Americans spend more than $8 billion on wrapping paper each year, according to Sundale Research. That’s a lot of money for something that you’re just going to chuck. The good news is that in Seattle, most wrapping paper isn’t just a waste of landfill space, it’s recyclable!

We checked with Seattle Public Utilities, and these rules are applicable for most places in King County. Generally, any paper is recyclable if it’s not 100% glitter covered. Even if the gift wrap has some metallic print. Even if it’s been ripped up by excited kids, as long as the pieces are bigger than the palm of your hand. Even if it’s got little bits of tape stuck to it. It’s OK to leave “a reasonable amount” of tape on, but feel free to peel it off if it bugs you. Even tissue paper can go in your recycling.

“Especially this year, we just need a way to feel like we’re celebrating,” said Becca Fong, SPU’s residential solid waste outreach planner. “Just think of creative ways to make things festive and throw away as little as possible. We want people to recycle as much as we can, as well as we can.”

Here’s an eye-opening statistic from Stanford University: If every family in the U.S. wrapped three presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. There’s no need to buy new things. Wrap pretty packages with materials you already have, like brown packing paper, newspaper comics, tied-up scarves.

Ribbons and bows add the finishing touch, but, unfortunately, most of the time they go in the garbage. Instead of plastic bows, buy some velvet or satin ribbon that look beautiful over and over again.

Reduce, reuse, recycle: we’re all about holiday cheer with a minimal environmental footprint.

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Brown kraft paper can add a touch simple elegance to any gift.   (JiaYing Grygiel)
Brown kraft paper can add a touch simple elegance to any gift. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Upcycle brown kraft paper

You could buy a roll of brown kraft paper, but why kill another tree when there’s already loads of it in the packages shipped to your house. Plus everyone has approximately a zillion paper grocery bags from when stores banned reusable bags.

Leave the paper plain, or let the kids customize it with stamps or paint. Kids will love helping decorate, you will love keeping them busy. And yes, paper that’s been colored with crayons, markers and paint and small amounts of stickers is still recyclable.

Skip the plastic bow and tie on a sprig of greenery instead (snipped for free from the yard, and compostable).

Fabric, such as a scarf, is great for oddly shaped gifts. (JiaYing Grygiel)
Fabric, such as a scarf, is great for oddly shaped gifts. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Reuse fabric

Embrace the Japanese tradition of furoshiki, using squares of fabric to wrap and store things. Fabric is great for oddly shaped gifts, and it’s multipurpose. Use a pretty scarf or tea towel and your recipient gets two-for-one. Something old, something new: Repurpose an outgrown baby receiving blanket, or wrap with a new T-shirt so they can wear the wrapping.

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Newspaper comics can double as wrapping paper — and it’s 100% recyclable. (JiaYing Grygiel)
Newspaper comics can double as wrapping paper — and it’s 100% recyclable. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Cover with the Sunday funnies

The comics section is perfect for bigger boxes and it’s 100% recyclable. As a bonus, your recipients will have something fun to read after unwrapping their present. We added a grosgrain ribbon that’s festive and reusable.

Use a map for the travel obsessed.  (JiaYing Grygiel)
Use a map for the travel obsessed. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Wrap it with a map

Since we’re not going anywhere this year, you can put your old maps and atlases to use as wrapping paper. Bonus points for getting a map of a place that’s special to you, or where you’re planning a post-COVID dream vacation.

A pillowcase can be a nice touch for hard-to-wrap items. (JiaYing Grygiel)
A pillowcase can be a nice touch for hard-to-wrap items. (JiaYing Grygiel)

Bag it up with a pillowcase

There’s a reason the big man in red carries around a giant cloth sack. It’s a non-fussy way to load up bulky things quickly. Nothing wasted here, just return it to the linen closet after it’s unwrapped. You could sew the kids’ names onto each pillowcase to personalize it.

If all else fails: gift bags

Fong is a convert; it’s just easier with two kids and a busy job. “Everyone in my circle is also tired of wrapping gifts,” she said.