Low Waste Alternatives to Traditional Wrapping Paper

gift wrapped in brown wrapping paper

Giving and receiving gifts can be a joyful experience, but the wrapping waste it creates can be a bit off-putting. When it’s just one present, it’s easy to simply toss the wrapping paper or gift bag away and move along. But after a holiday, party or shower, the waste is difficult to ignore.

According to Earth911, 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper alone is produced annually in the US. Approximately half of that – 2.3 million pounds – makes its way to landfills. That’s the equivalent of tossing out 10 Boeing 757 airliners each year!

While matte wrapping paper and gift bags can be recycled, metallic, shiny or glossy types cannot. Be sure to place these types of wrapping paper and bags in the garbage. These types of materials can’t be recycled or composted because it’s made of paper fiber and non-paper materials laminated together. While a lot of wrapping paper and bags belong in the garbage, the good news is there are many inexpensive, sustainable alternatives, and creative ways to repurpose materials.

Here are a few sustainable alternatives:


  • Fabric with a decorative print or interesting color (try tying it in a Japanese Furoshiki style)
  • DIY reusable fabric bags
  • Old pillowcases can be decorated and repurposed for larger gift bags


  • Newspaper with secured with twine* (pro tip: try using the comic section)
  • Paper bags with a piece of nature such as a pine sprig or leaf attached*
  • Cardboard boxes tied with decorative string*

*Remove any non-recyclable material before recycling

Leftover wrapping paper and bags?
If you still have traditional wrapping paper or gift bags hanging around, use and reuse it as many times as possible before tossing in the garbage. Bags, in particular, can be reused several times before disposing of them.

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