The Collected Seed
Sustainable and compostable wrapping paper!
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Sure, traditional wrapping paper is recyclable and gift sacks can be saved and re-used, but there are other very attractive and compostable options. These are things destined for the compost bin eventually (hopefully you’re composting) that can make a stop under the tree before heading for the pile.
You can get very creative, think a banana tree leaf, but my favorite options are packing (lightweight craft) paper and newsprint. Another compostable gift wrapping trick is substituting 100 percent cotton yarn or twine in place of ribbon.
Newsprint is an easy to access option. I think everyone knows someone who still gets the paper - at least the Sunday paper - which is usually the best one to use for gift wrapping because it has the most sections. Sunday papers often include big, splashy pictures and the largest comics section of the week. In my family, using the comics as gift wrap is known as "Bob's Econo Wrap" because you knew if something was wrapped in the Sunday Comics, my Granddad wrapped it himself. He grew up during the Great Depression so that could be when he began using the comics this way, but he always chalked it up to being an accountant (and therefore frugal) by trade.
There are some tricks to using newsprint without it looking cheap. One example is
to use the comics section, it's a sweet throwback to a simpler time when people, like my Graddad, did reuse things more often. Another trick is to use large images, like the one above taken from the sports page. This gift is destined for a sports fan, so this wrap will be a perfect touch.
At one time, most newspapers only printed in color on the front page of the section. Today, almost all pages include color printing which means there are a lot more splashy images to use as your gift wrap. However, simple black and white newsprint tied with red string has a beautiful simplicity about it. To find newsprint without color printing, get creative by looking for sources besides the newspaper. One example is the interior pages of last years' Shumway seed catalog shown here..
Of course anyone opening their newsprint wrapped holiday presents will tear the paper some, but after all the gifts are opened, collect the newspaper, binge some seasonal Netflix, and tear the newsprint into strips just as you would any newspaper destined for the compost heap.
Packing (lightweight craft) paper
What I'm talking about here is that brown filler paper that is sometimes packed inside shipping boxes. Most of the time you get the plastic air pouches or bubble wrap, but sometimes I get this stuff. I started rolling it up on an empty wrapping paper roll last Christmas and it works out nicely. It's not as thick as traditional craft paper, which is heavy like a paper grocery bag. The lighter weight is useful when wrapping presents, but beware it does tear easily around corners if pulled too tight.
This type of wrapping, especially when tied with red/white yarn, has a rustic, farmhouse feel and it's compostable! The benefits of reusing this paper just keep adding up. Don't get hung up on the wrinkles. Because this was used as packing material, it's not going to be smooth, and it shouldn't be. The kinks and wrinkles add to the rustic charm.
Newsprint and craft paper as tissue paper
Ready to go for the sustainable gift wrapping gold medal? Think about using newsprint or craft paper instead of tissue paper. This is great for smaller, oddly shaped items because you can gather it up around the gift and tie it with a bow, either at the top or on either end. If you've ever struggled with tissue paper being too translucent, problem solved. Using craft paper or newsprint this way will put an end to those sneaky sneakers who might try peering through thin tissue paper!
Either newsprint or packing paper can also be used as tissue paper in the top of gift bags as well. Find the center of the page (either can be cut down to an appropriate size), pinch the center with your fingers, and twist at that spot. This give the paper the right fluff. Tuck it into a bag a voila! I've found that newsprint looks best when used in the top of brightly colored gift bags - especially red ones. The craft paper looks great in bags that have a rustic design or have a color similar to the paper - the way the Santa face on the smaller bag mimics the color of the paper in it.
One thing to keep in mind, I shy away from using the craft paper tied only at the top because it can look very similar to the notorious brown paper bag from the liquor store.
Making it pretty
There are lots of ways to get creative and make compostable gift wrap look pretty. I found that once I got out of the commercially programmed need to wrap everything in bright, expensive, and glossy paper, the ideas began to flow and I looked at my gift wrapping in a whole new way. It's almost become a contest with myself to see how creative I can be.
At the start of this post, I mentioned using 100 percent cotton yarn in place of ribbon, which is what I do. Garden twine, sisal rope, and similar items are also great options. The thickness of yarn shows up better than thin twine and it's available in many different colors. That's one of my favorite options. Regardless of whether it's yarn, twine or rope, if it's 100 percent cotton (or other natural material) it will break down in the compost bin. Cutting it into smaller pieces will help it break down faster, a step I highly recommend if compost will be tilled into the soil. A long piece of uncomposted yarn can wrap around the tiller blades the way dog hair wraps around a vacuum brush.
Sometimes, all it takes to make a package ready to go under the tree is a little decoration, just like you can see with the pictures above. The one on the right started as a brown box with the jewelry company's name across the top of the lid. An adhesive gift tag (not compostable - sorry) and some cotton yarn and it's pretty as could be! That box, since it's uncoated, can head to the compost after being torn into smaller pieces.
Many holiday gifts will be too large to wrap in newspaper or repurposed packing paper, so you'll want to use gift wrap. Hang on to the small scraps! They can be wrapped around newsprint or packing paper wrapped gifts to brighten them up. Of course, the gift wrap portions will need to be sent to the recycle bin instead of the compost, but it's still good for the environment because it's that much less gift wrap (and trees) being used.