Waste-Free, Low-Cost Ways to Wrap Your Presents

Wrapping paper is wasteful, so try these alternatives.

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My childhood Christmases involved a lot of cleaning. What's more fun for a kid than tearing into a giant present, doing whatever it took to get the paper off and the box open as soon as possible? Afterwards, once our living room was blanketed in paper pieces, my dad would bring out a trash bag for us to scoop up all of the snowman and Santa-printed paper and throw it out.

A beautifully-wrapped gift is part of the magic of the holiday season, of course, but in tough times, it's hard to justify spending money on something as immediately disposable as wrapping paper, especially when you consider the environmental impact of the millions of tubes of paper sold each year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "the amount of household garbage in the United States generally increases by 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, from 4 million tons to 5 million tons." Much of that waste is wrapping paper and shopping bags, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Tonight, I'll be wrapping gifts sans wrapping paper. There are plenty of ways to do this with recycled paper or objects you have around the house, all of which can make presents that are just as pretty as traditional gift wrap. Your wrapping can even be a part of your gift. Here are some tips:

1. Use newsprint or magazine paper. You already have it lying around the house, and it can be recycled when your friends or family have finished opening the gift. If you want to keep your presents from looking too much like this morning's front pages, and you're feeling crafty, cut a sponge into a holiday skape, like a star, and use some paint to stamp a pattern on the paper. You can also use these materials to make a pom pom bow following these instructions from Better Homes and Gardens, but use tape pr glue instead of string.

2. Decorate a glass jar. You can paint the outside or cover it in a label to obscure the gift, or you can shred colorful recycled paper to fill the jar around the gift. Top with a recycled-paper pom pom bow. If the jar is decorated, it becomes part of your gift, as the recipient can use it for food storage. If not, he or she can throw it in the recycling bin.

3. Wrap your presents in a stylish reusable grocery bag. You'll be passing an eco-friendly deed forward if the recipient uses fewer plastic bags at the store as a result. Cloth can make good giftwrap in other ways - this design website shows a few other types of bags that can hide the perfect gift, and one bandanna that, tied properly, makes a very pretty cover for a small box.

4. Wrap a gift in a gift. This idea from Discovery Green is a good one - in addition to your gift, give someone a scarf, tablecloth or pretty handkerchief that can also be used to wrap your present. Use ribbon or string to keep the wrapping around the present.

5. Repurpose old holiday cards. If you find newsprint or reusable bags not quite festive enough, construct boxes out of old holiday cards you received last year. Some cutting, folding and gluing can make recycled wrapping in the spirit of the season.

Of course, if you do use traditional wrapping paper, or receive any gift-wrapped presents, recycle your paper afterwards. And if you'll be wrapping your presents in an eco-friendly way, tell us about it in the comments below.