With the holidays just around the corner, you’re probably already thinking about gifts for the kids. You might have already started your holiday shopping! But how much do you think about what those gifts are wrapped up in? If there is one thing COVID has reinforced to us, we need to change consumer behaviour for the long-term. Whether you’re trying to save money or be more environmentally friendly, there are plenty of eco-friendly and reusable wrapping paper ideas to dress up gifts with.

Gift wrap is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Each holiday season, millions of tonnes of wrapping paper fill up landfills. Most of which (as many people don’t realize) isn’t recyclable. 

Instead of doing your usual trip to the store to load up on wrapping, make this Christmas the start of a new tradition. One where you get creative with your gift-giving! Not only can it be a fun twist on holiday traditions, but it’s also a great way to save money and reduce your carbon footprint this year. And you don’t have to wait until Christmas, get your kids involved when they are wrapping their friend’s birthday presents.

Eco Friendly and Reusable Wrapping Paper Ideas

Creative wrapping paper ideas work for all gifts and all ages, but they’re especially fun when working tween and teens. Kids in this age group are going to be less enthused about tearing open gifts than toddlers and young children. They’re also more environmentally conscious, meaning they might even embrace these new ideas with open arms. 

I’ve noticed that as my kids get older the number of gifts I get them are fewer each year. Now they want more specific (or expensive) things instead of a bunch of toys. When you only have a few gifts to wrap/unwrap you can invest your time in doing something different.

Cloth gift wrap

This is probably the easiest and most versatile gift wrap option. Inspired by Furoshiki, the art of Japanese fabric wrapping, basically, all you do is wrap gifts up in fabric. The best part is you can make it yourself with recycled fabrics, find cool prints at the fabric store your kids will love, or pick up pre-made cloth gift wrap.

Something to keep in mind is, unlike paper wrapping, you won’t be able to cut your cloth gift wrap down to size if you want to reuse it each year. To wrap your gift, place it in the middle of the cloth then pull the sides up. Most people like to tie a bow at the top. Make sure it’s snug so it doesn’t slip open and spoil the surprise!

Tips for using cloth gift wrap

  • Ironing before you wrap can smooth out wrinkles
  • If you are making your own, look for fabric with a bit of elasticity to make tying easier
  • Tie a ribbon or jute cord instead of a knot to make it look more festive or add some fresh flowers under the knot if you are giving the gift the same day
  • If you want a super easy option you can tie them up using a hair tie or scrunchie!
  • If you have a sewing machine at home you can sew two pieces together so the fabric is double-sided
  • Search online for how-to instructions or videos on different ways to wrap and tie the cloth
  • You can also buy or make reusable cloth gift sacks
  • Add a little note/card “Congratulations on your special day! Please use me again to wrap a present for another special day. And again, and again and let’s see how far I can go!”
furoshiki Photo credit: instagram.com/pake_officiel

Reusable gift boxes

These hard-sided gift boxes are usually available at most dollar stores or in with the holiday gift wrap. If you pick up ones with festive outsides you won’t need to add an extra layer of wrapping. Instead, just place the gift inside and tie a ribbon around the box. Both the box and ribbon can be saved and reused year after year.

Another option is to get a plain box and have your tween or teen decorate it themselves. Then they’ll always know which one has their gift in it, and it will serve as a holiday memory they can pull out each year. 

If you want a single-use option to decorate recycled cardboard boxes and use them in place of gift wrap.

Tips for using reusable gift boxes

  • Keep a variety of sizes in your collection
  • Gift bags can be reused too!
  • Get creative – old boxes, plastic tubs, and even baskets are great for gifts

Recycled paper wrapping paper

If traditional paper wrapping is more your thing there are budget and eco-friendly ways to do it. Brown packaging paper works really well for this and is super trendy right now. If you shop online then you probably have seen it in your parcels. The best part about using plain paper is that the kids can personalize the gifts they give! 

Another one of my favourite recycled paper gift wrap options is to use old comic books or newspaper pages. The newspapers work better because the sheets are bigger, but comic books look amazing when wrapping smaller presents. If you’re using newspapers, choose interesting, funny, or colourful pages like the funnies or crossword section.

Some newspapers even print holiday patterns inside for you to use as wrapping paper! 

Tips for using recycled paper for gift wrap:

  • Wrinkled paper can be ironed – smooth it out under a towel, set your iron to low, and use a circular motion to flatten it
  • Start collecting early in the year so you have enough come Christmas time
  • Using recycled paper can save you buying gift tags – just write names right on the paper!

Reusable bags and totes 

These are one of my favourite options. You know the totes you get from stores like Cotton On and Supre for $2? (That often make a donation to a charity as well). You could even use the ones from the grocery store (get creative with some fruit and veggie prints!) or anything in your collection will do. Fill with gifts and some tissue paper. The tissue can be saved for next year, too. 

Tips for using reusable totes:

  • If you see a pattern you like, just buy it and store it for later. Just make sure you place a limit i.e. you can’t buy more than what can fit in one tote or box. The last thing you want/need is hundreds of unused totes lying around the house.
  • Once Christmas is over re-use them for library day at school
  • One of the best parts of using cloth wraps and bags/totes is that they are washable! If they are starting to look a bit worse for wear, be sure to give them a wash on a gentle cycle
  • Birthday favours! We used this idea for my daughter’s 13th birthday party. Instead of party bags, all the girls got a take-home tote with a Teen Breathe magazine inside!

Other wrapping paper alternatives

  • A gift in a gift – If you’re giving your teen a new bag or backpack, for example, tuck the rest of their gifts inside. 
  • Old maps or posters – Check out thrift stores or use what you already have in the house. Laminated or waterproof ones might even be able to be reused again next year.
  • Storage bins – I love wrapping gifts inside a storage bin, especially when it’s something that has a lot of small pieces. That way they have something to store it in once it’s opened! This is especially great when giving things like Lego, Magformers, etc.
  • Recycled books – I’m a reader so I’m not a big fan of destroying books, but sometimes they’re beyond repair. Put those pages to good use with your gift wrapping this year!

Use reusable wrapping paper ideas for everything

The holidays might be our biggest wrapping season but there’s no reason you can’t keep wrapping paper alternatives around the house for every occasion. Reach for them next time there’s a birthday, baby shower, or anniversary gift to wrap. The more we make small changes like this (and normalize alternatives!) the greater the impact will be on the environment. 

Charmaine Chung
Charmaine Chung

Charmaine Chung is one half of the lady boss team behind Somewhere Between, a resource for super mamas everywhere raising kids in the feisty pre-teen and early teen years. Beginning her career in retail fashion, before moving onto the music industry, working for major record labels, Charmaine eventually moved from Sydney to Laos to follow her dreams of starting a family. Four kids and 14 years later, she’s back in Canberra where motherhood has won her over, leading her to develop Somewhere Between - for mums just like her - raising kids who are navigating that space between their childhood and teenage years.

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