Ripping off Wrapping Paper & Upcycling

We are in the middle of the holiday season and as the saying goes, all that glitters is not gold.  Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans produce about 25% more waste than normal, which adds up to about a million pounds a week.  This year, with strained budgets due to COVID-19, small changes to limit our waste can help our wallets, our city, and our planet.  One of the contributors to the excess in wrapping paper, which consumers have to pay for twice.  First, we buy the paper, which is used for a few seconds, and then our taxes pay to transport our wrapping paper to various landfills.  Fortunately, there are sustainable alternatives and opportunities to upcycle.

It has been estimated about 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper are produced a year, costing Americans over 7 billion dollars, and most of it is destined for the landfill.  For starters, although it’s called paper, many wrapping papers aren’t actually recyclable.  These include papers laminated with a thin layer of plastic or ones that contain glitter.  Other wrapping papers contain heavy amounts of dye, which require more chemicals to manufacture and yield less recyclable paper.  If you aren’t sure if your paper is recyclable, crumple it into a ball, if it stays scrunched it is likely recyclable.

You can still wrap gifts and continue on your zero-waste journey.  There are currently a variety of wrapping options that are made out of recycled materials or can be recycled.  Some papers even contain wildflower seeds which can be planted for an additional gift. You can go fully zero-waste by making your own wrapping paper out of reused materials. Click here for instructions to make your own seed paper.  Consider wrapping your gift in newspaper, brown grocery bags, old maps, or wrapping paper you may have saved from a previous gift.  Either wrap as is to keep things simple or use the opportunity to get creative by painting, stamping, or decorating the paper yourself.  If you need a container for smaller items, consider using a tin or any boxes you have at home.

If your wrapping season is over, there is still an opportunity to upcycle large pierces or scraps of wrapping paper and reduce waste at the same time.  Here are three sustainability tips to consider this holiday season:

  1. Save large pieces, bows, bags, and tissue paper for your next occasion.Nice wrapping paper should be too good for the landfill.  If there’s a print you like, opening it carefully and salvaging large sheets can save you money next year.
  2. Don’t underestimate small scraps of paper.You know those small, seemingly useless, pieces left over after wrapping a gift, or for that matter any scrap of paper?  If you learn a few simple origami models, you can create name tags, bows, decorations, and flowers (that don’t need water).
  3. Ribbons can be used for more than adoring gifts. Using the fabric from bows and ribbons, you can “spruce” up an old jar to create a festive vase for your winter evergreens. If you have a tree, clip off a few branches and bring the scent of the season into any room.


The road to zero-waste has never been more festive.  Did you enjoy these tips or have any tips we missed?  Share with us online and tag us, @Freshkillspark.  We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season and a Happy New Year!


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