It’s that time of year when we shower our friends and family with little (or sometimes big!) tokens of our love…and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love pouring a hot mug of cocoa, watching Love Actually on repeat, belting out our best version of “All I Want For Christmas is You”, and wrapping up those little tokens into festive packages that scream “open me! open me!”? I know it’s a time of year that I always look forward to. Unfortunately, though, it’s one of the most wasteful. Americans through away 25% MORE trash during the holidays and it’s not hard to imagine — wrapping paper, bows, ribbons, tags, gift bags all bought with the purpose of wrapping up our small tokens of love but then thrown away the minute the gift is unwrapped. I’m not sure I’d call it a token of love anymore, especially for our planet.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to wrap and decorate your holiday gifts without spending lots of money on single-use wrapping paper and decorations and sending it all to the landfill. Below is a low waste guide for wrapping your holiday presents using all secondhand, recyclable, compostable, and reusable items. Beautiful and sustainable!


  • Recycled brown paper (I saved mine from packages I’ve received throughout the year)

  • Old paper bags

  • Newspaper

  • Old maps

  • Scrap fabric

  • A cloth bag — that’s part of the gift!

  • A vintage scarf or hanky



  • Twine

  • Yarn scraps

  • Hemp

  • Strips of scrap fabric

  • Real plants (look around your house, yard or neighborhood)

  • Upcycled hang tags

  • Scissors

  • Paper Tape

Idea #1: Fabric scraps + yarn scraps + plants

To wrap this mini zero waste on-the-go kit — bamboo utensils, glass straw, produce bag, and bulk bag — I found a piece of scrap fabric at my local secondhand craft store and tied it using the Japanese technique of Furoshiki. I finished it off with a mini bouquet of evergreen snipped from the courtyard of my apartment building and tied it off with an off-white piece of yarn.

Idea #2: Recycled brown paper + yarn scraps + plants + upcycled hang tag + paper tape

To wrap this Keep Cup, I used recycled brown paper for the wrapping, paper tape to seal it, and alternating red and white yarn scraps to embellish it with a criss-cross checker pattern. For an extra festive pop, I added a bouquet of evergreen and eucalyptus and finished it off with an upcycled hang tag that I painted over with secondhand paint bought at the thrift store.


Idea #3: Cloth bag + reused cord + plants + upcycled hang tag

To wrap this mini cocktail kit, I used a cotton cloth bag as the wrapping. I placed all three items into the bag and secured with a reused piece of red and white cord, added a clipping of eucalyptus and an upcycled hangtag for my note.

Bonus Wrapping Tips

  • Opt for paper tape vs. plastic scotch tape (you can find paper tape here)

  • If you’re short on time and opt for traditional wrapping paper: 

    • Check your neighborhood for secondhand craft stores — you can usually find full rolls of wrapping paper for under a $1

    • Avoid wrapping paper that is metallic or covered in glitter

    • Understand that not all wrapping paper can be recycled. Check with your local municipality before assuming all wrapping paper can be thrown in your curbside bins.

  • Be sure to save fabric scraps, cloth bags, and yarn/cord scraps for reuse again next holiday season

  • And recycle or compost the paper!

Do you have any favorite zero waste wrapping techniques that I missed? Share them in the comments below and be sure to share your zero waste wrapping with me on Instagram by tagging @simplyzero_ and using the hashtag #simplyzerowasteholidays in your photos!


Additional content


Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing