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Three Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap Alternatives


The holidays are a time filled with sparkle, cheer, and–unfortunately–a lot of waste. One of the biggest single-use culprits is wrapping paper. If you want to preserve the magic of unwrapping beautifully packaged presents without the negative effects, you’re in luck. 

In this post, we’re sharing three eco-friendly ways to wrap presents, from the ancient Japanese art of furoshiki fabric wrapping to a little-known technique that makes use of a shiny material usually destined for the trash bin. 

Wrapping paper poses a real environmental problem, with Americans producing over two million pounds of gift wrap landfill waste each year. Most wrapping papers can’t be recycled due to added plastic coatings, dyes, and glitter. If these decorative sheets are mixed into recycling bins, the entire batch will often be contaminated and thrown away. Even recyclable papers require too many resources to justify using them only once. That’s why we’re sharing ideas that are reusable or made from upcycled materials.

As a van dweller, you’ve probably already embraced a lifestyle of sustainability and minimalism. Take this up a notch by presenting your gifts in a beautiful and responsible manner that’s sure to impress everyone on your list. Keep reading for the details.

Furoshiki Fabric Wrapping

This age-old Japanese technique involves wrapping presents in squares of pretty fabric called furoshiki with a series of folds and knots. The finished packages are entirely self-enclosed and topped with a soft bow made from the corners of the cloth, eliminating the need for wrapping paper, tape, and ribbon.  

The colorful, often patterned pieces of fabric can be reused infinitely. In Japanese culture, the furoshiki squares are returned to the gift giver, but you can also include them as part of the present. If you go this route, we recommend adding instructions with the cloth so the recipient knows how to utilize it. Besides being used to wrap presents, furoshiki can be worn as scarves or tied into grocery shopping bags.

You can purchase furoshiki guilt-free knowing the material will have a long life. However, if you want to go extra eco-friendly, consider purchasing your fabric from thrift stores. Pretty handkerchiefs, napkins, and scarves are cheap and readily available–just look for square shapes and supple materials. If you happen to have a sewing machine, you can also buy larger swaths of fabric like sheets. Cut squares to the exact sizes you need for each gift, then hem the edges for a reusable and matching set of furoshiki. 

There are many illustrated and video tutorials for furoshiki wrapping online. The technique is surprisingly easy once you’ve done it a few times. This style of gift wrapping makes a big impact, both visually and ethically. 

Brown Paper Bag Wrapping

Even if you try to bring reusable bags to the grocery store, you probably sometimes end up bringing home brown paper bags. Put them to good use as gift wrap this holiday season. To do this, cut open the bag and remove the handles and bottom so you have a long flat rectangle. These sheets are an easy substitute for traditional wrapping paper. Unless you like the look of the bag’s printed graphics, use the blank brown interior of the bag as the exterior of the gift wrap. 

For a minimalist feel, opt for the plain brown paper with a ribbon and a little sprig of pine or dried flowers tucked in. If you prefer something patterned, get creative and decorate the paper yourself. You don’t need to be Picasso to get a charming result. Try drawing rows of little stars or Christmas trees with a Sharpie for a festive feel. You can also make dots of paint using your finger or a pencil eraser for an organic and modern look. Potato prints are another fun option if you want to invest more time in the art project. 

One thing to consider is that the paper can be recycled if you use pens or markers, but not paint. Either way, you’ll be breathing new life into a common single-use product.

Shiny Chip Bag Wrapping

If your holidays just wouldn’t feel complete without some sparkle and shine, there is an eco-friendly gift wrap option for you. This clever technique provides a replacement for metallic Mylar wrapping paper, which is one of the worst options for the environment because it cannot be recycled and isn’t biodegradable. How does it work? This hack utilizes a surprise material–chip bags. Specifically, you’ll use the shiny silver interior of the bags to wrap small presents.

Chip bags cannot be recycled and are destined for the landfill after a single use unless you give them a second purpose as wrapping paper. Save all of your road trip snack packages, cut them open, remove the top and bottom segments, and wash off any food residue with a bit of dish soap. Like with the grocery bag technique above, you will turn the material inside out. If you don’t want the recipient to see the chip labels when opening the gift, fold the sheet in half so only silver is visible on both sides and secure it with a few small pieces of tape. 

This shiny material can also be used to make zero-waste decorations. Replace store-bought tinsel and bunting with DIY silver chip bag tassels or stars on a string.

Looking for more minimalist, sustainable, and practical gift-giving ideas for your van-dwelling partner or friends? Check out our “Holiday Gift Guide for the Vanlifer in Your Life.”  To create a festive environment, get inspired with “Inexpensive Ways to Decorate Your Van This Holiday Season.”

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