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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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (4)

  • Beyond Covers 28 Aug, 2013

    At, the 100% re-usable/re-cyclable wrap for all occasions enables you to use the gift wrap over-and-over, and over again. Check out our YouTUBE sites that demonstrate how to wrap your gift in an ECO friendly fashion. See:

  • ibcrafter 16 Dec, 2010

    Love the comments from mdommert and smejs. I just happen to have some scraps of Christmas fabric I haven't used. Thank you !

  • mdommert 14 Dec, 2010

    Several years ago I started making simple draw string bags to use as gift wrap . They have been used by the moms, dads, and grandchildren thru the year for toys, knitting, storing Christmas decotations. I use Christmas fabric and/or regular prints depending on what is in my scrap box. The family looks forward to them each year. A real GREEN Christmas.

  • smejs 13 Dec, 2010

    The USGS map store in Denver offers outdated maps as wrapping paper every year. Think about old posters, too. My mother and I have created gift bags from holiday fabrics and pass them back and forth every year. Holiday napkins can be sewn into great stocking stuffer sizes, too.