Gift Wrapping Goes Green

by Natalie Bencivenga


December 15, 2023

Ever since Pittsburgh has embraced a no-plastic bag ban within the city limits, I've started to feel inspired about other ways in which we could cut back on our waste, especially during the holiday season when everything is wrapped up and readily discarded. There’s no better time because according to PopSci, wrapping paper is a $7 billion business in the U.S. alone, and most wrapping paper is not recycled – or recyclable. Not to mention that shiny and glittery paper is just another scary source of microplastics finding their way into our air and water. To make matters worse, Earth911 estimates that 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper are produced each year, with roughly half of that ending up in landfills. Yikes. It’s time we stop wrapping. 

This wasn’t a hardship for me to wrap – no pun intended – my head around. I have to admit, I am terrible at wrapping gifts. I am always in absolute awe of people who find the perfect paper, bows, ribbons, garnishes and more to make their gift shine all the brighter. But without those skills, my gifts looked more mangled than sophisticated by the time I was done with them. I turned to gift bags, instead. I quickly realized that when you give gifts in bags, you often receive gifts the same way. I would keep those gift bags any time I got them and would reutilize them over and over again. I was accidentally green about gifting, you could say! 

So, in that spirit, I wanted to share some other ways – outside of gift bags – that you can still share festive gifts with friends and family and not accumulate waste in the process. After all, we want these traditions to carry on year after year!

  1. Make the bag a part of the gift: Recently, I gave a gift inside an organic cotton tote bag that my friend could easily reuse when running errands. This way, no part of the gift was wasted and she would still look eco-chic carrying her groceries home!
  2. Have you ever heard of Japanese furoshiki? This is a traditional method of wrapping cloth. You simply choose a fabric and wrap your gift with a simple tie or knot. According to Wikipedia, in 2006, Japanese Minister of the EnvironmentYuriko Koike, showcased a specially-designed furoshiki cloth to promote environmental awareness. In 2020, The Observer reported a growing interest in furoshiki in the UK, in part as a response to its perceived greater environmental sustainability compared to traditional single-use wrapping paper. 
  3. Newspapers and magazines get discarded after we read them once, so why not turn that trash into treasure and reuse the paper you would otherwise discard into a one-of-a-kind wrapping paper? You can also use paper bags this way, too, and for any of us who remember covering our school books, this may feel super nostalgic! 
  4. Looking for ways to enhance your packaging without using disposable ribbon or tape? Check out fabrics and twine, ribbons and buttons and other fun items from the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse in Point Breeze to make this a fun activity the whole family can enjoy. Or your cat can just stare at you while you drink eggnog and wrap your presents at home. I don’t judge. (Can’t speak for the cat, though).
  5. And for the eco-friendly basics, check out Artist & Craftsman which is a worker-owned craft store, because as we know labor rights and environmental justice go hand in hand! 

This holiday season, let’s take as much care with the wrapping as we do with selecting our gifts. We have one planet, so let’s treasure it. 


Follow Natalie Bencivenga @nataliebencivenga on Instagram and TikTok.
Check out her weekly radio show on 100.1 FM and AM 1020 KDKA every Saturday from 2-5pm.
Watch her Facts Over Fear video series every Thursday with Penn-Capital Star.
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