DIY 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

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How did I get the idea for DIY 3D wrapping paper made from upcycled shopping bags?

I am a trash panda.

DIY Zero Waste 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

If my messy and excessive eyeliner didn’t give it away already, I love shiny things, I will run away with unattended food, and yes, I will shamelessly rescue things out of your trash or dumpster dive if the object in question interests me.

When this beautiful Ann Taylor LOFT shopping bag wandered into my life, I saw potential. Then upon inspection, I saw the “LOFT loves the environment… please reuse this bag, and then recycle it” stamp on the bottom. Oh Ann, you saucy minx. Game on.

I could have just used it as wrapping paper, but if you didn’t notice with last year’s DIY Eco-friendly Wrapping Paper From Books post, I get really extra when Christmas is involved. And I’ll stand by that, actually, from a slow living perspective. Christmas isn’t necessarily about what you give someone, it’s about the experience you give from start to finish. A thoughtfully wrapped gift, something visually inspiring or unexpected can add so much to the gift experience, and nothing compares to just being present, to showing you want the other person to feel special and loved. (More on that in a later post.)

DIY Zero Waste 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

In addition to my thrift store wrapping paper post last year, I also wrote DIY Brown Bag Gift Wrap 4 Ways, where we delved into quick and easy ways to upgrade your basic brown grocery bag (often made from recycled paper) into wrapping paper. I mention this because both of those posts laid the creative foundation for this year’s DIY eco-friendly wrapping paper post.

I wanted to use this beautiful paper on a couple of gifts so I needed to splice it with some paper from a brown shopping bag. Thanks to a bookmaking class I took back at Notre Dame (thanks, Jean Dibble, wherever you are!), I’ve learned to think of paper not just as paper but as the jumping off point for 3D possibilities. I had also been gifted this tiny rubber horse, so thus… an Ann Taylor winter wonderland was born!

Why does this matter? More on this after the DIY, but as the Stanford University Recycling website reminds us, “If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in re-used materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.” 

Let’s get started.

DIY Zero Waste 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

DIY 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

What You Will Need

  • One decorative or colorful paper shopping bag (logos are fine)

  • One brown grocery bag

  • Scissors

  • Small piece of cardstock

  • Pen or pencil

  • X-acto knife

  • Small paint brush

  • White acrylic, tempura or casein paint (casein is derived from a milk-based protein)

  • Cutting surface for X-acto knives (or cutting board)

  • Clear packaging tape

  • Small figurine (optional) and hot glue

DIY Zero Waste 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

Instructions for DIY 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags

  1. If needed, iron your bags to reduce wrinkles, taking care not to scorch or burn your paper.

  2. Cut along a seam on the side of your bag, then cut along all bottom folds to remove the bottom of your bag. This should leave you with one large rectangle of paper. Separate handles from the base paper, if possible, or cut a strip along the length of your paper to retain rectangle shape but remove the handle portion of the bags.

  3. Flip decorative paper pretty-side-down and trace the rough outline of the top of your box with the pen. Cut out the shape and tape to the top of your box, pre-creasing the paper where it will fold over the edges, if you’re planning to fold it over. (If you’re dealing with studier paper, just cut a shape to lay on the top of your box without overlapping the sides. You will all be fine.) Secure with small pieces of clear packing tape. The packing tape uses a stronger adhesive and will stand up to the resistance of any thicker paper much better than regular tape.

  4. Lay your brown paper pretty-side-down on your cutting surface. Trace the outline of the top of your package, then set the package aside. Take your small piece of cardstock and cut out the outline of a Christmas tree. Lay your tiny Christmas tree inside the square you’ve drawn on your brown paper and trace trees as desired, BUT do not finish the trunk. Draw only the SIDES of the tree trunk. The bottom of the tree trunk will NOT be cut, allowing the silhouette to remain attached to the final wrapping paper.

  5. Switching over to your X-acto knife, cut along the outlines of your trees, keeping to the inside of your pen lines as much as you can. (Don’t sweat the pen marks too much, you can cover them with paint after.)

  6. Then wrap your package, keeping the top of the box inside your pre-drawn square and taking a moment to pinch along any resistant folds with your fingers. Secure the wrapping paper with packaging tape.

  7. Gently pop your trees out of your paper using your X-acto knife or fingernail. Crease firmly along the base of the trunk to make them stand up.

  8. Using only light dabs of paint, add snow where desired. Glue down figurine, let dry, and enjoy. Remember to snip away and throw out all tape before recycling your DIY 3D wrapping paper from upcycled shopping bags.

Ok, Reese, it’s pretty… but why does this actually matter? Can’t you just recycle normal wrapping paper?

No, actually, you often can’t.

What? Why?

  1. Tape. Tape is plastic and often renders wrapping paper unfit for recycling. It’s too complicated and too problematic for recycling centers to process this.

  2. Plastic. As Recycling Now reminds us, “Wrapping paper is often dyed, laminated and/or contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver coloured shapes, glitter, plastics etc which cannot be recycled.”

  3. Quality. Finally, a lot of wrapping paper is too thin and contains fibers of too low a quality to yield viable recycling material.

Remember those stats at the top of the post? If every person skipped the wrapping paper and thought creatively instead, we could save 45,000 football fields worth of gift wrap trash.

And that, friends, is what I really want for Christmas. Get out there and get your trash panda on!

DIY Zero Waste 3D Wrapping Paper from Upcycled Shopping Bags