It seems to be birthday party season in our neighbourhood – cue the balloons, glossy paper, and curly ribbons. While these items are standard at most celebrations, they are not the only options. In fact, when other people see your fashionable and conscientious gifts, they may think twice about buying more shiny paper.
Of course, choosing a gift comes first. Whenever possible, it’s nice to opt for something more sustainable. It depends on the recipient. Adults may appreciate handmade items, plants, and so on. Many smaller businesses offer beautiful alternatives – jewellery made from recycled metal, clothes made from recycled sweaters and saris, vases created out of recycled glass, and much more. With children, there are wooden puzzles, fabric stuffies and dolls, recycled plastic trucks, books, and art supplies. It’s not necessary to get the latest molded-plastic toys.
The next step is the key. Somehow, you want to cover up the gift and make it a surprise. Gorgeous paper abounds and certainly makes for a lovely presentation. But it is going to get ripped off and cast aside. In some areas, gift wrap is also considered non-recyclable, so the wrapping will not go on to a second use.
What are your options? Well, you can remove paper wrapping carefully and reuse it. That is also true for gift bags, which can easily be folded for storage. Staying relatively rip-free may be a challenge for younger children and may even limit the fun of opening gifts. But it is an easy starting point. You can take this a little further and collect old wrapping paper to be shredded. The resulting strips make a wonderful and colourful packing to replace plastic bubble wrap and padded envelopes.
Another possibility is using recycled or handmade paper. Some boutiques, art stores, and stationery suppliers display these larger flat sheets on a rack. There are papers with embedded flowers, using mulberry, kenaf, hemp, jute, and other wood-pulp alternatives. Again, these papers can be opened carefully and used to wrap other gifts, provide a privacy screen in windows, as a drawer liner, or in art projects.
Then there’s reusable fabric wrapping. If you are handy with a sewing machine, it is a matter of hemming or creating a cloth bag with drawstring closure. There is a Japanese tradition called furoshiki that uses beautiful fabric cloth squares to wrap various ways. In the Vancouver area, Green Wrap offers a wide variety of fabric gift wrap and bags, along with other reusable items.
Maybe your gift is not small enough to cover in fabric – or it is an unusual shape. Try creative solutions like newsprint (especially the colour comics), large paper bags, outdated maps, or children’s artwork. Items can be placed in a woven basket, ceramic plant pot, tool box, or large pasta bowl – it can be part of the gift’s theme.
If you must use ribbon, choose cloth or natural fibres that can be used again. True raffia comes primarily from Madagascar, where many species of raffia palm are native. Plastic raffia, curling ribbon, pre-made bows, tinselly curls, and other single-use decorations are admired only briefly and then thrown out.
Sustainably wrapped gifts will make the recipient and giver feel good. And who knows, you might spark a trend among family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that makes a real difference.
Photo credit: Cat Collier