Sustainable Christmas gift wrap UK: 7 tips, tricks and ideas for eco-friendly wrapping

This likely won’t come as a surprise to you, but we’re not very good at sustainable Christmas wrapping paper in the UK. In fact, we apparently throw away enough rolls of wrapping paper to circle the globe a staggering nine times every Christmas. 

Approximately 11.8 million kilos of carbon dioxide are emitted each year just manufacturing Christmas wrapping paper, according to carbon footprint tool Giki. Ditching single-use wrapping this Christmas would equate to taking around 5,000 cars off the road, and this does not count additional emissions to transport or dispose of it.

But, who doesn’t love the anticipation of Christmas gifts under the Christmas tree and with it the excitement of unwrapping a present?

There must be a better way. And thankfully, there are lots of options for beautifully-wrapped presents that look good and also do good, from reusable gift wrap to eco-friendly gift bags and many other inventive ideas.

So, without further ado, here are some easy eco-friendly Christmas gift wrap options to consider…

Sustainable Christmas wrapping paper and cards: the basics

As a first step, avoid shiny metallic wrapping paper and gift wrap with glitter (sorry!). They sure are sparkly, but they can’t be recycled. The same goes for Christmas cards. The simple ‘scrunch test’ determines whether paper can be recycled; if it holds its shape when scrunched then it is recyclable. If paper springs back, it is not.

Another step is to minimise your use of sticky tape as it can’t be recycled, or even better, avoid it altogether if you can.

1. DIY Christmas wrapping paper – the most sustainable option of all

Amma Aburam wrapping paper made from reused magazines

Doug McMaster, head chef of London’s zero-waste restaurant Silo, says: “Not buying new wrapping paper forces creativity and that’s a wonderful thing.” And we have to agree!

Yesterday’s newspaper isn’t only good for chip-shop chips. Both McMaster and eco-chef Tom Hunt collect images from newspapers, and use butchers twine rather than sellotape. Add a sprig of green for a festive touch, or use some dried orange slices, as mentioned above.

But, word to the wise, choose your images and text carefully… Zero-waste guru Kate Arnell‘s mum once wrapped her gift in a headline that said: “I’d rather have £250 than spend Christmas with the family”. WHOOPS.

A really cool idea comes from Maggie Woodley, who makes gift bows using old comics. Here’s a video tutorial showing you how:

2. Recycled and recyclable brown paper

North London Waste Authority wrapping paper campaign

Understated brown paper makes for stylish statement wrapping – it gives your gift a certain je ne sais quoi, as it were. Though to be as eco-friendly as possible, it is important to make sure the brown paper is 100% recycled and recyclable.

You can readily come by rolls in stores and online. Or Rapanui sells their doodle-designed mailer bags and paper tape made from kraft paper as a ready-made eco-friendly wrapping package.

Rapanui Wrapping
Rapanui Wrapping Paper

If you’re looking for something brighter, you can find wrapping paper made from 100% recycled unbleached paper with vegetable inks from £1.45 per sheet on re-wrapped.co.uk

3. DIY Decoration

For an more on-trend festive feel, you can spruce up your presents with DIY decoration…

As one option, you can use twine, orange slices and cinnamon. Sprinkle slices of orange with cinnamon and place them on a cooling rack in the oven at about 120°C for a few hours. Make a few extra and you have sustainable Christmas tree decorations and/or spices for mulled wine. Alternatively, decorate with some herbs or foliage, such as holly or rosemary.

Alternatively, you can make the simplest bows out of wrapping paper. Here’s a video from Rapanui, showing how they do it:

@rapanuiclothing Insta

4. Sustainable Christmas wrapping ideas: reusable fabric gift wrap

There are two key rules to buying fabric gift-wrap from a sustainability point of view. 

1. Buy organic or sustainable materials that have been dyed with non-toxic dyes. 

2. Impress on the person that you’re giving it to that it needs to be used again. And then again, by the next recipient. A bit like the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Otherwise, the fabric takes more energy and resources to create, so is hardly better than wrapping the present in single-use plastic. 

Happywrap sells lovely organic cotton reusable fabric for Christmas gift-wrapping.

If you want some serious inspo, look up furoshiki – the Japanese art form of wrapping gifts in fabric. Search for #Furoshiki on Instagram or Youtube and learn how to wrap gifts in anything from scarves to pillowcases.

To get you started, here’s a post from writer and podcaster Amma Aburam. You can also watch this easy-to-follow video:

Another good idea is to use some (organic cotton) tea towels. These can be a great shape for wrapping and are useful, too. Or for beautiful fabrics try FabRap (below), a website offering gorgeous GOTS-certified organic cotton materials in an array of festive prints.

Christmas how-to guides:

Real vs Fake Christmas Trees

Best Christmas cracker options

Pipers Farm Christmas turkey

Organic vs Supermarket Turkey

5. Fabric Tote bags as gift wrap? An experiment.

We don’t know about you, but at this point, we have tote bags coming out of our ears! A pretty nifty idea could be to up-cycle some of those you have lying into gift bags or your very own Santa sacks: you could dye them Forest Green or Rosewood Red, for example. This will give your tote bags a new life, and hopefully, your recipient will go on to reuse them too. (Note to reader: we are experimenting with this idea at the moment and will let you know how it goes… if you beat us to it, we’d love to hear from you). 

6. Christmas biscuit tins make fab re-useable gift boxes

You could also save yourself some money by up-cycling old biscuit/chocolate tins (which we tend to get lots of this time of year). Once you’ve cleaned out all the crumbs, they make an effective gift box – just line them with old tissue paper or simply leave them bare.

7. Sustainable Christmas cards

Of course, where there’s a Christmas present, a Christmas card is usually in tow. 

It’s estimated that around one billion Christmas cards are sold in the UK each year – the equivalent of 33 million trees. EEK. That’s where all those trees planted as offsets are going! 

If you’re trying to make more sustainable choices this festive season, ask yourself if there’s really a need to buy everyone you know a Christmas card? Or could you just get one for Nan? 

Image: Blooming Heck

If you’re inclined to send out cards this year, like with wrapping paper, stay clear of cards with glitter and other unrecyclable embellishments. Nowadays, there’s lots of plastic-free, recycled and recyclable cards on the market – there’s even these gorgeous plantable Christmas cards from Blooming Heck.

Made from 100% handmade with recycled paper and embedded with botanical seeds, you can actually plant the seed paper card itself and watch your message turn into wildflowers – Nan is sure to love that! Frankly speaking, most other recipients won’t actually plant them. (We know – we’ve sent a fair amount of plantable stationary out ourselves. OK, and received them. And to date we’ve not planted a single one).

So, it’s great that Blooming Heck also uses recycled and recyclable envelopes, and protective compostable vegetable starch cellophane bags which will break down in commercial composting.  

As for the Christmas cards you receive, make sure to remove any embellishments before you pop them in your household recycling. Before this, however, why not consider other ways you can repurpose your cards?

Turn them into gift tags, decorations for next year, calendars or thank you cards, or even little boxes to gift small treats or jewellery in.

Christmas Gift Guides:

Silverstick Beanie

Best sustainable gifts for him

Peachaus ethical sleepwear and undwear

Best ethical gifts for her

Eily O'Connell Acorn Stud Earrings

Best jewellery gifts

About the author

Live Frankly Team

Live Frankly Team

When the author is listed as "Live Frankly Team" it means various members of Live Frankly have joined forces and combined areas of expertise to create the article. Typically this involves spending many hours together - often laughing, occasionally crying, constantly discussing and debating.

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