Wrapping presents sustainably – how to reuse or recycle paper and fabric to save money and help the planet

It might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also end up being the most wasteful, too. Wrapping paper is one of the most expensive single-use Christmas products, but there are ways you can forego this expense, saving you money and helping the planet, too. But it's not just about reusing wrapping paper, I've other tips to help you keep wrapping sustainable...

This is just one of a few tips for a sustainable Christmas. Also see...

Top tips on how to reuse wrapping paper

Luckily my family is very familiar with my, err, eccentric MoneySaving and they're all on board with opening things as carefully as possible, so I can fold away the wrapping paper to reuse again. Obviously if you've a toddler, this might be a little more difficult, but I digress. Usually with six of us we'd fill two recycling bags, but since I've started collecting the wrap, our waste has gone down by at least 50% so it's well worth a try. I started this journey with one rule:

Don't buy new paper - I reuse paper given to me either before the day from Secret Santa gifts, or I collect paper on Christmas day to fold up and store for the next year. (It's nice to have a hobby.)

Here are some of my top tips on keeping your paper reusable:

  • Open carefully - try and persuade your family to carefully open gifts, you can even have a competition as to who can open them the neatest so you can reuse the paper again. Although, if you do end up ripping the wrapping, you can simply use it to wrap a smaller gift.
  • Buy quality thick paper that can be recycled - if you're buying paper, or looking for paper to fold away and store for next year, your best bet is higher quality, thick paper as it rips less easily and you won't need as much to obscure what's inside. If you do need to buy, check it can be recycled using 'the scrunch test' (see below)
  • Save plastic glitter/holographic wrapping - this is not recyclable at all, so try not to buy it new, but it's worth adding to your stash if you get a gift wrapped in this as you'll keep it from landfill just a little longer.
  • Don't use too much tape, or use string instead - if you're using plastic tape, and not a recyclable paper alternative like washi tape, then try and use as little as possible. It'll make it easier when you try to reuse the paper the next year, and you're less likely to rip it. You could also avoid the tape all together and use string or ribbon instead.
  • Reuse ribbon and bows - most ribbon is actually plastic, not fabric, and can't be recycled but you CAN reuse it. Those gold or silver sticky bows can be taped down with a recyclable tape and used again and again. Mine are from the 1980s (older than me, in case you were wondering) and still going strong!
  • Reuse gift bags - if you're hopeless at wrapping, and don't fancy trying any of the other options, why not keep it simple and reuse the same gift bags year after year like you would your Christmas stocking?
  • Fold neatly and store properly - you'll be surprised how many sheets of well-folded wrapping paper you can stuff inside one gift bag (how I store mine), but putting the same patterns together, with larger pieces at the back and smaller pieces at the front, will help you when you bring it down from the loft to use in a year's time so it's well worth doing.

You can prolong the life of paper by reusing it, but when is wrapping 'paper' not recyclable?

Paper's paper, right? So it goes in the recycling bin, easy! It's actually more complicated than that, with some wrapping 'paper' not paper at all but holographic plastic in disguise, or glittery plastic in disguise, and as such it can't actually be recycled. If you've added metres of plastic tape to the mix, again, it can't be recycled as sorting machines struggle with mixed materials – such as paper laminated with foiled plastics – and it will just end up in landfill. 

Chances are, if the paper you've bought is labelled as 'recycled' that it can then go on to be recycled – test it using 'the scrunch test', if you scrunch it up and it stays in a small ball it can go in the recycling, but if it opens back out it's more plastic than paper and can't.

I reuse whatever I get my hands on to keep it out of landfill as long as possible, but all good things come to an end and when it's no longer reusable I make sure to dispose of it correctly, in the recycling (or rubbish if it's non-recyclable).

Yep, that's six years' worth of reused wrapping paper stuffed into one bag, and the bag is even more full now in 2023!

Ditch the paper and try the Japanese art of furoshiki cloth wrapping

Furoshiki means 'bath spread', and the method of folding was developed in Japan to keep your clothes and belongings together when visiting communal baths.

It's perfect if you're looking for something sustainable you can wash and reuse as wrapping every year, but you don't need to buy anything new - look no further than what you've already got in your own house. A fancy tea towel, scarf, or lunch box wrapper (that's mine from Japan in the video) can be used to wrap small gifts, and you can even give it as part of the gift if you like.

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If you're looking for more ways to be sustainable this Christmas, check out my blog How to bag a cheap, sustainable Christmas jumper from only £3 – it's got tips on how to make your own as well as where to look for a new-to-you jumper.

Do you reuse wrapping paper? What are your favourite eco-MoneySaving Christmas or gifting tips? Let me know on Twitter.