A Sustainable Christmas - Part Four
Christmas is a special time of year for many people. For some it’s a time of faith. For some a celebration of family. But for most of us, it’s inextricably bound up with consumerism. We learn from a young age that Christmas is about shopping and presents and Santa. And we learn to express our love for one another through the giving of gifts.
If you’ve been following the Sustainable Christmas blog series you should have gotten plenty of tips for Giving Sustainably and Receiving Sustainably. And hopefully you’ve started Christmas in the right way by having a sustainable advent calendar. In this final instalment of the Sustainable Christmas blog series, I’ll try to help you not to fall at the final hurdle - Christmas wrapping!
According to Hallmark, brothers Joyce and Rollie Clyde Hall invented modern, coloured wrapping paper in their Kansas City store in 1917. Before that, presents were wrapped in tissue paper or brown paper.
You might think this is no problem. After all, you recycle your wrapping paper, right? Well, unfortunately, not a lot of Christmas wrapping actually gets recycled. Much of it is thin and inky, making it not economically viable to recycle. “It's often more trouble than it's worth to extract the fibres” explains Michael Hoffman, an analyst with Stifel Financial. And forget about shiny wrapping paper (probably plastic coated) or paper with foil or glittery parts. That’s not recyclable either!
Wrapping presents is an important part of the Christmas ritual for many of us. Of course we want to wrap our Christmas presents, even if they are sustainable, non-physical, experiential gifts. We want the gifts that we give to our loved ones to look good when we hand them over. And guessing what is lying under the tree would be much less fun without wrapping paper!
Luckily, there are lots of imaginative ways to wrap presents without creating a lot of unnecessary waste. Here are some of my favourites. If you have other suggestions, please let me know in the comments section.
The best: Reusables
Lots of things that you already have at home (or can easily find preloved) can be used to wrap presents. Boxes, tins, jars, even fabric can be used in imaginative ways without any noticeable impact on the environment. Bags and wrapping saved from previous gifts can also be repurposed.
And what about other kinds of paper that you have at home? I’ve started wrapping presents with the drawings my son brings home from preschool. He draws a LOT and I always feel so guilty about throwing them out so I love to reuse them as wrapping. Newspaper, scrap paper or paper shopping bags also make great wrapping paper. And they don’t have to be boring. Get creative. You can draw or paint on your own designs or use stamps, stickers, or stencils to make them more Christmassy.
Good but not great: Brown paper
If you have scoured all your cupboards but haven’t found anything you can reuse as wrapping paper, how about buying standard brown paper instead of plastic coated, metallic or glittery? It’s not as great for the environment as reusing something but at least it can be recycled. If it passes the scrunch test, it’s real paper and can be recycled.
And instead of plastic ribbons and bows, why not use fabric ribbons that can be reused? Natural decorations like pine cones, leaves or berries look amazing with brown paper packages and are biodegradable.
Whatever you do, please try to avoid plastic-coated, metallic or glittery paper and plastic ribbon. It can’t be recycled so it’s just going to end up in landfill where the microplastics will pollute our earth and waterways. And remember, when sorting your Christmas wrapping waste, if it doesn’t pass the scrunch test, you can’t put it in the recycling bin.