Reduce, Reuse, and Wrap

Sustainable gift-wrappingPhoto by Sasha Pedro.

This holiday season, think before you buy reams of wasteful gift wrap. Step up your gift-wrapping game with sustainable tricks that won’t cost you tons of money or end up in the trash. 

Scout caught up with Sarah Levy, founder of the Cambridge store Cleenland, which sells low-waste home goods; Amy Lou Stein, owner of arts-and-crafts store Craftwork Somerville; and Samantha Putoš, founder of Bee Balm, a Medford-based lip-balm company with products available at Cleenland. They shared their ideas for ways to package gifts that won’t hurt your wallet or the environment.

  1. Don’t wrap your gifts. “This is not a popular opinion, but the most sustainable way to wrap gifts is to not wrap them,” Levy says. If your gift is already pretty, it shouldn’t need to be concealed.

  2. Regift your wrap. Save packaging from all your purchases. When Putoš receives gifts or buys items online, she’s constantly on the lookout for ways to repurpose the packaging. Tear plastic packaging into vertical strips and use it to make ribbons. Save ribbon and twine from gifts you receive and use them to attach small knick-knacks to gifts. Hair straighteners are great tools for uncrimping reused ribbons, Levy explains. Putoš saved packaging from sustainable toilet-paper company Who Gives A Crap and used it to wrap gifts. She also recommends wrapping presents with plain kraft paper and covering it with the red and green netting used to package Christmas trees. 

  3. Make the wrapping part of the gift. “When you’re talking about sustainable wrapping, one of the options is to have the wrapping itself be something that can be gifted or used,” Putoš says. She recommends Japanese Furoshiki-style gift wrapping, which utilizes beautiful, functional tea towels and linens as a gift’s wrapping. 

  4. Get creative. Rather than using reams of paper gift wrap, cover your items in other ways, placing stocking stuffers into jars or modest brown paper bags. Fabric pouches also work well. Stein suggests layering yarn over wrapping paper to create a unique, homespun effect. Old T-shirts stitched at the top work well, too, she says. 

  5. Take advantage of nature. Pick up pinecones on your walks outside, Levy recommends. They look festive and seasonal and will jazz up any gift. Decorate them with glitter glue for extra flair.

  6. Use newsprint and magazines. Levy recommends picking up newspapers in a foreign language, since headlines in English might be distracting. Character-covered newsprint will add novelty to your gift, and daily newspapers are thrown away anyway. Putoš holds onto colorful magazine spreads to reuse as wrap. As a plus, newspapers and magazines are not intensive to manufacture. Stein suggests embellishing newsprint with stamps and doodles with metallic pen. 

  7. Repurpose what you already own. Unusable materials you’d throw out anyway can make great gift wrap. Fabric is different since it’s an intensive fabric to manufacture, Levy explains. She says that it’s best to donate still-wearable clothing, like a worn-out sweater. “If someone else can wear that sweater, that’s a better use of the sweater than cutting it up to make gift wrap,” she says. But if an item of clothing is ripped or otherwise useless, feel free to wrap a gift with it. Don’t underestimate the odds and ends you already own—Putoš said she once received a great gift in a box made of Legos.

  8. Ask your friends. Yarn is convenient for wrapping gifts and making pom-poms, but if you’re out of materials, don’t stress. “Everyone has extra stuff,” Stein says. “Don’t be shy, ask your friends.” She also suggests meeting up with friends to reduce, reuse, and wrap together.

This story appears in the Nov/Dec print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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