Wrapping It Up

Creative Ways to Give Your Holiday Paper Use the Cut

There’s nothing like the holidays to really crank up the paper frenzy. And a frenzy it is: 20 years after the advent of the computer age, Americans use more paper than ever. Though we constitute only five percent of the global population, we consume 30 percent of its paper, according to the Worldwatch Institute. And although a record 45 percent of our paper supply was recovered for recycling last year, we still trash more paper annually than is consumed by all of the people in China.

December offers no relief to the world’s forests—there are suddenly hundreds of cards to mail and presents to wrap. It’s no surprise there’s a lengthy paper trail: According to Liz Borkowski, Co-op America’s WoodWise program manager, we gobble 25 percent more paper between Thanksgiving and January 1 than any other time of year. “Our paper consumption right now is unsustainable,” she says.

There is no better time than the feverish holiday season to set an example for family and friends. Send electronic cards. Purchase recycled or tree-free stationery. Make your own paper. Alternatives to the typical holiday paper blitz will save literally tons of natural resources: Up to 20 trees and 7,000 gallons of water for every ton of recycled paper, to be exact. You’ll be reducing the demand for energy, and the air pollution it creates, too. It takes 60 percent less energy to make paper from recycled materials than it does to manufacture it from virgin wood pulp.

Green Greetings

Many retail stores carry recycled-content holiday cards like that of Recycled Paper Greetings (800-777-9494, www.recycledpapergreetings.com). Organizations like the National Wildlife Federation (800-477-5560, http://catalog.nwf.org/holidaycards.html) often sell nature-themed holiday greetings with images that range from polar bears and California redwoods to Japanese cranes. Most are in the $12.95 to $17.95 range for a box of 20 cards. Syracuse Cultural Workers Tools for Change (315-474-1132, www.syrculturalworkers.org) sells a colorful variety of cards for whatever holiday you celebrate—whether it be Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or the Solstice. Cards and envelopes (between $8.95 and $10.95 for a box of 12) are high postconsumer content recycled paper and even the packaging is biodegradable cellophane.

To avoid paper cards altogether, try one of the online electronic greeting card services, most of which are free. Blue Mountain (www.bluemountain.com), iReachOut (www.ireachout.com/ecard_index.cfm), Care2 (www.care2.com) and 123 Greetings (www.123greetings.com) all offer festive holiday messages. In addition to sending your chosen card out over e-mail, some services (such as iReachOut) will also deliver a small contribution to a non-profit organization of your choice.


Only about one percent of paper manufactured in the United States is currently derived from non-wood sources, but if you want to steer clear of any kind of wood-derived paper product, you still have plenty of tree-free alternatives to choose from. In an admirable feat of ingenuity, the paper industry has figured out how to make smooth, strong fibers from the most unlikely sources, everything from wheat straw to blue jeans.

The Real Earth Environmental Company in Malibu, California (310-457-6331, www.treeco.com) sells paper made from kenaf, a plant that can grow up to 14 feet tall in five months and requires only small amounts of water and minimal pesticides. The kenaf paper-making process uses less energy than paper made from trees—plus, it’s chlorine-free. Kenaf cards are available from Acorn Designs (607-387-3424) and Eco-Scape Images (800-903-2334).
For an even more exotic tree-free material, check out Real Earth’s banana fiber or recycled money papers. Pinzote, the stalk of the banana tree, was once dumped into Costa Rican rivers, but is now made into smooth, faintly speckled paper. And in the United States, the Federal Reserve used to end up with 13 million pounds of worn-out currency each year, some of which now mixes with recovered cotton waste to create a rich-textured, watermarked paper.

New Mexico’s Watson Paper (505-242-9351, www.denim-paper.com) carries stationery made from 100-percent recycled denim. (Its motto: “Our paper doesn’t grow on trees.”) Ever-versatile industrial hemp can be churned into excellent paper products; companies such as Living Tree Paper and Crane & Co. carry hemp papers highly rated by Earth Island Institute’s ReThink Paper, an organization that promotes alternatives to wood use (www.rethinkpaper.org).

D.H. Productions Papermill & Press (888-343-4263, www.dhproductions.net) also has great holiday offerings. The New York company fashions textile industry scraps and its own handmade paper into books, photo albums, journals, ornaments and stationery. For custom orders, choose from handmade papers that include collards, green tea leaves or onion skins. Stationery sets are made from junk mail or old jeans.

On a Personal Note

Many green thinkers now take their stationery into their own hands with papermaking kits, like that sold by Arbour Environmental Shoppe (613-567-3168, www.arbour.on.ca) in Ottawa, Canada for $12. Such kits are a fun way to create your own environmentally sustainable greeting cards and writing papers which, incidentally, also make great gifts. (If you’re running short on time, the company carries cards handmade from recycled rags and imprinted with leaf pigment, as well.) The Paper Recycling Working Group (920-832-9101, www.prwg.com/papermaking.html) sells papermaking kits for individuals and classrooms ($54), and Arnold Grummer’s Complete Guide to Easy Papermaking ($29), which offers step-by-step directions for creating simple or elaborate papers.

Gaiam makes holiday wrapping papers that are 100 percent recycled and have more than 90 percent post-consumer content. 

When it’s finally time to wrap all those sustainably shopped and crafted presents, check out BuyGiftPaper.com. A 24-inch by 100-foot roll of recycled wrapping paper is $12.95 and comes in a rainbow of colors. Recycled-content wrapping paper is also available from Gaiam (800-869-3446, www.gaiam.com), and Plant-a-Tree gift tags from Bloomin’ Flower Cards (800-894-9185, www.bloomin.com) will sprout blue spruces when the holidays are over.

With a little creativity, you can easily make your own gift wrap out of various kinds of paper you have lying around the house. Some suggestions from WoodWise: old road maps, pieces of fabric, colorful pictures from magazines and calendars, and newspaper decorated with images from old greeting cards. contact: For more tips on reducing paper consumption during the holidays, check out Co-op America’s “Celebrating WoodWise Holidays” website, www.coopamerica.org/woodwise/wholidays.htm. You can get a free WoodWise Consumer Guide by calling (800) 58-GREEN.