Wrap it Better: MADE SAFE’s Guide to Sustainable Gift Wrapping


Growing up, my mom’s wrapped gifts were essentially works of art. She turned simple paper, typically brown, elevated by a different theme each year into eye candy: artistic and ornate wintertime twigs, holiday plaid, burlap. The designs usually involved handmade bows of different sizes and designs made of various fabrics from velvet to cotton. Even her “bad” wrapping jobs were (and still are) perfect.


They were gorgeous, not to mention excruciatingly time consuming. They also produced a fair amount of waste from the paper, bows, and unusable scraps of both.

So ten years ago, my mom and I decided to give up gift wrapping. Some select family and friends still receive a meticulously wrapped creation, but with the close fam, my mom created the Santa Bag Method. That year, she purchased multiple Santa sacks, each in a different pattern or color, one for each member of the family.

Gifts are placed inside the bag completely unwrapped and during our holiday celebration, instead of unwrapping our gifts, we each reach into the bag (absolutely no peeking allowed!) and pull out our gifts one by one.

The bags are made of thick, durable cotton canvas and have been reused over and over for almost ten years, saving tons of trees, plastic, fabric, and other common wrapping materials – and have saved my mom (and me) hours of precious time.

The rest of the family has adopted some version of this – whether it’s bringing their gifts to my parents’ house in their own Santa-type bags, re-using the same gift bags year after year, or even leaving items in their shipping boxes without wrapping them.

Maybe the scene isn’t postcard-worthy, but the point isn’t the gorgeous wrapping or the gifts anyway, right? The point is togetherness and joy, and if anything, our new method has brought more of that into our lives: less time wrapping and more time enjoying family, and new, creative (or lazy!) eco-wrapping solutions are usually good conversation starters.

The Santa Bag Method works for us. I invite you to find an eco-friendly wrapping method that works for you and your family. Here are some ideas:


  • Use fabric – whether scraps or new pieces you intend to reuse – by folding the fabric around the box and then tying a knot at the top.
  • Wrap like you normally would, but instead of tape, use fabric pins to secure the fabric. (Not suitable for gifts given to children.)
  • Wrap unusually-shaped gifts by placing them in the middle, gathering the ends of the fabric, and tying a knot on the top, like a sack. You can also use twine or fabric to secure the top of the sack.
  • Wrap cylindrical items like an old-fashioned piece of candy, using ribbons (to be reused, of course) to secure each end.


  • When a product you purchase is housed in a beautiful box, save the box! The box can be reused, no wrapping paper required. (Soapply, we’re looking at you and your beautiful boxes!)
  • Purchase some high-quality, attractive, and sturdy boxes that can serve as the wrapping paper themselves. Make sure they’re made of recyclable materials so they don’t end up in the landfill one day.
  • If your family is casual, just keep items in their original shipping boxes (talk about low-key). Don’t forget the box cutters!


  • Save bags from gifts you receive to reuse over and over. Store them folded and flat to prolong their life.
  • Instead of tissue paper, choose shredded crinkle-cut paper confetti. Tissue paper often only lasts one use since it gets bent and creased, but paper confetti can be used over and over. (Hint: Save loose-fill packaging confetti from your online purchases.)
  • If you don’t have any gift bags to reuse, purchase some high-quality bags with neutral designs that can be used over and over. Make sure to choose uncoated plastic-free recyclable bags.
  • Reuse basic brown paper bags. Pair them with bright-colored paper confetti to brighten them up. Restaurant take-out is a great source of small brown paper bags.


  • Can part of your gift itself be used as gift wrap? For example, if you’re giving kitchen utensils or a bottle of wine, a kitchen or tea towel would serve as excellent wrapping. Or if you’re giving mittens and a scarf, wrap the mittens creatively in the scarf.
  • Use paper you have on hand to wrap gifts. Think: newspapers, magazines, etc. Pair with a bright, coordinating bow to complete the look (check out tips on bows and ribbons below.)
  • Use your child’s art! Your friends and family will love their personalized gift wrap creations.


  • Purchase high-quality durable Santa-style bags. I recommend a different design or color for each member of the family. Gifts are placed inside, totally unwrapped.
  • Large durable boxes can be used instead of bags. A box with a removable and replaceable top would work well. If you’d like the box to look festive, feel free to wrap with biodegradable traditional gift wrap.
  • Store bags or boxes carefully so they can be reused over and over.


  • If you must choose traditional gift wrap, look for papers that are labeled as recyclable and biodegradable. This will help you avoid paper that contains plastic or other non-biodegradable coatings or materials.
  • Skip the glitter. Most glitter is made of plastic and does not break down in the environment.
  • Basic brown paper is an excellent choice. It serves as a neutral background that can be paired with a festive bow that matches the occasion – from holidays to birthdays. And it’s typically recyclable.


  • Bows and ribbon are typically made of non-biodegradable materials, so be mindful about their use. When using ribbon, cut to lengths that are long enough to be reused.
  • Bows can often be created on their own and then fixed to the top of the package; the bow can then be used over and over, as it’s never untied.
  • Secure bows and ribbons in the least intrusive way possible so they aren’t destroyed when the package is opened.
  • Look for paper ribbon, sisal twine, or jute twine as biodegradable ribbon options. They create rustic, but chic gift wrap, especially when paired with brown paper or earthy fabrics.


  • Don’t be afraid to ask family and friends if they’re going to reuse the bag, box, fabric, ribbon, or bow you wrapped their gift in. Explain that you’re asking because you’d like to reuse the material next year. They’ll appreciate your intention.
  • Sort garbage, recyclables, and reusables as you go. Designate one bag or box for trash, one for recyclables, and one for reusables. Clearly label each bag ahead of time so you don’t end up throwing out or recycling something someone wanted to keep! Odds are you won’t want to sort once the festivities are over, so placing materials in their appropriate container will ensure you keep as much as possible out of the landfill. (Make sure to familiarize yourself with your area’s recycling policies so you prevent trash from contaminating recycling.)
  • Remember, you can give gifts without purchasing physical objects at all. Donate to a cause on behalf of your loved ones, cook them a special meal or favorite treat, gift an experience like a wine or cheese tasting, or send them digital gift cards so they can choose something they really love.

Celebrate sustainably with us!

Create your own sustainable gift-wrapping technique that both your family and Mother Nature will love! Post pictures on Instagram and tag us (@madesafehq) so we know what you’re doing to make this holiday season more sustainable.

Sydney Cook bio photo

Sydney Cook is the Director of Science and Research for MADE SAFE.

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