Five million tons.
Five MILLION TONS! That's how much trash we Americans produce between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That's 25 percent more than we generate during a similar chunk of time, the rest of the year.
Some of that trash might not be avoidable. I mean, if your kids want the hottest new robotic hamster complete with his three pals and their plastic habitat, and if it all comes wrapped in cardboard and shrink-wrapped cellophane, what are you going to do? You've got to buy it, packaging and all.
You can lessen your guilt by recycling the cardboard. That's a start.
But consider, also, not buying any new wrapping paper, ribbon, or gift tags this year. That's right: none!
With a little creative thinking and planning ahead, you can do it, whether you are the typical American household with 2.3 children, or a starving graduate student, or a senior citizen.
First of all, start collecting cloth ribbons--not paper ribbons. I'm talking satin, velvet, grosgrain, French-wired, embroidered and so on. Unlike paper ones, cloth ribbons can be used over and over and over again. If they are wrinkled, all they need is a little touch with the iron, or a little steaming over a teakettle, to make them like new again.
So start looking for real ribbons. Look at yard sales and estate sales, craft stores and yardage shops. Beautiful cloth ribbons come free if you receive a premium box of chocolates (like Godiva or Fran's--Mrs. Obama's favorite), or upscale jewelry (like Tiffany's), or if you have friends with really good taste. Save the ribbons! Soon you'll have a boxful to choose from:
Also, start looking at stuff around your house with a new eye. Ask yourself, Could I package something in this? Could I wrap this around a present? Would this be a fun bit of bling on the top of a bow?
Like this plastic vegetable netting, below. Originally, this stuff held cherry tomatoes and shallots. Cut off the ends of the netting, and toss it in a closet or a box you've set aside for gift wrapping.
If you knit or crochet, you'll have leftover bits of yarn. If you sew, you'll have leftover cloth. Don't toss it--save it for making bows or wrapping gifts:
If you can't bear to be without a new spool or two of sparkle for the holidays, then buy something reeeeeally sparkly and use it in small amounts, like a condiment and not a main course. I bought the silvery stuff and the blue/gold stuff several years ago, and they're still going strong! The gold skinny ribbon, btw, is from a box of See's chocolates. Eat the chocolates, save the stretchy gold thingies!
Start looking at magazine ads and circulars with a new set of eyes. These will make beautiful wrapping paper for small gifts. What fun would it be to give somebody a watch, wrapped in that gold wristwatch paper! Watch for all three of these ads, appearing below, totally tranformed:
Newspaper is a very cheap source of wrapping paper. (Just be careful not to smear the ink.) Hang on to certain sections with eye-catching colors. Or set aside the sports page for your football nut, the food section for your chef friend:
All these ideas I'm giving you require nothing much more to pull off than a pair of scissors, some tape, and--if you want to spare your manicure--a nifty tool called a bone folder, which is used for making knife-sharp creases in wrapping paper and such. That's my bone folder, below:
Oops! Not pictured above is a hole punch, essential to one of my favorite wrapping jobs. Take a plain paper lunch bag, pop your gift inside it, fold over the top and punch two holes. Thread a pretty cloth ribbon through the holes, like this:
Tie a bow, add a little something sparkly (this is where my spool of silver stars comes in handy), and you've got a festive look for practically nothing:
Remember the magazine ad with the gold watches, above? Here it is, wrapped around a small gift, with a bit of ribbon in matching shades to underscore the bling. If you have it, tuck a tiny fabric flower in the bow:
Remember the ad from a Mexican fast-food place, a couple photos above? I reinforced the red and green in the ad for a Christmas-y look. That's fresh rosemary, tucked into the red satin bow. It smells divine. Many woody herbs work well for this, as would fresh lavender (for those of you in sunny climates) or a sprig of an evergreen (for those of you in colder lands).
Sometimes the magazine ads are so arresting, a little restraint is in order. Here I used one of those stretchy gold ribbons off a See's candy box as the only adornment. Wouldn't want to cover up that gorgeous...wrapping paper:
And the veggie bags, shown near the top of this post? Wrap one around a small package, add some sparkly twists to tie them shut, plus one on top for extra bling, and you're done:
Once you start re-using things like vegetable mesh, suddenly all sorts of things look like potential gift wrap/containers. Think of toilet paper or paper-towel tubes, empty oatmeal boxes, and cannisters from mixed nuts. Or carefully wash out an empty ice cream carton, and you have a great package for a small gift. The graphics are so good, all you need to do is tie on a ribbon:
I've given out many home-made cookies and candies in these beautiful tea tins, below. Of course, it helps that I drink tea frequently, and that I save every empty cannister. But start now, and you'll have a number by this time next year:
Here, all I did was add a French-wired ribbon in a coordinating shade. How pretty is that?
Some other wrapping-paper ideas: Brown-paper grocery bags, turned inside out. The tissue paper that gifts usually nestle in. Old maps--either those languishing in your car's glove box, or dusty ones available for a song at used-book stores and garage sales. Scarves--new or used. Tea towels for medium-sized gifts. Beach towels for big gifts. Children's art--but be SURE the child agrees to this first, so you don't accidentally use a beloved masterpiece.
So, here's today's gift-wrapping haul. It's beginning to look festive around here:
Tomorrow: Some ideas for almost-no-cost gift tags!