A Less Wasteful Gift Wrapping Guide

Brown paper packages tied up with strings… these are a few of my favorite things!

Happy Hanukkah! Merry Christmas! Happy gift giving! So you picked out the perfect, thoughtful, mindful, gift — now what? I, like many others, love seeing beautifully wrapped presents under the Christmas tree. I also love watching the joy on people’s faces as they slowly (or not so slowly) unwrap their gifts. So how can we present beautiful gifts without producing waste that goes to the landfill? Here are your options! 

The Bad
First off — check to make sure your local recycling facility accepts wrapping paper. Most do with some caveats. If your wrapping paper has metallic accents or glitter, it is NOT recyclable. Also, bows, ribbons, tinsel, most tape, etc. are all trash. Basically, avoid getting super “extra” wrapping paper, sticking it together with shiny tape, and then putting bows and other things on it. 

The Good
As mentioned above, wrapping paper can be recycled if it doesn’t have metallic accents or glitter. So if you want to use wrapping paper, pick the simpler options at the store and recycle post-gift giving. The same goes for paper gift bags without any additional frills. The upside with plain gift bags is that they can be reused multiple times before being recycled. 

To wrap your present with wrapping paper, utilize washi (there are so many adorable, festive options) or kraft tape. 

The Better
If you’re going the wrapping paper route, you can do one better and use compostable kraft paper or eco-friendly gift wrap (like this one or this). Make sure to wrap with washi tape, kraft tape, or 100% cotton twine.

The Best
I always think the best option is what you already have. So if you have wrapping paper, old gift bags, beautiful shopping bags from Anthropologie, etc. — use those up first. However, if you are starting from scratch, there are some great zero waste wrapping options. Furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloth), cloth produce bags, and mason jars are all useful and reusable. Add a little something extra with a small pine tree branch or beautiful leaves or acorns tied with twine. 

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Online Zero Waste Buying Resources

Depending on where you live, it can oftentimes be difficult to find some items in bulk (i.e. without packaging) or even plastic-free items — particularly when it comes to cleaning and certain body care products. Here’s a list of places you can order online for either package free or plastic free products.

Note: I will update this list as I find more shops online!

Package Free Shop: Home, personal, and travel products.

The Refill Revolution: Home (including essential oils!), personal, containers, and pet.

Zero Market:  Home, personal, and containers.

Tiny Yellow Bungalow: Home, personal, and containers.

Wild Minimalist: Home, personal, pet.

The Good Fill: Home, personal, and containers.

Common Good: Home (hand and dish soap).

Lush: Personal (and home of my favorite shampoo bars!).

Plaine Products: Personal (shampoo, conditioner,  lotion, face wash, face moisturizer).

Etsy: Search to your heart’s content for personal, home, and travel products without packaging (or with plastic-free packaging). Many vendors are more than willing to ship items without plastic if you ask!

Amazon Frustration Free Packaging: Items certified frustration free are 100% recyclable.

Wisdom Supply Co.: Low waste office and school supplies.

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My Zero Waste Car Kit

First off, what is a zero waste car kit? Basically — it’s the collection of items you always have stored in your car that’ll help reduce your waste while you are out and about in the world. This includes items needed for grocery shopping, coffee buying, eating out, etc. I love having a car kit because it keeps me from forgetting anything at home and I’m always prepared for any scenario.

So what’s in my kit? And how do you create your own? Gather the following:

1. A cardboard box. I use this to corral all my items together in my trunk so things don’t roll around all over the place. Use whatever you have — a canvas bag, an Amazon box, a reusable shopping bag.

2. Items used when grocery shopping. This includes your reusable shopping bags and produce bags. We all know this, right?

3. Mason jars (I recommend the 16 oz. size). These come in handy for multiple scenarios. You can use them when buying bulk at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Or if you’re craving a frappuccino from Starbucks and your reusable coffee cup won’t hold all the delicious whipped cream. Or you just need some water from the park water fountain. I’ve even gotten a soda in mine from a fast food joint where the only option was the throwaway cup. If you don’t have mason jars, use clean glass pasta sauce or condiment jars.

4.  Eating out items. I have an old fork/spoon and reusable straw wrapped in a cloth napkin ready to go if I’m someplace with only plastic options. I also keep a reusable coffee cup for any on the go hot beverage purchases.

5. Take out container. I have an old lunch box (that was meant to hold a sandwich + 2 “sides”) that I keep in the car for when I need to take home leftovers from a restaurant. Did I feel a little self conscious the first time I shoved enchiladas and leftover rice + beans in my little box from home? Sure. Worth it? Yep. This is a good use for any leftover plastic tupperware containers you have in the house.

And that’s it. Put together whatever you already have at home in a little “kit” and you won’t be caught off guard when out in a world that hasn’t 100% caught on to reducing waste just yet.

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Fall Zero Waste Swaps

It’s officially fall! My absolute favorite season of the year. Give me all the “basic” — sweaters, pumpkin spice, candles, pumpkin decor. I have no shame. But truly. I love this time of year — the anticipation of upcoming holidays (including my favorite, Thanksgiving), the camaraderie behind football, respite from 100+ degree days, quiet weekends spent baking and reading, abundance at the farmer’s market, the State Fair of Texas… the list goes on. With all that goes on this time of year, sometimes it can be difficult to remember your New Year’s resolution from January that involved producing less waste. Never fear. Here are a few small things you can keep in mind this fall season to keep your trash bins from overflowing.

Pie: I associate fall with a lot of pie baking. I know it’s easier to get the pre-made pie crust, wrapped in plastic, stuck in a box… but hear me out. Making your own pie crust is super easy, faster than you think, and very delicious. I know there are a lot of recipes out there but I use this one due to it’s simplicity.

(Related: this video about trying to make pie with zero waste.)

PSL: I love popping into coffee shops during the fall and trying out all the fun new drinks. However, as we all know, it’s best to take your own cup to avoid sending the coffee shop cups to the landfill. I recently bought this Kate Spade tumbler secondhand and LOVE it. Hot or cold drinks — the exterior stays dry and comfortable, the drinks stays the perfect temperature for hours, and it doesn’t leak.

Candles: With the amount of candles I burn this time of year, it’s a habit that can get very wasteful. The lids are seldom recyclable and the glass container needs to be completely emptied of wax before recycling. Enter the DIY candles. I LOVE making my own candles. I’ve saved old empty candle jars and constantly refill them with my own soy wax (warmed in a thrifted enamel pot) + scent concoction (bought in large quantities from CandleScience). The only waste I end up with when making candles is the large bag the wax comes sealed in (I buy a very large bag once every two years) and the recyclable bottle that the candle scent comes in (it’s best to buy a large bottle or two of a scent you love and use it up over a year or two; I use approximately 1 oz. of fragrance per large candle).

Decor: Look. I’m guilty of having 10 of those mini ceramic pumpkins from Target’s dollar section and an adorable stuffed ghost (named Boo) from HomeGoods. I’m only human. But the quality is good and I’ll be using them for years. Otherwise, for my fall decor, I use what I can find out in nature or at the farmer’s market (which I then compost at the end of the season). I’ve collected fallen branches to create a spooky entryway for Halloween, large leaves in different colors for table/wall decor, and interesting looking pumpkins from the farmer’s market for the fireplace. The best part about this decorating method is that I don’t have to store any of this stuff afterwards as it all goes in my compost bin! (And I’m free to switch up my style without feeling guilty about not using what I have.)

Sweaters and outerwear: Who doesn’t love a cozy sweater? However, over time, loved sweaters can get snagged and hole-y. But before you send it off to your local textile recycling, see if you can fix it! Darning is a technique to repair holes in different fabrics. Learn how here or here. If that’s too much or your sweater is beyond repair — head to your local thrift store. While secondhand t-shirts can sometimes feel worn out or faded, I’ve had great luck with sweaters and outerwear. Even if secondhand, they are frequently in great condition and I’ve always been able to find a cute sweater or two at my local shop for under $5.

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My Favorite TerraCycle Programs

I love TerraCycle’s free recycling programs. It allows me to recycle items that otherwise would end up in the landfill. This doesn’t mean that I purposely pick a packaged item over a bulk one in order to TerraCycle it BUT it is exceedingly useful for those items that I don’t have much of an alternative for. TerraCycle also has paid programs (where you pay for a box to fill up with various items and then ship back to them to recycle) but I’ve had great experiences with the free programs. Some programs do have a waitlist but I’ve gotten into most within a few months. So how does it work? Browse the programs and sign up for the ones that interest you. Collect items to recycle, put everything in an old cardboard box, print a pre-paid shipping label from the TerraCycle site, and drop off at UPS! That’s it. And it’s all free. So here are my favorite programs that I’m currently a part of:

Note: Some of these programs accept packaging only of a certain brand while others accept all brands so definitely read through the accepted items list for each program. In addition, while most programs involve shipping, there are a handful that involve dropping off your recycling at a specific retail location.

Wellness Pet Food Recycling Program: This was a happy coincidence since my dogs eat Holistic Select food (part of the Wellness brand) so I am able to recycle the plastic dog food bags we get.

Burt’s Bees Recycle on Us: I don’t really get a lot of Burt’s Bees products these days, however, I do have some old items from my pre-minimal-waste days. Once these are used up, I’ll send them via this program!

eos Recycling Program: Same as above. (Who doesn’t have old eos lip balms in the little spheres?)

Malt-O-Meal Cereal Bag Recycling Program: While we don’t get bagged cereal, we do get the boxes. I save the plastic cereal bag liners to recycle through this program. This program accepts all brands of cereal bags.

Colgate Oral Care Recycling Program: I recycle toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothbrush outer packaging, and floss containers of all brands through this program (great for all those oral care items I’ve accrued from my dentist over the years).

Snack Bag Recycling Program: Chips, cookies, candy snack bags of all brands get shipped via this program. Great if you have kids who eat those little snack sized chip bags.

Subaru Recycling Program: We have a Subaru so this is particularly easy since we can recycle whenever we’re at the dealership for an oil change. But Subaru retailers now have TerraCycle boxes to recycle all disposable cups and lids, candy and snack wrappers, and coffee, tea, and creamer capsules. I don’t use capsules but I do save any candy/snack wrappers and cups/lids that come my way in order to recycle at the dealership.

L’Occitane Recycling Program: This is a new one that I haven’t used yet. But I am super excited by it! It appears you can take all skincare and makeup packaging of any brand to your local L’Occitane store for recycling. Has anyone done this yet? Let me know!

And finally, some eco-friendly tips for TerraCycling:
– Ship as much as possible at once. For example, don’t ship one toothpaste container at a time. Collect everything in a box and ship once or twice a year. Or, collect items to recycle from friends and family to bulk up more frequent shipments.
– Save old boxes and packaging to ship everything. Amazon boxes are great for this.
– Make sure everything you ship is clean, dry, and empty as not to contaminate the rest of the shipment.

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