When wrapping a gift for a friend with an autumn birthday a few weeks back, I snapped some pictures of my method. I'm not on top of it enough to have wrapped holiday gifts yet - but when I do, this is close to how I'll be approaching it.
The most zero waste gift wrap, of course, is no gift wrap. But I've found the more that zero waste looks like austerity, the more I push back against it, unwilling to give up some of the things make my life a bit brighter and better. (Gift wrap, mascara, soba noodles. Etc.). Since my goal is changing habits for the long term, not making frantic overhauls that won't last, I've found the space in my zero waste routines to wear mascara, eat plastic-packaged soba noodles, and wrap gifts, and I'm the happier for it.
Of course, that doesn't mean throwing in the towel, buying a few huge rolls of plastic-packaged wrapping paper, and wrapping gifts normally. When have I ever done anything around here normally? (Side note: that shiny wrapping paper is typically not recyclable. !!!). Instead, I rely on reusable and compostable materials to wrap gifts in a way that aligns with my ethos. There are lots of ways to do it - here's how I approached it last year - but this year, here's what I'm thinking:
Step 1: Gather supplies, with an eye toward the reused, the reusable, and the compostable. For me, this process starts much earlier in the year: I keep a box in my closet that's full of papers and supplies that come my way that feel ripe for reusing.
The paper shown here was saved from a special purchase at Elizabeth Suzann earlier this summer, tucked away because it was too good to just recycle. I also save the plain brown kraft paper that often comes with online purchases, which can be dressed up with drawings or a special ribbon or even left as is. Other ideas for reused paper that can be turned into wrappings: the pretty catalog you find in your mailbox (before you email the company to get off their mailing list), newspapers (please not any section featuring our orange-in-chief, so depressing), or gift wrapped saved from another special occasion earlier in the year.
Other supplies you might want: compostable paper washi tape, and then some ribbons or twine as the final touch. For that last part, I go with natural twine (compostable!), or otherwise, ribbons I've saved over the years from gifts given to me.
Step 2: Wrap the thing! Easy. If you don't have washi tape, you can also wrap gifts without any tape by being inventive with how you tie your twine or ribbons. Here's a little primer on that method, which I used last year.
Step 3: Make sure the recipient knows how to recycle the materials, if you think you can slip this information in without being preachy and irritating. An excited "And the tape is compostable!" or a "Here, let me recycle that" might do the trick. Taking charge of cleaning up the gift wrap on a holiday evening or morning is a good way to ensure that you can sort and save things properly, rather than letting a relative or host sweep everything pell-mell into a garbage bag.
Of course, this is just one way to wrap gifts, the way that aligns most closely with traditional gift wrapping. There are many other ways to do it, and using your inventive little mind is most of the fun. I've wrapped gifts in tea towels, reusable tote bags, bento bags, reused tissue paper, reused gift bags, furoshiki cloths, reusable cotton bulk bags. (You can find my favorites of those items linked here, in case you're in the market).