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Cloth gift bags beat out paper

A few years ago, one of my sisters awed the family on Christmas morning with some beautiful cloth gift bags she had made. She only got around to making a couple, but these ornate bags set off a new mission in our family — to switch from paper wrapping to fabric.

While we haven’t taken the time to make many cloth gift bags (it’s always on the to-do list at this time of year), we have amassed a collection of pretty and festive fabrics.

Over the last few years, I’ve lucked out at thrift stores, finding fabric with poinsettia patterns, and some pretty velvets. I’ve added these to my mother’s stash of shiny fabrics that we now use as gift wrap, supplemented a little by using up our stash of paper.

There are several reasons I love this new family enterprise, fast becoming a tradition. Of course, there is the obvious, that reusable cloth is better for the environment than disposable gift wrap. However, my family always kept our holiday trash footprint pretty small by reusing paper.

This meant we’ve been using the same pieces of wrapping paper for years.

We’d use new paper only when absolutely necessary, more often opting for paper that we’d painstakingly taken off presents multiple times before. As these pieces started to wear out with little rips and tape marks, reusable sections got smaller, and we had to get creative with bow placement.

I appreciate this habit. But the fabrics look good as new, year after year.

Even with the compulsion to save every scrap of paper that might be reusable, my family still saw a spike in our waste creation over the holidays.

This is very typical. According to statistics I found online, in the United States about 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper end up in landfills each year during holiday time. This is part of a much larger amount of holiday waste, which includes food waste and gift packaging.

I had trouble finding primary sources for these statistics — but even if they are off a bit, it’s a lot of wrapping paper waste.

Some wrapping paper can be recycled — but I also read that the inks on those can create a lot of extra sludge in the recycling process. Shiny or sparkly papers can’t be recycled. Plastic ribbons end up in landfills of course, and too much tape on wrapping paper can contaminate recycling.

To increase chances of gift wrap getting recycled, non-metallic and not overly printed paper is probably the way to go.

I do hope to make a few cloth gift bags this year. Sans bags, there are still fun ways to wrap presents in cloth. Even oddly shaped items can look pretty wrapped in fabric tied with cloth ribbons.

I’ve found plenty of inspiration for fabric and other eco-friendly wrapping ideas in online crafting blogs. One, which I haven’t used yet, is to use your kiddo’s art work to wrap their gifts. Others suggest using newspapers, which I’ve done, or paper bags.

Instead of plastic ribbons, use cloth or even twine and add some evergreen branch sprigs instead of bows. I did this one year, but for once I managed to wrap many presents a few weeks ahead of Christmas, which meant that the sprigs were a little dry and crumbly by the big day. If I try this again, I may wait to add these finishing touches until Christmas eve.

However, you wrap gifts this season, I hope your holidays are merry and bright.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email