Plan to Re-Use When Wrapping and Shipping

August 13, 2010 View all articles in Re-Use-It

Gift wrap, cardboard boxes, packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and loose fill chips can all be reused, reduced, or replaced with greener alternatives. Sure, recycling is great, but unless you live near a Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM), you won't be able to recycle shipping items like bubble wrap or Styrofoam. And recycling alone doesn't eliminate the environmental impact caused by the production and degradation of these items.

But by reusing, you avoid the production of new items and reduce the amount of products already consumed; and by using greener alternatives, you eliminate both production and consumption. This is why we've come up with some suggestions and instructions for reusing, reducing, and replacing your gift-wrapping and shipping materials.

Re-Use Gift Wrap

Americans spends roughly $2.7 billion on gift wrap each year. The entire gross domestic product (GDP) of many countries in Africa and Asia isn't even that much! It's estimated that if each family reused two feet of holiday ribbon each year, the amount saved would equal thirty-eight thousand miles: a quantity large enough to tie a bow around the planet.

  • Your grandmother had the right idea when she insisted everyone open their gifts cautiously so the wrapping could be ironed and reused. But the less time-consuming option for our busy schedules is to purchase reusable gift bags and boxes.
  • Brown Paper BagWrap gifts in comics, maps, coloring pages, or wrapping made from recycled paper.
  • Cut up a plain, brown paper grocery bag and use it as gift wrap.
  • Cut up used greeting or holiday cards for gift tags.
  • Use scarves, hair ribbons, yarn, or hemp twine to secure gifts.
  • Visit a website like Green Field Paper Company or Nashville Wraps to purchase from their selection of tree-free and 100 percent post-consumer gift wraps.
  • Give two gifts instead of one: put a gift inside a jewelry box, flower pot, basket, or vase.
  • If the gift is staying local, avoid wrapping altogether.
  • At the very least, stop buying nonrecyclable wrapping paper printed with petroleum-based inks and dyes.

Re-Use Shipping Materials

More than one billion overnight shipping boxes and envelopes are used every year. If just one percent of those materials were saved, it would be enough packaging for every child under the age of five in the United States to have two holiday gifts. That's why it's important to think about how you will send items as you shop for them, so you can choose the smaller and lighter options, and thus use fewer shipping materials. It's also important to keep shipping materials as reusable as possible both before sending and after receiving. 

  • Postal BoxesBrown and white postal boxes stand a greater chance of being reused if they aren't covered in custom print or someone else's handwriting. Use a peelable address label or a label that encloses documents so the next user can easily remove it and extend the life of the box.
  • Nobody wants to use a torn up, battered postal box. So when you receive one in good condition, open it by cutting along the tape instead of ripping open the bottom.
  • To keep the boxes you want to reuse in good condition, disassemble and store them carefully to avoid crushing edges and weakening strength. This is best done by stacking empty boxes flat and full boxes with evenly.
  • Bubble WrapWhen you pack items in bubble wrap, avoid using excessive amounts of tape. Otherwise, the recipient will have to cut through the bubble wrap instead of the tape and effectively discontinue its reusability.
  • If the bubble wrap does become stuck together or torn, simply scrunch it up to serve as loose fill that will add protection within boxes.
  • Store bubble wrap away from dust and moisture to keep it in good, reusable condition.
  • Extend the life of your recycled or biodegradable loose fill peanuts and chips by putting them in a plastic bin that you keep in a cool, dark environment.
  • Instead of bubble wrap or loose fill peanuts and chips, fill voids and provide cushioning for your shipments by using shredded waste paper.
  • Polystyrene packing peanuts and chips are made from non-renewable petroleum products and aren't biodegradable. So replace them with starch-based, biodegradable packing peanuts that dissolve in water.
  • A ripped up, broken down postal box can still be reused if it's shredded and made into loose fill or recycled. Most mailing boxes are made from 100 percent corrugated Kraft board and are suitable for either curb collection or industrial packaging recycling schemes.
  • If you don't have room to store your reusable shipping material, make sure you give it to someone who needs it, instead of putting it in the garbage. To donate plastic loose fill, call the Peanut Hotline at 800-828-2214, or visit the Plastic Loose Fill Council's website to find a collection site near you. You can also create an advertisement on Free Cardboard Boxes' website to donate used boxes to people in your area.

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