with paper wrapping, there are some options that are better than others.

Holiday time means presents! These Christmas gift wrapping ideas feature eco friendly gift packaging to eliminate waste and single use gift paper.

Upcycled Wrapping

Throughout the year we all receive packages and shipments. Sometimes those packages come with really interesting options.

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One year I ordered school supplies and they came padded with a long piece of mylar potato chip packaging. I assume they were utilizing a waste product, which I think is great. It also meant that we had a source for shiny silver gift wrap for years.

box wrapped with newspaper

Use the Funnies

The Sunday comics are always a good bet for gift wrapping with newspaper, but I like the classified section, too. Once the gifts are opened, this biodegradable option can be tossed to the compost pile.

Make Your Own Gift Wrap

Cut a brown paper bag flat and decorate the blank side with markers. Or try your hand at potato stamping:

To do it, cut a potato in half and carve a design on the flat side. Wet a rag and set it flat on a small plate. Use a thick rag or fold it over several times. Squeeze some acrylic paint onto the rag and spread it out.

Essentially you’re making a giant stamp pad. Press the potato design into the paint and then onto some test paper.

Practice until you’re happy with the stamp and then start stamping your homemade gift wrap.

Skip the Ready-Made Plastic Bows

They’re easy, sure, but the ribbon is plastic. Instead, use jute twine or lace to tie up packages or learn to make a bow using rolled ribbon or lengths of fabric.

Holiday time means presents! These Christmas gift wrapping ideas feature eco friendly gift packaging to eliminate waste and single use gift paper.

Related: Giving Experiences Instead of Gifts

Reusable Gift Wrapping

Some gift “wraps” can be used from year to year. Those shiny store-bought gift bags are probably the most familiar example.

Other options include making drawstring gift bags (use these instructions and make some with fun fabric) or opt for gift boxes with lift-off lids that can be used year after year. If you use gift boxes, it’s a good idea to look for nesting boxes for ease of storage.

Bento Bags

If you know how to sew a straight stitch, you can easily make bento bags in any size you like. The recipient will be able to use them for a multitude of things once the holiday season is over. If you don’t sew, you can pick up a set of ready made organic cotton bento bags here.

3 white bento bags on a wooden table, one christmas wrapped, one with fruit inside, one with yard skeins

Functional Gift Wrapping Ideas


Choose natural baskets woven from willow, wicker, or reeds that can be put into service after the holidays are over. 

Pillow Cases

When my kids were little, I made them a special pillowcase each year for Christmas. It’s a simple sewing project that only takes half an hour or so to make.

To make one, start by choosing a fun fabric. (If you don’t have a well-stocked fabric store nearby, check out Spoonflower.) For a standard pillow, cut a piece of fabric 40″ x 28″. Fold the fabric in half to bring the two 28″ sides together, right sides facing each other. Using a straight stitch, sew one short side and the long side. Iron a half-inch hem around the opening, folding the raw edge under twice.

decorating glass jars and bottles with dots of paint

Related: Eco Friendly Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Glass Jars

I am of the opinion that a household can’t have enough glass storage jars. They are immensely useful and pretty to tuck under a tree. You can upcycle glass jars to create these colorful containers that can be reused for storage or as DIY candle holders.

The easiest way to turn a jar into a pretty package? Cut a piece of fabric – square or circle – 2″-3″ larger than the jar lid and tie it in place with jute twine or a ribbon.


Instead of paper, choose a beautiful scarf for wrapping your gifts. Alternatively, pick up a yard of fabric and use that to wrap presents for the crafters you love.

Petition Santa Claus to Go Green

Santa Claus has always delivered packages to our house without wrapping paper. I was surprised to find out that he brings wrapped presents to other households.

Hey Santa. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Take a hint from me: You’ll deliver packages even more quickly and with less waste when you opt not to wrap! Take note of these Christmas gift wrapping ideas to cut back a bit.

Unplug the Christmas Machine

If you haven’t read it, check out Unplug the Christmas Machine: Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season. It’s worth a read. But what if you’re looking for ideas on making the upcoming holidays greener and you don’t have the book on hand? Check out some of the advice below from my readers and some of my blogging friends.

homemade soap wrapped in bright paper

Related: Gift for Kids that Won’t Break the Bank or Undermine Your Values

Eco friendly gift wrapping ideas and “less is more” gifts

My husband comes from a family that valued high-dollar gifts above all. He still isn’t entirely thrilled with homemade or second-hand presents, but he’s trying. My boys on the other hand? They think it’s great fun to try to find just the right gently-used gift.

Need some greener gift giving ideas? Check out these cool upcycled gift options!

gif wrapped in bright red cloth

Originally published November 2016; this post has been updated.

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About the author: Kris Bordessa is an award-winning National Geographic author and a certified Master Food Preserver. Read more about Kris and how she got started with this site here. If you want to send Kris a quick message, you can get in touch here.

7 comments… add one
  • maureen magovern Dec 6, 2019 @ 7:49

    This year I purchased some well made, beautiful kitchen towels in a variety of holiday or animal themes (for those who especially love certain animals). Got them on Sale. I’ll use them as the wrapping for a special present for each loved one. Each will have a note w/the gift tag explaining that although I love wrapping presents prettily, the towel/wrapping is in the interest of ecology, a healthier planet for everyone. I’ll certainly have to work on that wording though.

    • Kris Bordessa Dec 6, 2019 @ 8:00

      Great idea!

  • Barkley Sury Jul 31, 2019 @ 3:10

    Along the idea of giving experiences instead of gifts, my husband and I started a tradition a few years ago with our then 5 year old to give each other a trip somewhere as a family for our holiday present. My husband and I don’t exchange anything but stockings, and Santa still brings a few things for the little one, but from mom and dad, that’s it (socks and underwear not counted). It has been a wonderful tradition that has allowed us to explore some amazing places. Decreasing our holiday spend budget allows us to increase the vacation budget and spend quality time making memories together. My kid LOVES this tradition, and even asked for a birthday trip this year rather than a party!

    • Kris Bordessa Jul 31, 2019 @ 14:49

      Love it!

  • Carol L Dec 10, 2016 @ 16:23

    For Decades, my family has saved wrapping paper and re-used it. We collect the paper and the bows and divvy them up after the presents have been unwrapped, and give each one a bag of used bows and wrapping paper. Last year, I purchased several yards of Christmas fabric, and plan to sew bags to use in the future. Wrapping boxes to re-use is also on my list of things to do.
    Funny, we got odd looks from my daughters mother-in-law regarding re-used paper and bows. She looked at us like we were monkeys in the zoo using a computer. (she is from Southern California…..)

  • Sonia Nov 22, 2016 @ 15:26

    For the last few years, I’ve been using the square or rectangular lauhala baskets with lids as the box to put the gifts in, tie with a bow and voilà…no need for a cardboard box, or wrapping paper…and the lauhala basket can be used in so many ways in anyone’s home. Some of the smaller gifts inside the lauhala basket might be wrapped, but I use recycled paper

  • John Nov 17, 2016 @ 9:07

    I love using newspaper to wrap presents, particularly the Sunday comics. Sometimes I just buy them from Amazon and put them under the tree if I’m feeling lazy though. For less important people, I usually just do gift cards.

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