Reusable Gift Wrapping: The Wrap That Keeps on Giving


Ah, what a wonderful time of the year! ‘Tis the season of beautiful litter.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, holiday wrapping is responsible for a 25% spike in trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Oh, I know. You are really, really good about recycling. You’d never throw all the used wrapping paper into the trash. In fact, your family laughs at you because you are so ding dang persnickety about removing all the sticky tape from the paper before you put it in the recycling bin. Well, guess what? That shiny finish on most wrapping papers makes it unrecyclable. Your annoying uncle who doesn’t believe in global warming can now laugh at your naivety.

Speaking of your annoying uncle, burning Christmas trash, his favorite method of holiday garbage disposal, is also terrible. While burning wrapping paper often results in magnificent colored flames in the fireplace, the inks and foils used to make gift-wrap contain a lot of chemicals that are toxic when burned. Roasting chestnuts over an open fire shouldn’t involve lung or liver damage.

The easiest way to reduce holiday trash is not to wrap your gifts. (Duh). Alas, this method of trash reduction isn’t that fun, because most people get great enjoyment out of unwrapping gifts and watching others unwrap gifts.

Fortunately, there are many reusable alternatives to gift wrap that are not only good for the planet, but can also save you money. Why pay for something that will only be used once and then becomes garbage? (See also: 10 Cheap, Handmade, and Green Wrapping Ideas)

Reusable Cloth Bags

Reusable cloth gift bags are a growing trend among frugal and green families. Instead of wrapping paper, gifts are packed into decorated cloth bags that are used year after year. Drawstring bags are probably one of the easiest projects for the home sewist to make. For non-sewers, there are plenty of reusable gift bags on the market for just about every price point and holiday. Just plunk the gift inside and tie the bag shut. (For extra credit, use shoelaces, hair accessories, bow ties, or luggage tags as reusable closures).

Because I don't have the space to store seasonal decorations at my house, Dinky Manor, my reusable cloth gift bags are usually referred to as, ahem, “pillow cases."


If you can tie a necktie or make an origami crane, then you have the hand-eye coordination necessary to use furoshiki instead of wrapping paper. Furoshiki are traditional Japanese cloth scarves that can be folded into a variety of carrying cases to transport wares or decorate gifts. Furoshiki are commonly used to wrap bento (lunch) boxes, with the furoshiki doubling as napkins or tablecloths. There are tons of free instructional videos available online that show how to use small pieces of fabric to wrap everything from glass bottles to books for beautiful portability.  

By the way, if anyone wants to make me a present, I would love a furoshiki cloth printed with this extremely Japanese diagram of popular furoshiki folds created by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment. It's a gift that wraps itself!

Other Reusable Fabrics

As with furoshiki, a reusable wrapper can be the real gift. Consider wrapping small or breakable items in scarves, vintage linens, or even t-shirts. For example, you could roll sunscreen, guilty reading material, and maps into a beach towel (and tie with a luggage strap) to create a “vacation gift package” for your favorite honeymooners.


If you love holiday baking, forgo the dollar store disposable plasticware and buy reusable Tupperware containers that have a lifetime guarantee instead. Your friends and family will think of you every time they reuse the containers, long after the cookies are gone. If you are on a really tight budget, you can freecycle for interesting jars or metal tins instead.

Jars and Tins

I save pretty glass jars throughout the year. At Christmastime, I spray-paint over any ugly logos on the exterior of the jar lids and fill the freshly washed jars with colored gumballs that I buy in bulk. A handmade ribbon or a gift tag is all I need to turn recyclables into charming wrap. In addition to making cute and inexpensive stocking stuffers, the gumball jars are my go-to gift for postal workers, hairdressers, teachers, and anyone else who helps make my life better on a regular basis. And, if your jars or tins are cute enough, they will have a second (or third) life for the giftees.

Thrifted Casserole Dishes

Vintage Pyrex casserole dishes are easy to find at most thrift stores. Put the dry ingredients of your favorite brownie mix into a Ziploc bag. Put the bag, along with the recipe card, into the Pyrex dish, and tie the lid down with kitchen twine.

Plant Pots

Clay pots are an excellent gift-in-a-gift for gardeners or new homeowners. Simply put a small plant, flower bulbs, or packets of vegetable seeds inside a pot and use the saucer as a lid. Tie the saucer to the top of the clay pot with reusable garden twine.

Altoid Tins

Lastly, there are entire websites devoted to showing all the ways Altoid candy tins can be reused and turned into everything from flame throwers to pinhole cameras. Buy new tins of Altoids for stocking stuffers, but also print out a miniature instruction book or put links to your favorite instructions onto a USB drive to show the giftees how to turn the tins, once empty, into aftermarket DIY toys of their choosing.

Ta da! All the surprise, and none of the trash. Happy (green) holidays!

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Guest's picture

Lots of good ideas here! This year I wrapped gifts in babygrows, fabric, old jeans, shoe boxes, old magazines and old posters. I tied them up with ribbons and feel great that most of the packaging can be reused next year!

Guest's picture

I like to use old newspaper

Guest's picture
Anne Lawrie

I used pillowcases tied with ribbon, then I simply folded them back up and put them away. My kids had no complaints.