Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Green Is a Christmas Color: Recycling and Reusing the Wrapping

Presents John wrapped for Beth in the Bahamas, December, 2002
For those of us with an environmental bent, the Christmas season can pose something of a serious challenge: how to deal with the waste generated by all that pretty wrapping paper! According to this article, Americans generate 4 million tons of trash annually from shopping bags and wrapping paper. That's some serious trash! I can recall when growing up, the whole family would open gifts, and we'd fill up two large trash bags or more just with our wrapping cast-offs.

For someone like me who tries to recycle every scrap of paper--from reusing pages from the printer by virtue of the second side for things like printed coupons to tearing the plastic address windows out of junk mail and adding the envelopes to the recycling bin--all that gift wrapping does amount to a green conundrum. I love wrapping gifts, putting together just the right combination of color and accents to make the packaging as nice as the present itself--but I don't like waste, either.

We've kept ribbons and other decorations for several years now; in fact, we had two entire moving boxes full of saved (and at least once-used) ribbons in the basement, and I found another box when we cleaned out our storage unit. We also have saved away scraps of some of our favorite wrapping papers each year.

This holiday season, we've both put our saved paper and ribbon to good use, using it to wrap many of the gifts we're giving each other and our friends and families. I found several bins of decorative accoutrements like boughs of imitation holly and frost-rimed winter "berries" that we'd picked up at Boxing Day clearances at Michael's and other crafty shops--bins I want to empty out and be done with! (We've much better things to store away, after all.)

Too, spreading out our Christmas over a period of several days has allowed us to reuse the same wrapping paper on several gifts, as some are opened and others wrapped: for example, I reused the same metallic red paper (which would be tough to recycle in the bin, too) on three separate packages for Beth--a smaller one each time, yes. Scraps which are too small, are ripped, or which have too many creases end up wadded up as surrogate tissue paper to pad other presents.

Though it makes it easier to guess the contents of wrapped packages, we've also gone with more "direct wrapping," where the gift itself is wrapped without being placed into a larger box. Oddly-shaped items can be fun this way, like the Vanilla Bean Noel lotion from Bath & Body: directly wrapped, it looks a bit like a piece of cylindrical candy. For those items requiring a box, we've saved Amazon and other small cardboard boxes expressly for that purpose.

So, we're able to enjoy the holidays and keep them green; so far, I think we've filled less than 1/10th of a trash can despite unwrapping about a dozen gifts each.

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