My nephew experienced his First Communion today, and we were invited to the celebration. I spent part of the afternoon digging out paper, ribbon, and tape to wrap his gift. I started thinking about my (and most Americans) wasteful wrapping habits. I love to wrap Christmas presents, and I go out of my way to make the packages fancy with paper, bows, ribbon and more.
Our unwrapping traditions used to include my mother’s painstaking removal of tape and slow peeling back of the paper so that the sheet could be ironed and re-used. I don’t remember when that behavior, which I remember teasing her about at the time, evolved into throwing the paper away. Probably the increasing numbers of grandchildren had some influence, but now I’m re-thinking that earlier careful behavior.
According to Earth.911, half of the 85 million tons of paper products Americans use and discard are packaging, wrapping and decorating goods. Also, wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S. During the holiday season, the amount of trash increases 25%.
Gift wrap was first invented in the early 1900’s and distributed by Hallmark. (Here’s a link to the history for more reading on the subject.) The paper was made possible by the invention of the flexography process which combined very fluid inks with rubber plates wrapped around the print cylinder to make a printing process ideally suited to coarse or stiff papers that were durable enough for wrapping. Also, Victorians began using decorated paper for cards, wallpaper and more.
I love the rolls of paper more than gift bags (which didn’t become popular until the 1980’s) The easy answer for saving on paper waste is to wrap the gifts in something else, a basket, a jar, a bowl, something clever. I know that one year, my sister-in-law wrapped all of her gifts in burlap bags tied with red ribbon. I saved that oversized bag for years, waiting for the exact gift to fill it.
Wrapping paper is not easily recycled. I fold mine neatly and put it in bags every year, but now I’m wondering if it does get recycled when it leaves my curb. According to Recycle Now, the paper is often dyed and coated or has non-paper additives, like gold and silver glitter. If it is thin, it may not have good quality fibers for recycling. Also, there’s the problem of tape leftover from the gift wrapping.
My mom has been wrapping various boxes and their lids with good-quality paper and then re-using these boxes year after year. The paper is never torn off. Some people even record inside the lid who received the box and what gift was in it as a way of making a game out of re-using the same box.
The answer is not easy. I’m going to look further into opportunities to recycle wrapping paper and try to buy only paper that has been recycled or can be recycled. Any other suggestions?