Personal Finance

Get creative with your cast-offs: sustainable wrapping for food gifts

I love making food gifts – jam, biscuits, chocolates and the like – but how can I wrap them sustainably?
Emily, Stroud
“We love this time of year, but packaging waste does rear its ugly head,” say Anshu Ahuja and Renee Williams, the duo behind DabbaDrop in London, a vegan takeaway that delivers by bike in eco packaging. And they’re not kidding: according to specialists Challenge Boxes & Packaging, “in the UK at Christmas time, we use a staggering 338,251 tonnes of cardboard packaging, 35,877 tonnes of plastic and 269,423 miles of wrapping paper”.

So when it comes to homemade gifts, the thing to remember is that new isn’t always better. First, look at what you’ve already got around – bits of fabric or reusable cotton cloths, say, can easily be turned into wrapping, Ahuja and Williams say, and you can “have fun using different layers and colours”. Newspaper or sheets torn from your, ahem, favourite supplement will also see you right. “The joy of that is they’ll get a free recipe, too,” says Sadhbh Moore, co-author, with Abi Aspen Glencross, of Sustainable Kitchen. And if you’ve got any greaseproof paper to hand, twirl squares of the stuff around a tower of biscuits, for instance – “Much as you would with a bottle of wine,” Moore explains – for a good plastic-free alternative to clingfilm although, granted, that does come with a single-use issue.

Alternatively, Moore suggests repurposing paper bags from pastry purchases, especially if they have “that plastic film in the middle”, which makes them ideal for homemade granola and biscuits, “so you can see what’s going on”. The same goes for those tea boxes with windows; Moore then “collages over the branding” (although that does take a bit more effort). If you are having a Blue Peter moment, however (or are looking to keep children entertained), Moore suggests making an origami box: “I’ve done this with children at the Story Garden in King’s Cross, where we made gyoza and then made origami boxes to take them home in.” This strategy could also be applied to homemade chocolates, Moore says, “using newspaper, old sugar paper, card or paper for the boxes – no Sellotape, no plastic”.

If your budget allows, avoid the pile-up altogether by “making the packaging part of the gift”, suggest Ahuja and Williams, whose reusable dabbas are “versatile and make a wonderful present”. The likes of chutney, jam and homemade booze (“Foraged sloe gin or walnut liqueur are fun to make,” the pair say) should go into reused jars and bottles – just be sure to sterilise them first. And if you’re worried about flavour contamination (when reusing an empty pickle jar for, say, jam or biscuits), Moore suggests “cutting a disc of greaseproof paper and using it as a barrier between the potentially pickley lid and the contents”.

When it comes to securing your gifts, Ahuja and Williams swap tape (“It contains plastic”) for string, although you could wrap gifts with cloth instead (“It’s so simple to tie”). Then, to make things more festive, decorate “with foraged items such as leaves, dehydrated citrus, dried flowers, seed heads and herb sprigs”. A homemade tag wouldn’t go amiss, either: “Get the kids involved and have them illustrate tissue from any recent deliveries.” The very definition of Santa’s little helpers.


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