Gift wrapping naughty list

December 4th, 2018

Household waste can increase more than 25% over the holidays. The majority of nearly half-a-million tonnes of holiday waste that goes to Canadian landfills each year is made up of discarded gift-wrapping and shopping bags.

In Peterborough, and many other municipalities, plastic and foil wrapping paper, bubble wrap, ribbons, and gift bows, go into the garbage over the holidays and are trucked off to our landfill.

Rethinking gift-wrapping does not mean you have to forgo the excitement, anticipation, and surprises. In fact, it’s actually an opportunity to personalize your gifts, to have some fun, and be creative in the process.

To get you started, here are a few gift-wrapping items that are definitely on the naughty list and should be avoided



Glitter seems to be everywhere during the holidays so if you’re someone who lights up with excitement for all things sparkly, you’ll want to read on and reconsider.

Why is glitter on the naughty list? Almost all glitter is considered to be a microplastic. This means that those tiny sparkly gems are actually very small fragments of plastic that can’t break down in the environment. They are easily washed down our drains polluting our waterways. Microplastics are then consumed by filter feeding aquatic life that mistake these tiny pieces of plastic as zooplankton, their primary food source. These tiny microplastics actually end up bio-accumulating or building up along the food chain and end up in the fish we eat, too!

Even though products containing micro beads and microplastics are being banned in many areas of the world, we still see glitter on the store shelves, and glued to everything from wrapping paper to holiday bobbles and ribbons.

Skip the glitter! Glitter is a very small part of the worldwide microplastics problem, but if you think that giving up glitter this Christmas won’t make a difference, think again. We can re-think non-essential decorative, holiday items and replace them with more eco-friendly options that won’t harm the planet. Consider minimizing your plastics footprint overall. Glitter is something we do not need.

A quick Google search will bring up many alternatives, such as eco-friendly and biodegradable glitter brand options that are made from plant cellulose and claim to break down in the environment. This might be a better option for those who are just not ready to give up the sparkle. Or, go one step further and decorate with birdseed, rice, coloured salts, or LED twinkle lights, instead!


Plastic Ribbon

Here’s a single use plastic item that you may not have considered before: plastic ribbon. Kids of all ages marvel at it’s ability to curl under the scissor blade into to lovely celebratory tendrils, but plastic ribbon is simply another one of those items that all too commonly gets discarded, washed into storm drains, and then into our waterways.

Before they turn into microplastics, these ribbons can be hazardous to wildlife, as they become tangled in gills, around legs, or in the throats of animals. Along with disposable cutlery, balloons, and plastic bags, ribbon is very hazardous, in particular for aquatic life.

The good news is, there are many, many alternatives to plastic ribbon that are readily found on the store shelves. Beautiful fabric ribbons can be reused over and over again to tie around gifts, hang a wreath, or decorate the tree. String is also a simple yet lovely addition to any holiday package, and you may already have some in your kitchen cupboard!


Metallic Wrapping Paper

Metallic wrapping paper and gift bags are not recyclable.

Foil, shiny, and glittered wrapping must be discarded via the landfill so to reduce your holiday waste, avoid these wrapping items altogether. Don’t forget to avoid wrapping paper adorned with glitter, as mentioned above, or any papers that are metallic.

Traditional wrapping paper and cards can be placed in the recycling bin, as long as they aren’t glittery or made of foil or plastic. There are some great, inexpensive wrapping paper options including brown kraft paper, newspaper, and pages from old books, which are the most recyclable options.

Rolls of brown kraft paper are available at postal outlets and many dollar stores. Personalize plain paper with seasonal stamps or set the kids up with markers and paint to add some artwork to their wrappings.

Old books can be repurposed into decorative envelopes for smaller gifts. Simply pull out some of the pages from a book you might otherwise donate, or pick up some large-paged coffee table books from the thrift store. Fold and glue pulled-out page edges, punch a hole in the top, thread a ribbon through, and you have a lovely envelope for a card, or a piece of jewelry. An added bonus: it can be hung on a Christmas tree.

While shopping for wrapping paper or cards, check the recycled content before you commit. The higher the percentage of post-consumer recycled material, the better; this really makes a difference when you consider that Canadians purchase 2.6 billion Christmas cards each year!

With a bit of planning, you can actually make your wrapping out of a reusable item such as a tea towel, scarf or t-shirt, which makes it completely waste-free.

Have an empty box ready when it’s time to open gifts so that you can toss reusable items in the box for use next year. A reusable option is even better than a recyclable one.



Plastic Tape is just another form of plastic that ends up in our waterways. And the hard plastic dispenser that it comes in is not recyclable.

According to Zero Waste Canada, a non-profit organization that advocates for a zero waste future, Canadians purchase six million rolls of tape during the holidays. Clear sticky tape can be replaced with paper tape, such as masking tape.

Remember, you can skip tape altogether if you’re using ribbons or string to tie around your gifts. Scoring the edges of your wrapping paper first can make getting that string around the box so much easier. You also don’t need tape if you use reusable fabric or paper bags to wrap your gifts.

Rethinking your gift wrapping to include natural, recyclable, and reusable items like fabric bags, pine cones, and tins will help you to reduce holiday waste and your environmental impact this holiday season.

This holiday season, and beyond, avoid bringing items into your home that are not recyclable, compostable, or reusable. Give the gift of an experience at a local attraction or theatre performance, or the gift of your time. Most of all, the best gift is to conserve resources and support a healthy planet for the future.

For more ideas, join us at the GreenUP Store at 378 Aylmer Street, Peterborough.

By Karen Halley, GreenUP Communications & Marketing Specialist (2013-2019)

Posted in GreenUP Store, Uncategorized, Waste Free