I love the holidays. I love the coquito, the lights, and Christmas music. In fact, I’m listening to Kacey Musgraves’ Christmas album as I write this.
The holidays also bring out one of my biggest vices: gift wrap. Every year, I look forward to picking out some metallic, snowflake-covered wrapping paper and enlisting my nephew to help me wrap all this year’s presents.
Wrapping is a fine art, and the right wrapping paper can make or break a perfectly wrapped present. This year, however, I’ve come to terms with how this art can create unnecessary waste and environmental destruction. I’m finally in my own place with a loving partner, and I want us to lead a life we’re proud of now that I have full reign over household decisions. I’m also trying to make better financial decisions, and spending at least $30 on gift wrap seems... dumb. That’s why I changed up my Christmas routine and decided not to spend ridiculous amounts of money on the beautiful papers I adore. Instead, I opted for something a lot more simple.
While I strive to be a steward of Earth, I am far from perfect. This means that a lot of my Christmas shopping over the last month was done online. I didn’t opt for any overnight or two-day shipping, though, which really shoots up shipping emissions. But I did end up with a good number of cardboard boxes. For the most part, I left many items in the boxes they came in. For those that didn’t come boxed, I put most of them back into the shipping boxes. And I spruced them all up a bit.
All my Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods paper bags I hoard in shame as reminders of the moments I forget my reusable grocery bags came through this year. I wrapped most gifts in these leftover brown grocery bags, which are recyclable or compostable. I neatly opened up the bags so they resemble a single sheet of paper. Then, I cut off the edges with two layers of paper, as well as the handles. Voila, instant wrapping paper.
Buying new bows was out of the question. Luckily, I have a bunch of decorative tape from my days of scrapbooking that I used to give some shine to the paper bag wrapping paper. To add even more holiday cheer, I gathered the small branches that had fallen off my Christmas tree and tucked one into the corner of each present. Honestly, that little pop of green went a long way in helping my presents look more than plain brown boxes.
That being said, not all my boxes could fit my presents—and some don’t go in a box. For instance, I got my friend a carrying pouch for her AirPods. It’s an odd shape. So I wrapped it in brown paper but tied it on top to make it look like a little pouch. I used the bag handle to tie it on top and added some decorative tape and a sticker I had lying around to make it a little cuter. I also had leftover Christmas bags that I re-used for some clothes that wouldn’t fit in any of my boxes.
The wrapping job on these might not compete with that cool aunt who always goes above and beyond with the ribbons and bows, but does anyone even care about all that? Most people rip off the wrapping paper and other decorations and immediately throw that shit out.
This is my first time trying to sustainably wrap gifts, and I want to be more thoughtful about it next year. That’s why I’m planning to add a little note with all my presents next year informing my family and friends why I’m taking this route: Gift wrap is bad for the planet.
Exhibit A: The trash Americans create between Thanksgiving and Christmas increases by more than 25 percent. Exhibit B: Reusing materials helps! A lot. Wrapping even three presents in re-used material could save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
Paper trash is problematic because it can emit methane. Remember, paper comes from trees, and when they break down, they release this greenhouse gas! That’s why we must recycle paper, but not all of the pretty holiday wraps are recyclable. And recycling doesn’t always work.
And really, the gift and thought is what ultimately matters! Who cares what it comes in.
Maybe my choices and note explaining them will get my friends and family thinking about their own choices. I know choosing not to buy wrapping paper isn’t going save the planet. That’s going to require big, structural changes. But it does given me hope that one day, we can actually live in a world where the holidays aren’t so wasteful and driven by the need to spend copious amounts of money. Maybe we can live—happily, may I add—in a world where we change our everyday habits and routines in order to play a small part in solving the climate crisis. This year, at least, I finally made that a tiny bit more possible for myself.