8 Ideas for Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap For Food Gifts

by Katherine Sacks

Published: 12/09/21, Last updated: 12/09/21

While the holiday season is filled with the spirit of giving and kindness, it’s also a period of extreme waste. During the rest of the year, people waste 25 percent of the food they buy on average; a recent survey found that Americans estimate they waste 43 percent more during the holidays, much of this attributed to gift bags, wrapping paper and food waste. To reduce that waste on a household level, by avoiding all the packaging that comes with stuff, we suggest focusing on making homemade food gifts, giving monetary donations that support food and agriculture programs, and offering up experiential gifts, such as a cooking lesson or a trip to a sustainable restaurant.

Additionally, you can cut back on your paper, plastic and packaging use around the holidays. Whether you are giving a DIY or store-bought item, refrain from buying new gift wrap if you can. To offer some inspiration for creative repurposing, we asked our resident crafter extraordinaire, designer Samarra Khaja, for her tips on eco-friendly gift wrap. Here she shares ideas for making gorgeous wrapping paper from items you already have around the house, ideas for repurposing food packaging into gift tags and holiday decor, and thoughts on reducing waste around the holiday gift season. We’d love to see your eco-friendly gift wrap creations, so if you follow her suggestions, share your photos with us on social media @FoodPrintOrg.

(And if you’d like to challenge yourself even further to use less plastic, sign up for our pledge to cut out single-use plastic and get occasional emails with tips for reducing your plastic waste and news about plastic reduction efforts.)

Gather Your Eco-Friendly Supplies

You might be surprised how many items you already have lying around the house that can be repurposed, reused or turned into gift wrap. “I keep everything from old calendar pages, newspaper, previously-used gift wrap and tissue paper to the brown paper that comes in shipping boxes,” says Khaja. She recommends storing these items flat in a drawer or box, but if you don’t have a stash of old paper already, take a look around and see what you have on hand. Here are just a few of the items you can use:

Tissue Paper/Canvas Bags/Ribbons

Every time you receive a gift — or buy an item that comes wrapped in tissue paper, a ribbon, or with a bow — you are receiving doubly. Collect these items in your “gift wrap” box, and reuse them when you need to wrap an item. Save any decorative strings, cards, canvas totes and paper that comes with your purchases or packaging. Cards can be given a new life by gluing the top side onto a folded piece of cardboard; canvas totes of various sizes can be decorated with paint or markers, and used for food items or other gifts.

Magazine Pages

Instead of tossing old magazines or decorative paper, save them for gift wrap. Khaja suggests combining pieces to wrap a larger item: “You can cut out the pages of magazines and stitch them together quickly on a sewing machine to make a larger piece of collaged gift wrap,” she says. Curate the pages to a chosen theme for added fun.

Old maps, music sheets and posters and other printed materials all work well as repurposed gift wrap. Minneapolis’s zero-waste market Tare (@taremarket) shows off the idea on Instagram.


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A post shared by Tare Market (@taremarket)

Food Packaging Materials

Any material that comes through your kitchen that can be cleaned and dried and is in usable shape is an option for gift tags and decor.

“Some items like twist ties, rubber bands and bakers string can be reused a second, third or more times as is,” says Khaja. “Other items might require a little more creative “harvesting of their parts”, like potato and rice bags, to turn into wrapping and bow-making materials.” She particularly likes a brand of butter that comes in a shimmery gold metallic paper box. “Every time I get one, I like to cut out all the gold flaps and areas that don’t have any lettering/logos on them and refashion those smaller pieces of cardboard into fun gift tags using a pair of scissors and a hole punch,” she says.

Nikki Dinki (@nikkidinki and @bluebirdandblackberries) uses mesh food packaging bags to give their gift wrap some pretty texture.


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A post shared by Bluebird and Blackberries (@bluebirdandblackberries)

Brown Paper Bags

Turning brown paper bags into gift wrap may be a classic kids’ craft, but it’s also a grown up way to reuse those extra shopping bags, especially the ones that end up with torn handles or holes punched into the sides.

“You can easily carve an old-school potato stamp and have fun with that but if you’re short on time, you can quickly turn an old wine cork into a cute polka dot stamper,” says Khaja, who also suggests using leaves or cookie cutters as stencils. “Use non-toxic water-based paint or ink to dip it in and embellish paper bags and newspaper; practice your precision skills at a grid-like repeat pattern or go random for a more carefree confetti-feel.”

Beyond wrapping paper, brown paper bags can also be used for decor. Khaja saves her pristine bags to reuse, but for the more mangled ones, she’ll snip off the raffia-like paper handles, unfurl the paper and turn them into a pom-pom, binding it with a reused bread twist-tie or twine.

Over on Instagram, Alison Kay (@canningcrafts) shows off her creative re-use of take-out Chipotle bags, which she colored, drew on gift tags onto and added re-used ribbons. Adding color to bags that already have printed decor is another way to give them a festive look.


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A post shared by Alison (@canning_crafts)

Glass Jars and Tin Cans

Consider glass jars as gifting options before sending them straight to the recycling bin. Items such as granola, pickles, preserves, syrups, jams, cookie mixes and more are all great to give in glass jars. Khaja also suggests saving tin cans —  their paper labels are usually easy to remove and their inside lip is typically smooth and flat. Wash and clean either vessel thoroughly, fill with whatever bite-sized treat you plan to give, top with a homemade “lid” made of either a fabric scrap or a circle of wax or parchment paper, and secure with a repurposed rubber band or bakers twine. Khaja uses pinking shears to make a fun edge on parchment/wax paper to give the “lids” a unique look.

Fabric Scraps/Old Linens

The traditional Japanese fabric wrapping method of Furoshiki is becoming more widely known and popular in North America. You can use linens and fabrics you already own, such as old scarves, napkins or tea towels, or you can tea-dye old sheets or other fabrics and cut them into pieces for wrapping. This gives your recipient both the gift, as well as beautiful linen. If you’re concerned about getting any oils or mess onto the fabric you’re using, Khaja suggests sandwiching in a sheet of previously-used parchment paper or wax paper (keeping the used side toward the food).

Other fun ways to use cloth for wrapping include combining an empty toilet paper roll, socks and twine or ribbon to create a popper-style gift wrap like crafter Christine Leech (@sewyeah).


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A post shared by Christine Leech (@sewyeah)

Add Festive Natural Elements

On your next nature walk, look for a few eco-friendly gift wrap garnishes to add sparkle to your packages. Search for pine cones, juniper, evergreen, small tree branches, leaves and other sprigs of greenery. Use butcher twine, food twist ties or rubber bands to attach to gifts.


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A post shared by Lauren (@lala_earth)

Look for Second-Hands

Another place to look for these items and more eco-friendly gift wrap options are second-hand shops and yard sales. “I often keep my eye out for odd one-off dishes that I can re-gift food in, which the recipient can actually use later or pass them forward to someone else,” says Khaja. “Fun vintage bowls, casserole dishes, platters and plates are great for this!

Top photo by Samarra Khaja/FoodPrint.

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