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Eco Gift Wrap

Body+Soul, November/December 2006

Given the time and thought that goes into picking a holiday gift, the standard wrap job -- a rumpled bow slapped on a department-store box or a bag and tissue paper picked up at the drugstore -- rarely does justice to the contents. But visual appeal isn't the only reason to reconsider your wrapping habits: Americans spend an estimated $2.7 billion annually on ribbons, paper, and bows, and almost all of those goods wind up in the trash. This year make gift wrap that's both gorgeous and green by creatively repurposing stuff others might toss.

Notes eco-stylist Danny Seo, author of the new book "Simply Green Giving": "It's amazing what you can find at Goodwill. Vintage fabrics, wallpaper, and sweaters all make great wrapping -- just look for rich textures."Sometimes," he adds, "the wrap will serve as part of the gift, as in the case of a belt or scarf used as a bow. When you think outside of the paper-covered box, the options are endless. Read on for wrapping ideas as stylish as they are sustainable.

Natural
Birch bark and fresh leaves are surprisingly pliable; just roll and secure with twine. Find them in Asian markets and outdoors.

Clockwise from top left: Banana leaf with cinnamon, bamboo leaves with hemp twine, bamboo leaves with star anise, banana leaves with reeds, birch bark with a feather.

Fillers
Biodegradable stuffing cushions small, fragile items just as well as plastic bubble wrap or Styrofoam peanuts, a recycler's worst nightmare.

Clockwise from top left: Used wrapping paper, shredded; unsalted peanuts in their shells; air-popped popcorn; a pine bough.

Cloth
In Japan, the art of wrapping gifts in cloth is called furoshiki, and it's brilliantly ecofriendly. Secure open ends with a button, safety pin, or knot.

Clockwise from top left: Vintage scarf; burlap rice bag; wool scarf with a knitting needle; tea towel with rickrack; scrap from a vintage kimono.

Paper
Easy to find and work with, vintage and repurposed papers add pop to presents. Layer several colors and textures, or add vintage beads for a finished look.

Clockwise from top left: Vintage wallpaper; Chinese newspaper topped with colored paper; recycled map; grocery bag with Japanese beads.

Created by Donna Garlough and Lauren Sanders; photographs by Karl Juengel; styling by Dawn Sinkowski

Comments (11)

  • Sandrahaley 19 May, 2011

    These are really great ideas! Though as a Chinese myself, I couldn't help laughing when I saw the one which is made from Chinese newspaper topped with colored paper. That yellow paper was in fact a paper money which Chinese burns for the dead (for their use in another world)! Be sure not to use this kind of wrapping for gifts to Chinese!

  • Greenmom02 19 Mar, 2009

    These are wonderful ideas, but I like to give a gift in a gift. I put my gift in a reusable bag...my favorites are these from Haute Market Bags. They are wonderfully sturdy, stylish, and versatile. Several people I know use them as purses!
    <a href="http://store.howgreenisyourbag.com/thecollection.aspx">Haute Market Bags collection</a>

  • sgaritee 30 Dec, 2008

    I wrapped all of my Christmas presents this year in paper grocery bags that i've saved forever, I used yarn that I had on hand for the ribbons. They all looked very pretty and organic under the tree :)

  • veggirl 2 Dec, 2008

    I wrappped gifts in reusable canvas bags one year, and another year I wrapped the men's gifts in monogramed handerchiefs. I also like using my daughter's artwork to wrap gifts from her, it's a very personal touch.

  • Alabaxter 30 Apr, 2008

    This is how I use up my paper bags from stores, gift bags from others and the boxes and envelopes stuff comes in when we buy online. We also use popped corn for filler at holiday time.

  • Skeetergirl 23 Apr, 2008

    I reuse greeting cards by cutting them with decorative scissors and using them for tags.

  • DorothyDownUnder 22 Apr, 2008

    I like looking at different ways for wrapping Gifts. I often use teatowels, pillow cases or for really large gifts or cover-ups I use table clothes or sheets. It really is a fun way to add a little bit more of you into the giving. I love the idea of using maps, I'll be watching out for them at market stalls, iron them flat and have them ready for either giving a gift for someone going or one I give on returning from a trip.

  • DorothyDownUnder 22 Apr, 2008

    I like looking at different ways for wrapping Gifts. I often use teatowels, pillow cases or for really large gifts or cover-ups I use table clothes or sheets. It really is a fun way to add a little bit more of you into the giving. I love the idea of using maps, I'll be watching out for them at market stalls, iron them flat and have them ready for either giving a gift for someone going or one I give on returning from a trip.

  • LBarrio 2 Mar, 2008

    I love these ideas, especially because they are eco-friendly. I would also like to add one more: Recycle mesh bags from your produce and use them to gift wrap things like clothes, tying the ends of the bag with pretty ribbons or something similar. The more the color of the bag contrasts with the clothes, the better and more dramatic the effect.

  • kozmonaut 30 Dec, 2007

    that's the same article, excerpted from body

  • VictoriaE 16 Dec, 2007

    I recommend this article to everyone - wrapping "paper" is all around us!