Furoshiki Wrappings 1

Megan Hall: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Megan Hall. 

Today, we have a question from a listener named Susan. She wants to know about gift wrapping: 

“Is it better for the environment to wrap Christmas gifts in fabric you can use over again rather than paper?”

We had Harrison Katz and Juliana Merullo from our Possibly team look into this question. 

Harrison Katz: Hi, Megan!

Juliana Merullo: Hey there! 

Megan Hall: So, should I be stocking up on paper or fabric this holiday season? 

Harrison Katz: Well, wrapping paper is definitely the more popular choice. An estimated 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper is produced in the U.S. each year.

Megan Hall: Woah! That’s a lot more than I thought. But most of it is recycled, right?

Juliana Merullo: Actually, about half of it ends up in landfills. While paper in general is very recyclable, wrapping paper is often an exception. Many wrapping papers have metallic finishes, glitters, or ribbons. Those are not recyclable.

Harrison Katz: In fact, putting too much of that metallic wrapping paper in the recycling bin can contaminate an entire truckload of recycling, which means everything in that load has to be thrown away.

Megan Hall: What’s the environmental impact of just normal paper without metallics or glitters? 

Juliana Merullo: Normally, making a pound of wrapping paper emits about 3 and a half pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Harrison Katz: Recycling a sheet of paper saves about 60 percent of those emissions. That’s good, but still not 100 percent. 

Furoshiki Gift w Flowers” by Olive Oil Lady is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Megan Hall: And how do those numbers compare to fabric?

Juliana Merullo: Present wrapping with fabric is actually a lot more common than you’d think. It’s a Japanese tradition known as Furoshiki, which has been practiced for more than a millennium.

Harrison Katz: Furoshiki fabrics are usually silk or cotton, but can also be polyester.

Megan Hall: And which of those materials is best? 

Juliana Merullo: They’re about the same in terms of emissions – roughly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide per pound of wrapping, so about 5 or 6 six times as much as paper.  

Harrison Katz: That means fabric can be a good alternative, but only if you’re going to reuse it for many years.

Megan Hall: Paper is better than reusable fabric? That’s pretty counterintuitive.

Juliana Merullo: That’s only if you’re talking about NEW fabric. Re-using fabrics like old table cloths gives them a second life and doesn’t create new emissions. 

Harrison Katz: It’s always better to repurpose than recycle, just like it’s better to recycle than throw something away.

Juliana Merullo: In fact, a lot of holiday items can be tricky to recycle, like tissue paper and some holiday cards.

Harrison Katz: Tissue paper doesn’t have the same contamination or greenhouse gas emissions as decorated wrapping paper, but the paper fibers are too thin to be used again, so it can’t be recycled.

Juliana Merullo: And while cards can usually be recycled, they often are coated with glitter. Glitter is definitely something to avoid.

Megan Hall: So, what do we tell Susan?

Harrison Katz: Re-using materials is the best choice. If she likes the look of fabric, Susan can go through her closets for old clothing or pillowcases that can be turned into festive wrapping!

Juliana Merullo: If she prefers paper, she can try decorating old paper bags from the supermarket.

Harrison Katz: If re-using is too much work, her best choice is buying recycled wrapping paper, just make sure to avoid the kind with metallic finishes or glitter.

Juliana Merullo: And for tissue paper and holiday cards, definitely reuse as much of the tissue paper as possible, and purchase holiday cards made only with paper.

Megan Hall: Great! Thanks, Harrison and Juliana! 

That’s it for today. For more information, or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the public’s radio dot org slash possibly. Or subscribe to us wherever you get your podcasts. 

You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter- at “ask possibly” 

Possibly is a co-production of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative, and the Public’s Radio.

Furoshiki Wrappings 1” by vaneea is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Make Me: Fabric Gift Bags” by decor8 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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