Person holding nicely wrapped presents

Eco-friendly and reusable gift wrapping ideas

If you’ve got an eco-friendly gift picked out, how do you keep the sustainability theme going when you’re ready to start gift wrapping? As part of the sustainability team at MEC, I’m always thinking of creative ways to reduce my impact and carbon footprint, and gift wrap is one way to keep it top of mind during the holidays.

Most foil-lined, metallic or glittery wrapping paper can’t go in recycling bins; same goes for plastic ribbons and bows. In Canada, a 2017 study estimated that 540,000 tonnes of wrapping paper and gift bags are thrown out in a year1. So why not try some lower-impact and reusable solutions? You likely already have some of these options lying around the house.

Alternatives to wrapping paper

Person holding a newspaper wrapped gift

Wrap strips of newsprint around a pen to curl the ends and create recyclable ribbon.

Maps

Maps make excellent gift wrap. Bonus if it’s a map of a place your gift recipient has never been to and can inspire a new trip. Double bonus if the map is waterproof, because then it can be reused and re-gifted for years to come. Scope out thrift stores for vintage options too.

Kraft paper or newsprint

If you order things online, you’ve likely come across some brown kraft paper used as filler packaging. Collect this up and simply cut it to size for your gifts. If you like to unwind with a newspaper on the weekends (or can find some in the recycling bin at your apartment building), save the comic sections for a pop of colour or cut out articles that you think future gift recipients might get a kick out of.

Magazines and old calendars are also bright options – secondhand stores are often a goldmine for these, and they’re way cheaper than brand-new gift wrap.

Bandanas

A simple, colourful way to wrap a small gift or multiple small items. Check online for lots of different techniques for tying fancy knots, no tape or ribbon required. Whoever’s on the receiving end can use the bandana gift wrap for years to come as a headband for hiking, an eyemask to sleep in on camping trips, or even a sling for first aid. Look for thrifted bandanas or organic cotton if you’re choosing new.

Person holding a present wrapped in a bandana

Brown paper bags

Many shops give out these as alternatives to plastic bags. The ones with a handle have a classic look and can be reused many more times (if there’s a logo on the side, cover it up with something cut out from a magazine). Jazz up with a colourful handmade tag tied to the handle and you’re ready to go.

Tip: Throughout the year, you can stash away things that have potential to get upcycled into holiday wrapping. My goal is to go with 100% reused materials for all wrapping and decorating this year.

Packing cubes

What better way to wrap than to encase your gift in something people can use for a future trip? MEC packing cubes come in many sizes and colours and can be used over (and over and over) again. Plus wrapping is as simple as doing up a zipper. When we chatted with MEC staffers, multiple people told us packing cubes were always a big hit as gift wrap. Pack Rat Ditty Bags are another option and are endlessly versatile and reusable too.

Person holding a packing cube

Save up any bows or ribbons you do receive on gifts – it’s amazing how many times you can keep reusing them year after year.

Waste-less tote bag

Not your average tote bag, the Waste-less Tote is made of salvaged fabric leftover from making MEC backpacks. They come in two sizes (20L and 45L) and just like packing cubes, they do double-duty as gift wrapping and part of a gift. When your giftee uses them after the holidays, they’ll help keep single-use plastic bags out of the landfill too.

Alternatives to tape

String, twine or leftover ribbon you’ve stashed away are great ways to secure a gift instead of tape. After the gift is unwrapped, twine can get a second life by holding tomato plants steady in the garden (or reused again next year). Are you a climber? Old climbing rope is a burly way to tie gifts closed – awesome for outdoorsy friends.

A few fancy ways to decorate

Person holding a present wrapped in fabric with fallen greenery

You don’t need glitter to make a package look awesome.

Handmade tags

Nothing beats a personal touch. Cut out handmade tags from recycled or one-sided paper, and make them extra festive by getting creative with shapes or tying them one with string or leftover ribbon from past years.

Paper snowflakes

A fun activity to do with kids, but you definitely don’t need to be a kid to relive the nostalgia. Recycled paper rescued from the blue bins works nicely. Carefully tie a snowflake onto your wrapped gift as decoration to get people dreaming of powder days.

“A Fair Trade chocolate bar is one way to make simple gift wrapping seem extra special. I typically add one to the top of a wrapped present as a little bonus gift.” – Sam, MEC Manager of Social and Environmental Responsibility

Fallen twigs and branches

Bundle a few sticks together with a reusable festive ribbon to hang on your front door or to use as a centrepiece at holiday dinners. Winter storms also give you a chance to find natural decorations; take a walk after a storm to look for small sprigs or green cedar bits that were knocked onto the ground, and include them in your decorations or gift wrapping too. When you’re done with these decorations for the season, make it a mission to return what you’ve borrowed from nature – it’s a good excuse for a winter walk.

A big thank you to MEC staffer Kathy for demo’ing some creative gift wrapping options in our photoshoot. Want to know more about what MEC is working on in terms of sustainability? Check out what steps we’re taking to reduce our impact.

Amanda Burghardt
Amanda Burghardt

Gardener, hula hooper and sustainability specialist at MEC. Into elevating environmental ideas and taking her 15-year-old dog Sassy for walks in her backpack.