The Conscious Consumer at Christmas: Are the Days of Wrapping Paper Numbered?

wrapping paper

You can’t beat that feeling of excitement on Christmas Day when you finally get to rip open your pile of lovingly-wrapped gifts.

But what if there was an alternative to the mountains of waste that creates, with all that glittery wrapping paper going straight into the bin? Much of it isn’t even recyclable, if it includes sticky tape, plastic, dye, foil and glitter.

Robert Lockyer, a packaging entrepreneur in the luxury retail sector, believes the days of wrapping paper could soon be behind us as consumers and businesses around the world make more effort to end unnecessary waste. 

Some big businesses are leading the way. In a bid to ban micro-plastics, retail giants Waitrose and John Lewis have announced they will no longer stock Christmas crackers containing plastic toys from 2020.

And Marks & Spencer pledged that glitter would be removed from all its Christmas cards, wrapping paper, calendars and crackers this year.

Moves like these continue to have an impact on combating the environmental crisis the world is in. But should we be doing more?

Robert, the CEO of Delta Global, a luxury packaging provider for companies such as Fortnum & Mason, Ted Baker and Estee Lauder, gives us his take on the future of our much-loved festive tradition…

Why is wrapping paper such an important part of our gift-buying at Christmas?

Many of us would agree that there’s nothing like the thrill and mystery of getting a perfectly wrapped present ready for you to rip open and discover what’s inside.

“Gift-giving is associated with joyous occasions and it’s that built-up feeling of excitement that means the ‘unboxing or opening’ element which wrapping paper creates is the most important part of the experience,” said Robert.

What retail trends are driving a sustainable shift in attitudes towards festive paper and plastics?

Around 41% of UK shoppers say they choose what to buy based on a brand’s sustainability credentials and whether they match with their own values.

An ‘eco-friendly’ guide to gift wrap, published by the Metro last year, suggested recyclable alternatives to those with plastic-coated finishes; for instance, using brown postal paper, re-using old fabrics and tote bags and adding natural finishes such as dried leaves and flowers.

This added a new excitement for buyers – homemade and hand-crafted touches that were personal.

“Across many industries, we are seeing a trend in the second-hand market,” said Robert. “Last month, Selfridges partnered with Vestiaire Collective to open a permanent in-store space dedicated to pre-loved luxury fashion where you can pick up designer items at half the price.

“I predict a surge in second-hand offerings for consumers hoping to go more sustainable during the festive season. With increasing amounts of shoppers wanting different themed decorations on an annual basis, I envisage swap or spend schemes for second-hand Christmas decorations in store and online.

“As it has in the fashion industry, this will encourage the production of more high-quality items which will last longer and be used time and time again in multiple households.”

So, what is the environmental effect of wrapping paper waste?

The waste that wrapping paper creates is shocking. According to Sundale Research U.S. shoppers are spending a total $12.7 billion on gift wrap.

As well as the expense, most wrapping papers are lined with plastic. Decorative papers that include micro plastics like glitter can end up in our oceans and can be fatal to marine life and the chemicals in certain inks make them non-recyclable.

Said Robert: “Sticky tape and laminated bags and tags also contribute to the tons of unrecyclable materials which pollute our planet every December.

“It’s time for an anti-wrapping revolution. While wrapping paper might add to the anticipation and excitement of a gift, brands should consider why the original packaging cannot do this itself.”

How should retailers be adapting?

“If your brand is going to the effort of creating a sustainable product and packaging it in a recyclable or re-useable box or bag, don’t devalue that effort by leaving customers feeling the need to wrap it all up,” said Robert.

He suggested adding simple touches that make your gift stay in the hands and homes of the receiver for longer.

An artistically designed re-usable box, beautifully accessorized with a paper ribbon or 100% cotton handle can help your gift stand out, as could a cardboard gift tag with a personal message that transforms into a sustainable bauble or a plant a tree programme.

“The right packaging can guarantee your product is the first thing picked off the shelf and the most talked about item under the tree. It will ultimately do its job in removing unnecessary unrecyclable gift wrap which clogs our landfills at Christmas.”

What are the benefits to saying no to using wrapping paper?

“There will be nothing to discard, no last-minute wrapping panic, no extra cost and no guilt that you are contributing to overfilled bins and damage to the environment,” said Robert.

Picture your Christmas tree with luxuriously packaged gifts sitting below. A Tiffany blue bag pokes out beneath a box dotted with daisies, you see a bold black and white ‘C’ emblem, and a handwritten tag saying ‘Love, Ted x’.

“People should also think of further uses of this packaging, for example it could make the perfect storage décor for your dressing table, you could re-gift your box for a friend’s birthday or recycle a cotton handle to use for hanging your baubles with.

“It’s all about offering consumers a solution – led by environment, ease and experience.”