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How to Wrap a Gift: Zero Waste Edition

Sustainable Gift Guides

Last Updated on April 20, 2023

Let’s talk about how to wrap a gift: the zero waste edition! You can wrap presents beautifully without creating a lot of trash. Everything you see photographed was pulled from a recycling bin, from work, or around my house. 

The best way to wrap presents is with love! Gift giving can be incredibly wasteful, but sustainable gift wrapping is beautiful, shows you care, and doesn’t produce a ton of waste! These gift wrap ideas use items around your home — or can incorporate the gift itself! Look no further for sustainable, unique gift wrapping ideas that will impress as well as benefit the environment.

photo of sustainable gift wrapping with overlay text reading "the ultimate zero waste guide to gift wrap"

the best way to wrap presents

Bookmark this post to learn how to wrap a gift sustainably! Plus, when wrapping with items such as butcher paper or newspaper, you can still use the best way to wrap presents (or your favorite way!)

And, in keeping with the zero waste theme, none of the items shown were purchased. I’ve wrapped several beautiful gifts as examples using things I pulled from recycling, found around my home, or made from stuff I already had. Sustainable gift wrapping is beautiful and thoughtful!

sustainable gift wrapping:

These gift wrap ideas include traditional wrapping methods as well as fun ways to adorn your gifts. For wrapping, these are my favorite go-to options.

shop bags

I always find shop bags in the recycling. You can see the one with the brocade pattern below. One of the viewers from my holiday webinar had a great tip — take an old greeting card and place it over the logo on the bag if there is one. 

butcher paper

With the amount of online shopping people do in my office, there’s never a short supply of butcher paper — white or brown — in stock. You can always doodle festive drawings on the paper or keep it plain and add some pizzazz in other ways. 

the best way to wrap presents with upcycled and homemade goods
butcher paper and lariat are great ways how to wrap a gift


I think newsprint is such a cute wrapping idea. There’s always newsprint of some kind in a recycling bin. Sometimes free circulars might wind up in your mailbox despite your anti-junk mail campaigns. They make the perfect last minute wrapping paper. 

silk scarves 

Of course, they don’t have to be real silk, but there’s always a plethora of these scarves at the thrift store. They make such a beautiful addition to any present and are a present in themselves. Tying scarves on bags is so popular right now! 

cloth napkins

Cloth napkins are also a dime a dozen at the thrift store. They come in all different colors, perfect for any design scheme to go with your additional decorations.

how to wrap a gift with scarves or napkins

Cloth napkins are a little more rigid than silk scarves, but I tie them both the same way. The knot on top makes a cute bow.

Lay your fabric on a flat surface and place your gift in the middle of it. Ensure the flat sides of your box are lined up with the corners of the scarf/napkin.

Pull one corner over the object with the tail wrapping around the opposite side of the box. Take the opposite corner and overlap it in the opposite direction. 

Tie the two remaining corners in a knot in the middle of the package and lay the tails flat. Such a cute, unique gift wrapping idea!

photo showing unique gift wrapping ideas including cloth napkins, broaches, dried oranges, and jewelry.
dried oranges and greenery are on the list of gift wrap ideas

decorative gift wrap ideas 

This is where you get to get really creative! I love getting to design the packages. Some of my favorite decorations are listed below. 


When I tie a present in brown paper or newsprint, much like in the Sound of Music, I tie my packages up with string. I’ve had a spool of cotton string in the house for years. It can be used to make homemade candles, used for cooking, or tie up packages.


I love brooches. I used to have a whole bunch back home. There are so many beautiful ones in thrift stores or maybe in your grandmother’s jewelry box. When you tie your packages up with scarves or napkins, pin them on the bow to add a little bit of festivity. 

Be sure it’s a brooch you don’t mind parting with, as you may not get it back!

how to wrap a gift using a broach to secure the bow


Bracelets also make a great addition to cloth napkins. Tie the bracelet around the knot to add a little bit of extra sparkle. 

As with the brooches, be sure it’s a bracelet you don’t mind giving away — it’s awkward to ask for it back! Even better if it’s part of the gift.

utilizing jewelry is on this list of gift wrap ideas

dried oranges

Dried oranges are some of my favorite holiday decorations. They smell amazing and are SO easy to make. I thinly slice the oranges and sandwich them between a cloth tea towel. 

Then, set them on a metal drying rack to dry for 24 hours. Finally, bake them on the drying rack for 2-3 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Leftover dried oranges can be boiled with cinnamon sticks to make a stove top potpourri. 

dried oranges are one of the best ways to wrap presents

cinnamon sticks

Another beautiful and compostable decoration! Tie them with some string and add a splash of greenery for a beautiful present. 

fresh herbs 

I’m biased toward rosemary because it’s the only type of herb I have managed to not kill. It’s also fairly hearty and pretty festive, so it will stay green on your packages instead of turning brown. 

close up of a gift that used sustainable gift wrapping

bolo ties

Now, I did spend a good portion of my childhood in San Antonio. I have several bolo ties, and I think they make some very festive decorations for presents. 

old christmas cards

For years, I have collected old Christmas cards. I cut the signature portion off and leave the front with the pretty pictures to add to packages and use in the future. 

photo displaying all of the discussed unique gift wrapping ideas

pine needles

Of course, the fresh scent of pine is lovely and oh-so festive! Nothing says happy holidays more than a couple of festive pine needles. You can typically go pick up some fallen branches for free from the local Christmas tree lot. 

Since I don’t have a tree, I plan on grabbing some branches to put in a vase as my mini-tree for our tiny house. 


how else can i wrap gifts more sustainably?

There are loads of ways to gift wrap more sustainably! Reuse cardboard boxes from previous purchases, use biodegradable paper tape, or turn old clothes into wrapping and bows. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

are there other unique gift wrapping ideas?

Tons. A lot of what makes them unique is the method used rather than the materials used, though! The internet is full of tutorials for fabric wrapping in intricate or ornate ways, or even how to use everyday items to create eye-catching bows. Be sure to choose a tutorial that allows for you to use sustainable items — the sky is the limit.

How do you wrap your presents in a low waste manner? 

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  1. Several years ago I purchased some festive material from the fabric store. (I now know that I should have first looked at the thrift store!!) I cut it into large squares, then tied it up with re-usable ribbon. After a few years I got smart and sewed the squares into bags. My wrapping is much easier, and when Christmas morning is "done" we just fold up the bags and ribbon and put them away to be used next year.

  2. I love the dried orange idea! I found some old (old) fabric in a drawer in my house, so this year I’m wrapping my presents in squares of cute Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh themed fabric. All the designs are super cute, and too small to use for anything else (except maybe a quilt.. which I could make if people return the fabric after! )

  3. Growing up, we always used the previous year’s Christmas cards as our gift tags, cutting out penguins or snowflakes or Santa from the cards and writing on the back of them. This is harder to do now, since most people send a family picture postcard. I like to use little scraps of paper and draw something festive on one side. Most of my gifts will be wrapped in packing paper salvaged from shipping boxes tied with scrap yarn!

  4. I love all of these ideas! This year, I used up the wrapping paper purchased last year. After presents are opened, it will all be recycled. Also, for the first time in my life I decided to forgo the plastic bows you buy in the enormous bags and instead used some twine and ribbon found around the house to tie off presents. I look forward to using some of these ideas next year!

  5. Love these ideas!! This year, I’m trying to wrap things without using tape too, so I’m using jute twine to tie everything! Definitely a challenge and the wrapping looks a little off, but it’s certainly original! :’D
    Keep up the great posts and happy holidays to you. 🙂
    – Ariana

  6. I’m trying to live zero-plastic-waste in Chattanooga, TN! I used cloth for the most part to wrap my gifts:

    I’m blogging about how to be zero-waste in my city, and I linked to this great article! Thanks!

  7. I used a paste made from Xanthan gum and water to stick newspaper wrapping. You could try ordinary flour and water instead (cheaper than gum) but I’m coeliac and use gluten free flour which I tried but not enough stickiness.
    The gum worked a treat and no need to remove any tape before it all goes to compost.

  8. Old calendars with beautiful pictures also make great wrapping paper… as well as the monthly calendar itself which works especially best for wrapping birthday presents. If you work in an office let your co-workers and friends know that you’ll happily recycle theirs!

  9. My grandmother always used old cards as gift tags. She cut them all with pinking shears. I buy reusable grocery bags and fill them. Instead of tissue paper, I use pretty hand towels. Since I give a lot of home canned goods, the towels also serve as buffers between the jars. I like the scarf idea. I’ll have to give it a try this year.

  10. You have so many great ideas on this post!

    I save and reuse anything I can from gifts I receive – gift bags, wrapping paper that isn’t too damaged, ribbons, strings, etc.

    I would like to try many of your ideas: newspaper, cinnamon sticks, homemade dried oranges, rosemary, and thrift store finds like scarves and broaches – thanks for the inspiration!