V&A Dundee

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Seasonal Staples: Wrapping paper

'Tis the season to explore some of our favourite festive traditions through the lens of design. Whether you rip it off instantly or remove it carefully, wrapping paper is an important part of the celebrations. We challenged Lauren Morsley to design a wrap that you wouldn’t throw away.

Another year goes by and it seems as if Christmas jingles chase after you earlier and earlier as people start to prepare for the festivities and old traditions arise again.

There are many exciting things about the Christmas period, like decorating the tree, eating lots of food, having much needed time off work and, of course, tearing open wrapped gifts! However, with the current level of much-needed awareness around the climate crisis, I think it’s vital that we take a deeper look at our relationship with traditional Christmas tropes such as wrapping paper and consider their often-overlooked impact on our environment.

Wrapping paper goes hand in hand with festivities and we get through a lot of it! In the UK alone we use and discard around 227,000 miles of Christmas wrapping paper each year. The ecological impact of this is overwhelming, especially as a lot of wrapping paper is non-recyclable (unbeknown to consumers).

The joy of unwrapping a gift is something that will always be a part of Christmas. I love to wrap up my presents for people to add something special to the experience of giving and receiving gifts. However, I am aware that small changes in how we wrap can play an important role in helping the environment.

Some companies are taking steps forward to combat this waste by providing alternative and reusable options in a bid to encourage more people to make appropriate choices and consider their buying habits to support and grow a more sustainable industry.

Colourful image showing a variety of figures partaking in many different festive activities. A large Christmas tree can be seen in the middle and figures fill the image all around it in this bustling scene
  • Lauren's wrap design

With this project I looked at different ways to develop a wrapping paper design that could be more environmentally viable. Instead of a repeat pattern I decided to create a festive scene filled with people enjoying Christmas traditions, focusing on themes that make the season special: love, family, friends and good food.

When the present is wrapped up in the design you can’t see the whole image, so this encourages people to carefully unwrap the scene, then preserve and reuse the material. I have considered materials which are more environmentally sustainable and durable, like fabric made from recycled plastic or lokta wraps, which would also ensure reduced damage to the wrap.

With a wrap that remains intact for reuse, whether it is to wrap another gift or for something totally different like a festive print for your wall, we remove one piece of single use waste from the world. This approach would also provide greater creative options on how the gift could be wrapped with less tape and ribbon waste.

Importantly, these changes would not reduce the traditional gifting experience but instead heighten people’s appreciation for what they have received, and, in turn, help steer us away from the throwaway culture which has a significant adverse impact on our environment.

Are you a careful remover or a speedy opener? Share your wrapping methods and removal tactics with us using #SeasonalStaples

Lauren Morsley is an award-winning freelance Illustrator and Printmaker working in Scotland. Check out her website or follow her on Instagram.