Pretty papers are attractive, but using Christmas gift wrap once and throwing it away is not eco-friendly. Try these green alternatives to wrapping paper.
Stores are filled with Christmas gift wrap paper: Shiny, pretty papers block the aisles and are stacked up at checkout counters in supermarkets, drug stores, stationery stores, and virtually every other shop that sells small gifts and notions. ‘Tis the season to fill the landfills.
Wrapping paper is such a big part of gift-giving that we don’t even think twice about the irony of buying beautifully made papers that will be used to make a five-second impression, only to be torn off and thrown away. Coated and painted with metallics, gift wrap ends up in landfills. What a message to send to children!
Here are some green alternatives that will make special and clever Christmas wrappings, and reduce your holiday carbon footprint.
Read Also: Craft a Festive and Fragrant Christmas Twig Tree from Nature
Wrapping Gifts with Newspapers and Magazines
Using pages from newspapers or magazines to wrap gifts can look smart and crisp, especially if you take a few moments to select a page with lots of bright colors. Or take the time to select a page that has something to do with the gift itself, such as a book review of the book you are wrapping, or a page from the finance section to wrap a wallet.
Newspaper works especially well on books and similarly shaped packages. It’s not such a good choice for irregularly shaped gifts.
Baskets, Gift Bags, and Gift Boxes
Gift baskets make wonderful holiday presentations, with contents especially chosen for the recipient. You can “hide” the gifts in the basket by wrapping them in a newspaper or burying them in tissue paper. Choose a high-quality basket that the recipient will enjoy reusing throughout the year.
Gift Bags are another solution:
More and more gifts are presented in attractive little holiday bags, which are easily reusable. Indeed, while most people don’t even think twice about rumpling up beautiful wrapping papers and tossing them, they carefully keep the gift bags.
Just be sure you store them neatly so they are in good condition for reuse. Or, your children can use them next year to make Christmas arts and crafts.
Gift Boxes are an increasingly popular variation on gift bags. These cardboard boxes can come in shapes ranging from tubes for posters to boxes usable for clothing. They are sometimes given out at high-end stores.
The store’s logo is sometimes on the box somewhere, so the store gets a bit of branding benefit (and they reduce staffing needs in a department store’s gift-wrap department). The boxes are usually festive and attractive and don’t need to be wrapped. Boxes can also be bought at stationery stores.
Recyclable Gift Bag
Creative Gift Wrap: Using Scarves and Fabric
In Japan, silk scarves are sometimes used to wrap special gifts. There’s no reason you can’t do the same.
If you happen to travel a lot, note that scarves can be bought for as little as a couple of dollars in many developing countries, especially in Asia and the Middle East. So your gift includes not only wearable wrapping paper but a souvenir from a far-off land.
Along the same lines, if you happen to sew, you probably have a collection of gift-wrap sized fabric scraps that you’ve never found a use for. Now you have a way to use them!
Reusing and Recycling Gift Wraps
With your holiday supplies, keep a Christmas scrap box of small bits of old or odd-sized wrapping papers that will be good for wrapping little items such as jewelry, wallets, or ties. Bows and trimmings can also be reused if they are in good condition.
Good quality gift wrap can also be reused. The cheap metallic paper probably won’t survive in good enough condition, but thicker papers that were carefully folded can be used more than once.
Finally, if you feel you simply must use a newspaper for a special gift, be sure it is made of post-consumer recycled paper, and that it can be recycled. At least that way, you’re doing your part to reduce Christmas waste and keep the holidays from making too much of a contribution to the town dump.
A Christmas twig tree is hung on a wall or door like a wreath or given as a gift. The natural decorations from the garden and woods change with the seasons.
Making a twig tree can be a solo project, partner endeavor, or family adventure. While nature provides an endless storehouse of decorations, human imagination generates infinite combinations and variations.
The use of natural materials to create a Christmas twig tree in December can be the inspiration to adapt the tree for every season and reason throughout the coming year.
Framework for a Twig Tree
The framework for the twig tree is made of branches from trees and shrubs found on your property or on walks in the woods. The triangular frame requires three twigs. Two or three more twigs are needed to form crossbar branches for support.
Sturdy straight hardwood twigs with bark are best. The following specimens provide good twigs but experiment with what is in your surroundings:
The size of the framework depends on the space allocated for hanging the tree. For beginners, the manageable tree size is 36 inches tall.
Assembling the Twig Tree
Lay the three long sticks in a triangle on a clean flat surface indoors or outdoors. After deciding how large the tree will be, cut twigs to the desired lengths, allowing them to overlap an inch or two. Tie the twigs together at the three corners using cord, fishing line, floral wire and tape, raffia, ribbon, rubber bands, twist ties, yarn or wire.
Space, cut, and fasten the crossbars between the two vertical sides of the triangle. These branches add to the strength of the frame and provide additional space for decorations.
The tree framework should hold together firmly when held upright. Test hang the framework at its potential site.
Natural Materials for the Twig Tree
Use your imagination, ingenuity, and the natural materials at hand to make your first tree before branching out from there.
Start by taking a collecting walk across your property with pruning shears and basket. Snip colorful cuttings from each of your most berried trees and shrubs like:
- Wax myrtle
Snip cuttings from fine long-lasting broadleaf evergreen trees and shrubs specimens including:
- Tea olive
Snip cuttings from conifers like:
Take cuttings from evergreen vines:
Collect decorative structures from the following:
- Crepe myrtle seed pods
- Golden rain tree pods
- Groundsel shrub pappus
- Lunaria pods
- Milkweed pods
- Sweet gumballs
- Sycamore balls
Trimming the Twig Tree
There are many ways to trim the tree. One way is to space clusters of the most colorful foliage and berries at all of the angles of the triangle and cross branches. Then fill in the bare spaces with greenery and pods. The flexible vines can be wound around the twig surfaces.
Or, twine plant material around the framework first. Evergreen vines work well for this. Once the frame is covered in the vine, berries or pods are hung to dangle from the crossbars.
Having the framework on a flat surface allows you to arrange, rearrange, and tweak your design before fastening all with string or yarn for the final display.
Experiment with a variety of materials and hanging methods. Herb gardeners tie small bundles of dried or fresh herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage to the frame.
Flower gardeners make an everlasting twig tree with bundles of dried flowers including babies’ breaths, candytuft, celosia, globe amaranth, hydrangea, lavender, statice, strawflower, and yarrow.
If the twig trees destination is a kitchen, then garlic, dried peppers, and dried ears of strawberry popcorn are appropriate decorations.
Another scent for a Christmas twig tree is citrus. Make dried lemon, lime and orange pinwheel ornaments sprinkled with cinnamon or studded with cloves and hung from the crossbars with ribbon.
Variations on a Twig Tree
The twig tree is an excellent activity for students learning to identify plants and plant parts. The activity also is one to teach elements of design in art class.
The simple triangle twig tree design with the use of scented natural materials is an activity visually impaired students can successfully participate in.
Making twig trees is a fun and frugal activity for families and for children’s parties. Provide the tools, twigs, and materials for guests to make their own twig trees to take home to hang.
Whether you make a twig tree as an alternative to an evergreen Christmas tree or an additional holiday decoration, it is a versatile natural craft for all ages and many occasions throughout the New Year.
- Haynie, Don. “Christmas Crafting.” The Herb Companion. December/January 1995/1996. pgs. 60-63.
- LeVan, Marthe. Nature Style. New York: Lark Books, 2002.
A rain garden is a beautiful way to clean the water that runs from a lawn to sewers and eventually into lakes, rivers, and oceans.
A rain garden consists of a depression in a lawn planted with native, deep-rooted plants. If positioned near a source of runoff, the garden will collect that runoff and use it rather than wasting it by sending it down to sewers.
This cuts down on wasted water but also prevents chemicals such as fertilizers, salt, and pet waste from reaching waterways.
How Rain Gardens Work
Because they are planted in a depression, rain gardens collect rainwater and any water that flows toward them–roof runoff, water from sprinklers that are not taken up by lawns, etc. A properly placed rain garden will capture a large portion of this water, which will soak into the ground.
The deep roots of the plants in a rain garden send this water far down into the soil, where it can be used by nearby plants. The deep roots also break up hard soil.
These plants also break up pollutants and make them inert. They sustain microbial populations that aid in biofiltration, a process by which small organisms degrade pollutants. One small rain garden can handle all the water and pollutants from one yard.
Rain Garden Overflow Channel
Benefits of Rain Gardens
Not only do rain gardens clean runoff and reduce wastewater and pollutants, but they can also be beautiful. A gardener can choose a wide variety of flowering plants and grasses to create a rain garden.
Because they consist of native plants, birds and beneficial insects will also find them hospitable and are likely to take up residence in rain gardens.
Rain Garden Inflow Channel
How to Plant a Rain Garden
Rain gardens will look different depending on the climate and region where they are planted. A rain garden will generally do best in the sun and will be most efficient when located in a natural depression in the ground. It should also be located at least ten feet away from the house to prevent flooding into the house.
Native plants are best for a rain garden because they are best suited to the local climate. Gardeners should check local guides to determine what plants are native to their area. Rain garden plants should tolerate both wet and dry conditions, as the amount of water they receive may fluctuate.
Gardeners should dig the garden four to eight inches deep and then add a few inches of compost. Plants should be about one foot apart from each other but can be arranged in any way.
Once the garden is planted, two to three inches of mulch should be added on top of the soil to keep out weeds and retain moisture. The new plants may need watering for two weeks if it does not rain.
These instructions may vary by climate, so this is only a general guide.
Many communities, including Maplewood, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington, and Atlanta, Georgia, have created rain garden programs and policies. But anyone with a lawn and a source of water, either rainwater or runoff, can create a rain garden. Rain gardens provide an opportunity to eliminate one’s environmental impact due to chemical runoff.