Upcycled Gift Wrapping Made Easy

alexandra vrabec

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? There are so many creative ways to reduce your impact and carbon footprint, and gift wrapping is one way to keep on top of things during this holiday season.

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… or just go down to your recycling bins, like I did this morning!

Use what you already have.

  • Don’t buy any more gift wrap supplies unless you have to. Find inspiration from things lying around your house—old shopping bags, newspapers, flyers… even old clothing.  Once you start looking at things as potential gift wrapping materials, the possibilities are endless and your imagination will fly.

Reuse as much as possible.

  • If your recycling bin overflows, you have plenty of wrapping paper and containers. I hit up my bins this morning and my creative ideas are starting to flow!

Buy sensibly.

  • If you do need to buy wrapping material, look for paper and bags that can be reused, recycled and made from eco-friendly material.

Less is more.

  • When you use unconventional materials for gift wrap, it’s easy to get carried away and think you need to make up for your approach by overly decorating the wrapped gift. Just keep wrapped gifts simple. A little bow, a picture, or hand-written message on a brown box goes a long way, and it looks classy without looking like you tried too hard.

 A few gift wrapping ideas in action:


  •  Cloth is great to wrap oddly-shaped gifts. This technique has been around for centuries, and is still really popular in Japan.

  Brown bags or paper cut-up from brown bags

  •  Brown bags are super versatile and so are any leftover bags that can be cut up.


 Old gift bags from past Christmases or from shopping bags      

  • Do you know how many bag I have stacked up?  Tons!  I'm using them this year for sure. Cut them up and use them for smaller gifts.

Children’s art work

  •  I love children’s artwork because they’re so unpredictable and look great as unique wrapping paper. The kids can also create the gift wrap after you wrap the gift.

Jars or bottles with a handmade label

  •  It’s easy to transform jars, bottles and tins into special gift packaging with a custom handmade label. All you need is a little white paper and some creativity.  Best of all... it's personalized.



  • 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.

Old books & book covers

  • Up-cycle old books laying around your house or even check out your local thrift store... personalize with a stamp or a homemade snowflake gift tag as seen below.

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.


Alternatives to tape

  • String, twine, buttons 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.

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.

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.

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.

So why don't you do the same and upcycle your gift wrapping?  You’re saving the earth and you’re saving your money too!


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