Wrapping Presents – With the Environment in Mind

By Amy Miller

I must apologize to my nieces and nephews. Although I give them their share of holiday gifts, they suffer the wrapping – used paper decorated with old pieces of tape and sometimes a tag with someone else’s name on it.

Sure, a gift is a gift. And the alternative – gifts wrapped in newsprint – is worse. Little hands get covered in black by the time they get to the truck or baby doll.

We got into the whole wrapping paper thing during Christmas 1917. Apparently, stores had run out of white tissue sheets, the preferred wrapping of the day. Stores began using the pretty lining paper made for envelopes. The public liked the alternative and wrapping paper became part of our holiday gift tradition.

According to Earth911.com, about half of the 85 million tons of paper our country uses each year goes for packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Wrapping paper and shopping bags alone make up 4 million tons of this, they say. And some estimates put the amount of trash generated around holidays at 25 million tons more waste than is typically created during a 10-week period. Whatever the numbers, we know we use a heck of a lot of paper over the holidays.

Sure we can try to recycle, but much wrapping paper is not recyclable. The dye or lamination, the glittery metallic or plastic additives and the tape all present problems.

So my own feeble effort to fight this involves trying to carefully unwrap the gifts I get so the paper can be reused. I even try to get my son to unwrap his car-sized presents in a way that doesn’t decimate the paper.

But using last year’s wrapping paper for this year’s present – or buying recycled paper – means someone had to manufacture, transport and buy the paper in the first place. So ideally, we will find other ways to cover our packages.

One woman in my Maine town began a company making beautiful fabric bags. The bags pass from person to person telling stories of the gifts along the way in a booklet that comes with the bag.

Children’s old artwork makes for great wrapping. Parents can save masterpieces but use some of the art we could not and would not want to save. Colorful magazine pages make unique wrapping and won’t leave newsprint on your hands. Finally, a collage makes the wrapping personal.

Perhaps by 2017, we can celebrate a century of wrapping paper and move on to a more eco-alternative.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.