Before “green” was anything other than a choice in the box of Crayolas, many folks religiously saved and reused wrapping paper and bows. My grandparents’ generation didn’t even realize they were being “eco-conscious,” just frugal and not wasteful.

Old habits die hard: It’s almost painful watching my dad, one of nine kids whose parents were well-versed in what the Great Depression felt like, open a present. He painstakingly peels off each piece of tape and always folds the paper into a square before he opens the box, even though it probably will not be saved anyway. In a lot of ways, it would be better if our culture would return to the “waste not, want not” mentality.

Did you know:

“If every family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the 38,000 miles of ribbon saved could tie a bow around the entire planet. If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.” (source)

That’s a serious impact!

Saving, Foiled Again!

One year I had folded up some gigantic wrapping paper from toys as big as my son (one guess how I felt about him receiving these things at age two) and set it aside, knowing that I could reuse it on a handful of gifts without even a torn tape line to show for it. My in-laws very helpfully cleaned up and trashed it all!

When they realized their mistake, they felt badly enough to buy me ten rolls of new wrapping paper. I don’t think they quite get it. Being frugal isn’t my only motivation for saving, reusing, and buying secondhand.

Let’s do our part this year to wrap the earth in ribbon and cut down on the million tons a week of extra waste we generate during the holiday season.

Try these ideas for your next gift wrapping session:

Reuse old wrapping paper,      bows, and bags

The classic. Just be sure to figure out a system for storage (an      under-the-bed box or drawer works well to hold folded wrapping paper) so      you don’t have a mess of used ribbons and tissue paper.

Wrap with road maps…

Just make sure you don't need the map anymore! Old atlases and outdated world maps (with U.S.S.R. still intact, for example) are great finds.

…calendar pages…

Calendar pages are especially appropriate for small gifts, and can be very striking.

…Sunday comics…

…or newspaper ads.

This is a jar of homemade jam wrapped in a food store ad. So thematic!

Get creative with cloth,      preferably something old

If you know how to sew, it takes very little to make reusable gift bags      out of cloth (drawstring optional). You can use them year after year in      your home or give them away as part of the gift.

Use old baby blankets or new      towels

This creative gal skipped the wrapping altogether, but the presentation is still very attractive.

Photo by knitgirl63 on Flickr

At my bridal shower, someone wrapped a gift in the tea towels I had asked      for with hand towels as accents. It was not only eco-friendly, but the      cutest darn thing I’d ever seen! You could tie up an oddly shaped gift in      an old receiving blanket (if you don’t cut those up to be hankies), or      just be creative if you have something cloth as part of the gift anyway. Use twine to hold towels around a box.

Get the kids involved

I love to repurpose gigantor packing paper with children’s handmade      drawings on it as wrapping paper. The kids take great pride in creating      something for family members to enjoy, it makes for a fun crafty      afternoon, and you don’t have to feel guilty about recycling that      perfectly clean packing paper that our house is always drowning in.

Reuse: turn wrapping paper      into stuffing

No need to buy this stuff; make your own!

Photo by Liz West

Using traditional wrapping paper no matter what?  Try running      the used stuff through your shredder to make pretty packing material if you mail a lot of gifts, or for stuffing in a gift bag.

Hold onto your boxes

Photo by Mark Hillary

Even if a box has printing on the outside or is too marked up for U.S.      Mail, you can still cut the boxes open, turn them inside out, and retape.      Tada! A plain brown packing box! Remember to use brown grocery sacks to wrap smaller items, like books, for mailing. If you’re a big reusable bag person, you may need to make a special effort to grab a brown sack, or check first to see if some of the internal packing paper from another package will cover.

Bonus tip: Hate to fill the landfills with packing peanuts, but you just can’t keep them all? I don’t mail enough packages to reuse all the peanuts that land in my house, and I recently discovered, to my great joy, that my local post office accepts large boxes and packing peanuts to help people mail their packages safely. Check out for a site near you that will reuse or recycle styrofoam peanuts.

Or you can let your kids play with them, especially if you’re pretty sure they’re the cornstarch-based kind. (Those stick together with a quick touch of the tongue or wet washcloth – super fun!) Here’s what my kids came up with:

What’s the hardest part about “greening up” the holidays for you?

Find a few more eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas over at Simple Mom.

All photos not otherwise cited by Katie Kimball