A Guide to Zero Waste Gift Wrap

We love giving—and receiving—thoughtful gifts during the holiday season.

In the few moments when someone is unwrapping a present, a special kind of magic happens as wonder, curiosity, excitement and anticipation all mix, transforming into joy and appreciation when the gift is unveiled. While we know that moment is so essential to the experience of giving and receiving gifts, we don’t want to do harm to the environment for such a passing pleasure. 

A collection of tonlé gift items in sustainable holiday gift wrap

Image description: a curated collection of tonlé gift items including handmade note cards, scarves, and home textiles used as zero waste gift wrap

Every year during the holiday season, thousands of tons of excess waste are created, with single-use gift wrap as a significant contributor.

Most festive printed wrapping paper can’t be effectively recycled because of the amount of ink used on the ultra-thin paper. All those glittery bows and ribbons are usually made out of microplastics that are damaging to the environment, and also can’t be recycled. Here at tonlé, we work hard to keep our footprint as minimal as possible with our packaging and shipping: learn more about our practices here.

A selection of tonlé gift items sustainably wrapped for the holidays

Image description: a curated collection of tonlé gift items including handmade note cardsan organic soy candle in a handmade ceramic bowl, home textiles & recyclable brown paper used as sustainable gift wrap.

So once you have that perfect gift picked out, show you care about your loved one and the world we all live in by wrapping it up mindfully. (Still in need of gift ideas? Our gift guide is here!) 

First think about the size of your gift, and what the best kind of wrapping feels most suitable for the person you’re giving it to. Should it be inside a container, like a box or a tin, that can be opened fairly easily by younger or older loved ones? Or does the process of untying a ribbon and letting the wrapping around the gift slide down around it feel important? 

Image description: a selection of tools for sustainably wrapping gifts including home textilesscarves, recyclable brown paper and string.

Here are some ideas for zero waste ways get your gifts ready to give:

Make the wrapping part of the gift
  • Gift your loved one a useful textile, like a scarf, a tea towel or a throw blanket, as well as the gift that you’re wrapping up. You can put the first part of the gift in the center, and gather the edges of the blanket or scarf together on top and either knot them or secure them with ribbon, sack-style. Or you can treat the textile like wrapping paper and carefully fold it over the edges of the gift, then use ribbon or twine to hold the folds and hems in place—this wrapping style works better a little better with textiles like a tea towel. 
Opt for reusable packaging
  • Invest in reusable gift boxes and present sacks that can hold different gifts year after year. A nesting set of boxes and bags that fold down will keep storage space to a minimum. You can find nesting boxes in a sturdy cardboard at your local arts and crafts store, and may feel inspired to paint, stamp, or color them with your own festive designs. Create your own gift sack by sewing together old clothing or household textiles that are no longer in use but haven't recycled yet. Sweaters are especially ideal for present-sacks, since they’re the coziest of winter textiles. You can make three sacks from one sweater: two small ones by cutting off the arms and sewing one end shut (these work great for giving bottle-shaped gifts) and one large one by sewing the bottom hems of the sweater together and arm holes shut. Long pieces of fabric ribbon can be used to tie gift sacks closed, to jazz up gift boxes, or to secure wrapping paper in place, and can be saved to be used over and over again. 
Reuse and recycle household items
  • There’s something classically wonderful about the brown paper package tied up in string. Use a grocery bag and some twine to cover your gift. Add a festive sprig of evergreen, holly, or other winter foliage on top. 
  • Sections of newspaper that are brightly colored and cheery, like the comics pages, can also become fun wrapping. You can even turn painted newsprint into an eye-catching bow or a striking snowflake topper or paint your own designs over newsprint. 
  • Consider adding some humor to that gift reveal moment with the “decoy” box. Find a box for a household item totally unrelated to your gift and place it inside, then wrap that box with paper. When the paper comes off, someone might think they’ve received another toaster for a moment, until they open that box to find a beautiful new jacket
A selection of tonlé gift items with a blue theme zero waste gift wrapped

Image description: a curated collection of tonlé gift items including a zero waste handwoven rugorganic soy candles in a handmade ceramic bowls and home textiles used as sustainable gift wrap.

If you do decide to buy paper wrapping products, ensure they’re recyclable (they should be labeled as eco-friendly, and free of any glitter) and reuse this wrapping for as long as you can. Try to secure wrapping paper over a gift with ribbon instead of tape, to make it easier to save and reuse. For gifts that are taped, use a straight edge or a scissors to carefully slice the tape apart without tearing the paper, leaving you with wrapping that can be repurposed next year, and perhaps for many more years to come. 

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