Around the world, waste from food, gifts, and packaging increases during the holiday period. Our traditions and activities during the days leading to Christmas - from 11.11 sales, Black Friday steals, Cyber Monday deals, and the 12.12 rush - contribute to the massive amount of generated wastes that end up in landfills and eventually contaminating soils and bodies of water.
To be specific, holiday waste increases garbage by 30% compared to the rest of the year! This equates to 3 million tons of wastes in the UK alone. [Read more about holiday waste facts here.]
While up to 70% of our wastes can be recycled or reused, only a small percentage gets a new life. If you're inclined to reduce the amount of waste that comes out of your household during the holidays, this is a great place to make a change. Here's our guide on how to reduce holiday waste by wrapping presents in a sustainable way.
This article is divided into 3 steps: (1) Planning, (2) Wrapping Alternatives, and (3) Decorating.
Step 1: Planning is key!
As is the case for many things, you have to plan for things to go smoothly. Gifting over the holidays may be fun and exciting but it is also costly and stressful. Here, we highlight the 3 things to do to breeze through the holiday rush: COLLECT, LIST, SCHEDULE!
COLLECT – Throughout the year, if you have space, keep boxes and packaging materials from your online orders. These may include bubble wrap, tissue paper, packing peanuts, parcels, and boxes. Also keep the packaging from gifts you receive such as ribbons, wrappers, twine, and paper bags. Go the extra mile and keep the foil packaging from crisps, glass jars, newspapers and magazines, other recyclable paper products, and toilet roll’s core. Depending on your chosen wrapping method, these items will be useful when the time to wrap presents comes.
LIST – One thing we never want to happen is to miss gifting someone or making them feel that we didn’t remember them. Do not leave this to the last minute. Keep a list of people you want to give a gift, and write down their preferences. Make this list your multi-purpose go-to and add details like their birthdays and addresses in case you want to give a birthday present or need to send out a card or parcel. Listing birthdays will also make sure you get an age-appropriate gift since we feel that children grow so fast.
Here’s a list to get you started:
parents, in-laws, siblings, extended family members
neighbors (if you are feeling generous)
Feel free to cross out some people in case they are no longer part of your life or if the budget does not permit. Remember, you are not obligated to give someone a gift nor should you be expecting gifts from anyone. Let’s all manage our expectations here - we’ve been through a pandemic after all.
SCHEDULE – Here’s the fun part. List down the known dates for massive sales all throughout the year. With the people and preference list you have created before, you can shop for holiday presents all-year-round and not worry about missing a person or a specific item you wanted to gift. Plus, this is easier on your bank account as you won’t have a huge expense during the holiday season.
Step 2: Wrapping Alternatives
For a Zero-Waste goal, the most obvious thing to do is not to wrap presents or give something that is free of packaging. But since we also want to feel festive and keep our presents a surprise, here are our sustainable alternatives to traditional gift wraps/bags:
Furoshiki (Japanese) / bojagi (Korean) – It is traditionally used as an alternative to a bag and you’ll find everyday lunch boxes or home-cooked meals wrapped in cloth. Furoshiki, like origami or flower arrangement, is also considered an art form with its various designs and wrapping styles. Consider wrapping luxury items in beautiful scarves for that extra classy touch.
Eco bags personalized/old – One way to make sure the wrapping doesn’t go to waste is to give the present in a personalized eco bag. Embroider or print someone’s name or face on the bag makes your gift a 2-in-1 perfect for those celebrating birthdays during Christmas too. You can also reuse an old (make sure you wash/clean it first) eco bag to hold the gifts.
Christmas sacks – Perfect for families, Christmas sacks are a fun reusable way to wrap presents without the awkwardness of asking for the packaging back. Make it extra special and embroider/print the names of each family member so they know which one is theirs.
Biodegradeable/compostable – For times when we can’t ask for the bags back or some items just don’t fit in an eco bag or scarf, a lot of wrapping is now biodegradable/compostable. Just make sure to inform the recipient of the recycling/composting procedure of the wrapping paper.
Kraft paper – This is a low carbon impact alternative to traditional wrapping paper. As a blank canvas, you are free to keep it simple or spruce it up with décor ideas you can find in the next step!
Old newspapers, maps – Old newspapers and magazines are a great way to save on wrapping costs and keep wastes minimal. Make it artsy by using foreign language newspapers or old maps for that travel aficionado recipient. Find inspiring decor ideas for newspapers here.
Reuse old wrappings – Like munching on potato crisps? Make sure you wash and keep the bag. The inner silver color of the foil wrapping lends a festive feel to your gifts with its metallic shine.
DIY Recycled Plantable Seed Paper – Remember the other paper products you collected? Why not make your own paper wrapper with this DIY hack that’s perfect for a green thumb? Check out the full instructions here.
Depending on the age, maturity, or lifestyle of the gift recipient, certain packaging alternatives may appeal more to them.
Step 3: Decorating
Just because you’ve gone the sustainable route, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Nature has provided us the beauty around us and it also extends to how beautiful our packaging can be. Try adding these to your packaging:
Twigs, herbs, shrubs
Real flowers and leaves (fresh or dried)
What about cards and tags? Ditch the tags and write on the wrapping/ribbon/leaf instead. For Christmas cards and necessary tags, try making it yourself from scratch. When they find out that your cards and tags are handmade (Hint: DIY Recycled Plantable Seed Paper), they’ll know that you spent the time to make it especially for them.
Important Note: When using real flowers/herbs, make sure your recipient is not allergic to any of those. Unless you wanted dried flowers/leaves, attach these at the last minute so they stay fresh. If you picked up the seashells yourself, make sure there aren’t any living creatures inside. Clean the shells off their fishy scent by soaking and brushing lightly with a mixture of water, bleach, and fabric conditioner.
Now you’re all set, there is no excuse for not being sustainable this Christmas and for the years to come. Now excuse me as I rush to prepare the present for my godchild #25.