Greener gift-giving – unwrapped!

Greener gift-giving – unwrapped!

The countdown is on! Christmas – and with it the peak gift-giving season – is just around the corner. Along with all the long-customary piles of presents under the Christmas tree, the gift wrappings themselves are also piling up: according to estimates issued by Environmental Action Germany (DUH) 1, the already high mountain of waste that we produce day in and day out increases by a fifth at Christmas because of the gift wrappings alone. This harms the climate and the environment. Avoiding waste is a must. And the responsibility for this lies with manufacturers and suppliers of gift packaging as well as with consumers. We present eco-friendly gift wrapping options and encourage you to give unwrapped gifts.

For many people, giving gifts is part of togetherness. Gifts are an expression of your regard, gratitude, appreciation and affection. Gifts are given on special occasions – and for no obvious reason, too. In Christian societies, gift-giving traditionally peaks on St Nicholas Day (6 December) and during the Christmas holidays (24 to 26 December).


Gift wrapping: for and against

People have been wrapping up gifts forever and a day. Burial finds in China prove that paper was used to wrap gifts. The exciting thing is that paper was being used for wrapping gifts even before it was used as a material for writing on.5


These days, many people see the wrapping as part of the gift itself, as part of the gift-giving culture. Not only should it be a feast for the eyes, but it should also create meaning. The effort the giver puts into wrapping a gift is meant to emphasise the reason for actually giving it. Wrapping gifts is so important that those who find it difficult to do even have their gifts professionally wrapped for them.

For the recipient, the gift wrapping increases their anticipation and raises expectations. Scientists confirm that gift wrapping influences how the recipient reacts: the more perfect it is, the greater the expectations of the contents inside. What is interesting is that, among friends in particular, it is said that the more sloppily a gift is wrapped, the greater the recipient’s joy and surprise.6

But one person’s joy (gift givers and recipients alike) is another person’s sorrow: all the gift wrappings pollute the environment, especially if they’re made of disposable plastic. Their production and disposal cause high greenhouse gas emissions, which are largely responsible for climate change. According to calculations by the non-profit Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), plastics might account for between 10 and 13 per cent of the total carbon budget we need to adhere to in order to reach the 1.5 degree mark of the global climate target set in Paris in 2015.7


•    EUR 520.4 – this is the amount every German planned to spend on Christmas presents in 2022, according to a survey. Significantly more than half of the respondents planned to spend at least as much or even more than in the previous year (2021).2
•    More than one in four respondents (27%) planned to give one to three gifts in 2022, according to another survey, while 23% of respondents wanted to give four to five and 28% of respondents even six to ten gifts.3
•    The most popular gifts in 2022 were books (49%), clothing (46%), and cosmetics and perfume (45%). When it comes to price, smartphones (EUR 138), gifts of money (EUR 129), travel and leisure activities (EUR 123) and other electronic devices (EUR 122) topped the gift list in 2022.4

Reducing packaging waste means protecting the environment and climate

When you come to think of it, gift wrapping that doesn’t serve to protect or explain what is wrapped up inside is merely unnecessary material on top of the gift. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up wrapping up gifts altogether for the sake of the environment and the climate.


Instead, to protect the environment and the climate, we need to change our gift-giving culture: from one that damages the environment and the climate to one that’s environmentally friendly – and the sooner, the better. The responsibility for this lies on both sides of packaging industry: with the manufacturers of packaging materials as well as with the consumers – after all supply and demand are two sides of the same coin.

Speaking of supply, packaging and gift-wrapping suppliers could play a special role in reducing packaging waste. After all, as a marketplace, you set aside space on your sales floors where you market gift packaging and wrapping options. Making what you offer sustainable would act as a catalyst to change the gift-wrapping culture.

If we do away with gift wrapping that harms the environment and the climate – what can we use to wrap gifts, then?

Eco-friendly wrapping ideas can – but doesn’t necessarily – mean giving unwrapped gifts. There are alternatives, you know! The path to eco-friendly gift wrapping leads here:

To wrap gifts up, you should now

  • only make use of indispensable gift wrappings, which explain the gift or protect it from damage, for example.
  • only use gift wrappings made of recycled, environmentally friendly materials. They include renewable raw materials that have already been ecologically recycled and that can easily be returned to the raw material cycle (keyword: circular economy) at the end of their use – without polluting the environment and the climate. The end of gift wrappings made of fossil-based plastics (plastic packaging, cling film) is an inevitable must.
  • only use eco-friendly reusable packaging. This is because re-using packaging many times over as opposed to just once always saves raw materials as well as the cost and effort of manufacturing and disposing of such packaging.

3 ideas for environmentally friendly gift wrapping

Empty cardboard boxes, recycled paper, jars and bottles are well-known and tried-and-tested gift packaging options. The following 3 packaging ideas are even more unusual:

Wrapping gifts in fabric: Furoshiki is what the Japanese call the art of using fabric to wrap things up in. Traditionally, they wrap (even bulky) gifts, light luggage and snacks for school, office and travel in square cloths made of linen, cotton or silk. Besides suitable fabric remnants, neckerchiefs and scarves, dishcloths and tablecloths and even cushion covers are suitable for this purpose. All these pieces of fabric can be used for other purposes after the gift has been unwrapped.

Wrapping gifts in paper: Origami, the Japanese art of paper folding, can also be used as inspiration for wrapping gifts up in. Banknotes, vouchers and a lot more can quickly be folded into mini works of art. Tip: If you want to learn the Japanese wrapping and folding arts of furoshiki and origami, you will find plenty of simple instructions on the Internet.

Natural gift-wrapping options: Mother Nature also provides us with some eco-friendly gift wrapping ideas: fresh, large leaves can be used as “environmentally friendly wrapping paper" for wrapping gifts; empty walnut shells can be used to contain jewellery; messages can be immortalised on paper or small stones; or money and twigs can even be used to hold gifts.



About the author 

The freelance journalist on organic issues and #motherof4 Doreen Brumme blogs on about how to enjoy a green lifestyle at work, in school and at home.

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