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Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap and Decorations

Everybody likes a good surprise! As we try to lighten our footprint on the planet we now substitute imagination for store-bought supplies. We are constantly discovering eco-friendly techniques to make packages, tabletops and special occasions look inviting and beautiful using what we have on hand. Below is a growing list of suggestions. If you want to contribute to the list, please let us know.

Gift Tags

I have never purchased gift tags--they are fun and easy to make, and if you keep extra ones, they will be ready at a moment's notice. A group of five tags also makes a good last minute present. Gift tags have several purposes: extra-large tags become the center of attention on boxes wrapped in plain kraft paper, and small ones serve as an ID card on a livelier background providing only the names of the recipient and the giver.

Make them from used store-bought cards. Cut out the design whole or just a part of it with a straight or textured scissors. (I keep the large glittery ones intact.) Use the second page of the card, too. If the signature is way below the message, you can cut out the message by itself and mount it on another piece of paper. I also cut out shapes from the back of the card. Little patterns or parts of words on the back add interest.

Make them from supplies on hand. Anything goes! Use paint chips. If you want to cover up the writing on the back, glue two together, back to back. Use the back of used cardboard cereal boxes, pieces of jigsaw puzzles from broken sets (you may need to make the hole with a hammer and nail).  Use a key ring with an initial, a luggage tag, a small shell with a design painted with acrylic paints or marker pens (glue it to a piece of cardboard which can be tied to the package), or a little handmade booklet with a poem in it. Paint, paste, stamp, stencil or handprint words on the tag.

The subdued package wrap (kraft paper tied with eggplant colored hemp cord found at a craft store) is a good background for an extra large tag with elegant printing. The card's edges were cut with scalloped scissors.

Extra large gift tag is the focus of attention on a box wrapped in plain white paper. I used stick-on letters leftover from another project.

Wrapping Packages

Use available containers. Readymade boxes, baskets, flower pots and paper bags are the easiest ways to hold and present packages. I collect them (along with colorful scarves) at tag sales and then decide what to put into them. When necessary, I line the boxes and baskets with scarves or tissue paper I've saved throughout the year. If you need to buy tissue paper, look for some made from recycled paper. I collect flower pots--ceramic and plain clay ones-- and then fill them with bulbs or cuttings.

This is a decorative paper box I bought at a yard sale. I decorated it with a obi-style strip of scrap wrapping paper which I glued on the back and topped with a bow salvaged from a package received last year.

Readymade Containers

Believe it or not, I discovered all these boxes in the trash leftover from a tag sale at a local church. These tin boxes and cigar box need only a ribbon and gift tag which I will make to match the colors in the boxes. The larger ones can hold cards, a pen and stamps; handkerchiefs; a folded scarf, gloves, sachets or art/craft supplies. You can also enclose smaller presents--earrings, cuff links a money clip or aUSB Flash Drive, and bundle them up in used tissue paper or shredded glossy magazine pages.

To decorate a plain box, I printed a design with a store bought stamp and tied it with raffia.


Try John Boak's improvisational wrapping techniques using unusual combinations of scrap paper. Wrap Art, a system Boak has evolved over twenty years, consists of wrapping presents using fragments of paper and miscellaneous items from around your house. It relies on three principles: contrast of texture, of color, of light and dark and of materials. He does not try to make the back of the present neat and mostly uses a glue gun to hold everything together. Visit his website to learn more about Wrap Art.

Two examples of Boak's Wrap Art:

Two Fragments package wrap. A velvet ribbon covers the join.

A collage technique combines a variety of textures on reused brown wrapping paper.

Create your own decorative bag from wallpaper samples. It's easy. Marilyn Brackney wrote instructions showing kids how to take bags and envelopes apart to see how they are constructed and then use them as templates to use waste materials into new products:  http://www.kid-at-art.com/htdoc/lesson49.html.  They work for grownups too.

Cloth Gift Wrap


Furoshiki is a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth which is folded around gifts in interesting ways and used repeatedly to conserve materials. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has prepared a chart showing how to use the Furoshiki to wrap packages in varying shapes.  Visit their site for a larger view

You can also adapt their ideas to wrap presents without knots by using scotch tape on the edges or fold cloth as you would normally fold paper and tie with a ribbon or cord.

In addition to scarves, use dish towels, cloth napkins (you can find broken sets at tag sales), and pillow cases to wrap or contain presents. If you are handy, make your own cloth bags.

Home Decorations

Miriam and Takashi Utsumi from Brazil use PET bottles to make decorations. We are waiting to receive a link for instructions written in English but until then, we thought these pictures might inspire others to use this resource, too.

Bouquet in a Pumpkin Vase.

Decorations from the Garden

I doscovered this arrangement at the Dupont Farmer's Market. The Wollam family, who grow everything in this arrangement themselves, permitted us to tell you how to make one too. Cut a piece of floral foam to fill the size of a clear plastic cup (the size used at parties for wine or punch). Place the flowers' stems in the foam and put it in the glass which is filled halfway with water. Place the arrangement in a hollowed-our pumpkin.

Marlene Church uses whatever she can find in her garden to decorate for Thanksgiving and Christmas. For Thanksgiving she arranges a table centerpiece from pinecones and squash. For Christmas, she spreads boxwood or magnolia leaves directly on the tablecloth in the center of the table and places two low votive candle holders on them before surrounding them with red Christmas tree balls.

Collect tree cuttings from your yard or a Christmas tree stand and place them in a vase or tie them together with a large bow for a door decoration.

Package Filler

Use shredded paper to fill small boxes. I keep two bags: one of colored paper-- torn wrapping paper and glossy paper from magazines and catalogs and another of black and white pieces. If you use it inside the box, select the colors that best set off the gift.

If possible store and reuse packing peanuts and bubble wrap from packages you've received. If you don't have any, see if anyone has extra materials in the neighborhood. We have a local email list serve where people are always offering or looking for packing materials.

Tying the Package

Use less ribbon. Salvage ribbons and bows after packages have been opened. Buy remnants from rolls of seam binding and ribbon at craft and large sewing stores. Use raffia, hemp cord (available in craft stores), twine and cotton string. Instead of ribbon, cut a band of paper, wrap it around the middle of the package and glue it on the back. 

Using a glue gun, attach appropriate decorations: leaves, cinnamon sticks, bark, grasses and pine cones or dried flowers, dried flowers, small seashells and dried seaweeds, origami birds, and lollipops or small wrapped candy. For small packages, use several rubber bands in different widths and colors to form patterns.

Sources for Commercial Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap

Fish Lips gift wraps is made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and printed with soy-based inks.

Greenwraps offers a stylish assortment of cotton fabric bags with self ties in assorted sizes--including some for shirts and DVDs.

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