Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

A View from Jennifer Chu

Wrap Not, Waste Not

A mathematical equation may help cut down on holiday waste.

  • December 6, 2007

Each year, reams and reams of wrapping paper are wasted as gift givers tend to overestimate the amount of gift wrap required to festoon their packages. To cut down on all this holiday paper waste, a British mathematician at the University of Leicester has devised a formula for how to most efficiently wrap a present of any shape and size.

Credit: Nicolas Raymond

In a university press release, the equation’s originator, postgraduate student Warwick Dumas, says,

“We have tested different methods of wrapping and our investigations showed that … cutting the right size of paper will allow consumers to wrap presents in the least amount of time and achieve a classy result.”

The formula, which can be applied to any box-shaped item, goes like this:

Area = 2(ab+ac+bc+c²)

“To explain in the most simplistic terms, the minimal area of paper needed to wrap a box-shaped gift is twice the sum of the height times the width, the width times the depth and the height times the depth, plus twice the square of the depth,” says Dumas.

In multiple tests, Dumas found that wrapping cubic-shaped objects diagonally used up more paper than wrapping along the edges–except when the object has a square base. Then, the best method is to wrap diagonally, so that the flaps only just meet.

The same equation for box-shaped items may be used to wrap cylindrical gifts whose radius is greater than 87 percent of their height (for example, a squat tin of cookies). Taller cylinders (e.g., tubes of socks) may be best wrapped via a rolling method.

Dumas has teamed up with Bluewater, a major shopping center based in the United Kingdom, to help shoppers reduce their “gift-wrapping footprint.” Bluewater plans to hold workshops throughout the holiday season to teach shoppers the ecofriendly wrapping equation.

Of course, minimizing the extra scratch paper you’ll need in order to make your gift-wrapping calculations is another problem entirely.

Learn from the humans leading the way in intelligent machines at EmTech Next. Register Today!
June 11-12, 2019
Cambridge, MA

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Print + All Access Digital.
  • Print + All Access Digital {! insider.prices.print_digital !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    The best of MIT Technology Review in print and online, plus unlimited access to our online archive, an ad-free web experience, discounts to MIT Technology Review events, and The Download delivered to your email in-box each weekday.

    See details+

    12-month subscription

    Unlimited access to all our daily online news and feature stories

    6 bi-monthly issues of print + digital magazine

    10% discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Access to entire PDF magazine archive dating back to 1899

    Ad-free website experience

    The Download: newsletter delivery each weekday to your inbox

    The MIT Technology Review App

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.