This is what one of the curling ribbons I tossed in a compost bin looked like after more than a year of composting. Not much happened. Parts of it lost their color and attracted some dirt, but otherwise there’s no sign at all of decomposition. The ribbon had defied the bacteria and other natural forces, just like plastic.
That’s because it is plastic. It’s made of polypropylene.
Who would know that? I threw it in the bin because it seemed papery, and I thought it would break down like paper. Nope. In that same batch of compost, I found a hundred little oval produce stickers, which I also thought were paper, printed with some glossy finish. It turns out most of them are made of plastic or vinyl. We just don’t know what stuff is made of, and our guesses—at least my own—are clearly wrong.
I’m pretty sure most holiday wrapping paper would compost, i.e., wouldn’t stay around for my great-great-grandchildren to find. And maybe some of the other kinds of ribbons—the ones actually made of fabric—will easily melt back into the earth.
But if I were to shop for giftwrap materials, carefully choosing matte paper and cotton ribbons, it would still be a destructive act. It’s the primary principle behind this blog: Everything mass-produced is, in the making, energy-needy, resource-stripping, and pollution-producing. On the other end—in the disposal—it’s more of the same, plus landfill-expanding, poison-leaking, and habitat-ravaging. Human habitat included.
These are, of course, abbreviated descriptions. On both ends of new stuff, the web of exploitation is complex.
We’ve been trapped into needing new stuff. There are times we can’t live or work without it. So what do we do?
Maybe start with realizing the times when we’re not trapped. I think gift wrapping qualifies as one of these times. It’s possible to just say no to buying new paper and ribbons. Because there are paper bag panels, nice cloth from clothing waste (see Post 17), old newspapers, natural string, potato stamps, pressed flowers and leaves, road-trinkets—really, almost unlimited ways to hide a gift’s identity beautifully before opening time. Most don’t require any special creativity. They can involve fun, and kids, and time, but they don’t have to take more time than new wrapping—they could eliminate shopping for that stuff, and save time.
Check the house, the storage shed, and even the streets, for suitable paper and ties —I even find rolls of tape fairly often—that could function as a wrap for your gifts. These are the artist’s materials. Haven’t you found that creativity is only stifled by a blank canvas? I’m always more inspired by limiting myself to what I find (Post 21). Standard paints and white surfaces don’t bring out my creative juices. Michelangelo used them, and Rembrandt, and Van Gogh—who wants to follow their acts? Creative gift-wrapping is exactly right for the creativity-challenged because found materials “speak,” and all you have to do is listen and follow.
If that doesn’t happen, have a look at these two sites for ideas:
You may have leftover paper and ribbon from years past. I sure do. I’ve saved cards I especially like, and paper from big gifts, but I’ve also been given ribbon and wrapping paper by friends who have moved away, tenants who left it for me, etc.—so much, in fact, that I donated a ton of it to a disabled-artist studio and still have too much. I mean, is this stuff like clothing, where everyone has too much and can’t figure out how to dispose of it? I want to use it up soon, so I can indulge in the more enjoyable challenge of finding my own—get to a place where “new wrapping sucks.” There’s no sense in throwing it all away because, as we all know, there is no “away.”
I wonder, though—what if I were to use a nice bunch of the inherited curling ribbon, and make a big swirly ball of it for the top of some friend’s present—and she knows it’s made of polypropylene? What if she knows that the shimmering ball will never return to the soil? Will she feel like the gift (however perfect it may be) came wrapped in a curse?
Maybe I should try to use up all that ribbon this year. Before the word gets out.