Buying stuff for the holidays has to rank near the bottom of things I like doing. Of course I get salty hearing other people’s conversations about rushing to the store after work, or struggling to find a toy that their kid wanted. Even worse is seeing the huge piles of waste by the curbside a few days later. I like to view the holidays more like artistic expression, mainly with how I package a gift, and secondarily what I choose.
This nation consumes a huge amount of paper each year, and as much as half of that consists of packaging. Wrapping paper is a big contributor: it’s too thin to be recycled, and it contains additives and dyes. Many things can substitute as wrapping paper…think newspaper, magazines, or really anything that you can mash together in a creative way. Ideally, you should pick a material that is going to be recyclable or compostable.
I openly admit that I obsessively hoard packaging materials that only get utilized for holidays and birthdays. Under my desk is three garbage bags full of padded mailers, styrofoam peanuts and gift bags that I’ve received and try to reuse later on. By ordering products online, I don’t really get to choose what packaging material the sender uses, so it ends up under my desk.
I find it sad that nearly all packaging material is so close to being conveniently recyclable. Padded mailers have plastic bubble liners that are difficult to remove, tyvek packaging is becoming popular, but no one is willing to pay shipping to mail these in bulk back to the manufacturer. Some copy centers and post offices may accept styrofoam peanuts, but no one wants to make the effort to return them. Therefore, I suggest reusing these types of materials as many times as you can.
Gift bags are equally frustrating because they’re not recyclable due to their inseparable composition of paper, plastic, and anything from sequins to rope handles and ribbons. If you absolutely need to use gift bags for that special someone, choose a generic/neutral design and suggest to the recipient that they reuse it.
If you’re not that interested in using materials other than wrapping paper for gifts, you can look for 100% recycled paper gift wrap which uses soy-based ink instead of the usual toxic petroleum-based ink. Taking it a step further, scour the internet for plantable seed wrapping paper. You can even get business cards made with this material, and it looks and feels great. These options are a bit more expensive, but I like to think of the extra cost as part of the final gift.
Being both creative and responsible with your gift giving doesn’t have to come off as cheap and weird. Done right, it can act as a subtle way to get your recyclephobic friends one step closer to being accepting of greenie practices. When you’re laying around digesting all that food this holiday season, strike up a conversation about holiday waste. I think it’s on people’s minds but it doesn’t get enough attention, and it might connect you a little closer to those you care about. Getting creative is always a good thing, and you know they always say it’s the green thought that counts.