Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?

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Here's how to tell if you can recycle wrapping paper—plus other ways to make eco-friendly gift wrap choices.

Gift-giving is an act of love, which is one reason we deck our halls with boxes covered in Christmas wrapping paper at the holidays and adorn festive packages for celebrations throughout the year. After all, what is Christmas without stacks of presents beneath the tree or a birthday party without a gift-opening ritual? There are dozens—if not hundreds—of creative gift wrapping ideas that’ll help you make those gifts for her, gifts for men, gifts for kids, and all of your other gift ideas look extra special. The trouble is, gift wrap can be pretty wasteful. And since most people assume they can’t recycle wrapping paper, they toss it in the trash.

The United States produces an estimated 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper each year, about 2.3 million pounds of which end up in landfills. So let’s say you went to the trouble of buying an eco-friendly gift. How do you make it look festive while still making it sustainable? Repeat after us: reuse and recycle.

Can you recycle wrapping paper?

Not all types of gift wrap are recyclable, but many are. “The good news is, about 80 percent of holiday waste can be reused, repurposed, or recycled,” says Jeremy Walters, sustainability ambassador for recycling and waste removal company Republic Services. “Cardboard gift boxes, basic wrapping paper, plain paper gift bags, and holiday cards can be placed in a curbside recycling bin.”

So what’s considered recyclable wrapping paper, and what’s destined for the trash can? A good rule of thumb is to consider how glitzy your gift wrap is. “Wrapping paper and gift bags and all the embellishments come in many shapes and varieties, and the fancier they are, the less recyclable they are,” Walters says. “Plain wrapping paper [or regular wrapping paper printed with a design] is fine to recycle, but metallic or glitter-embellished wrapping paper should be thrown out or reused next year. And the same goes for ribbon and string.”

Bottom line: As much as you’re dying to cover that gift for your sister in textured glitter paper, you’ll have to resist if you want to avoid gifting the wrapping to a landfill.

Recycling Wrapping Paperrd.com

Dos and don’ts of recycling wrapping paper

The hostess gifts have been opened, and now it’s time to recycle wrapping paper. Follow Walters’s list of dos and don’ts for properly disposing of gift wrap and packaging.

  • Do flatten cardboard boxes to save space in your bin.
  • Don’t put your recyclables inside a cardboard box and then into the bin. Recycling should always stay separated and loose.
  • Do stock up on simple wrapping supplies, such as glitter-free, nonlaminated paper bags and wrapping paper. Glitter-laden bags and paper, cellophane wrapping paper, metallic wrapping paper, and shiny bows are not recyclable.
  • Don’t recycle items like bubble wrap, cellophane, plastic bags (try recycling these at your local grocery store), ribbons, air pillows, foam packaging, or metallic or glittery paper. If you can’t reuse or donate these materials, put them in a waste container, not your recycling bin.
  • Do recycle cards made entirely of plain paper.
  • Don’t recycle cards that are printed on photo paper, embellished with glitter, or embossed with foil.

How to wrap smarter

Christmas gifts wrapped in eco-conscious packaging on a wooden tableTanyaJoy/Getty Images

There are so many ways to wrap gifts without contaminating your recycling bin or sending unnecessary waste to the landfill. Your top three options: pick recyclable wrapping paper, use kraft paper, or go paperless in your decorating.

Choose eco-friendly wrap

If you love the look of traditional wrapping paper but want an eco-friendly option, buy from an environmentally conscious brand whose products can be recycled or composted.

Wrappily, for instance, makes wrapping paper out of 100 percent recycled newsprint and prints patterns on both sides, encouraging consumers to reuse every sheet more than once. And when you can’t stretch its use any further, you can compost or recycle wrapping paper (and paper ribbons!) from this company.

Founder Sara Smith says her choice to print on newsprint as opposed to a glossy paper comes from the fact that newsprint and newspapers are easily recycled (despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only about 68 percent of newspapers gets recycled). As an added bonus, the newsprint Wrappily uses is milled in the United States, not overseas, creating a lighter carbon footprint. Wrappily also offers an assortment of reusable and compostable paper and cotton ribbons to replace traditional plastic ribbon.

You’re not the only one who will appreciate wrapping papers that don’t have negative environmental impacts. That gift for your boyfriend is great, but it’s even better when he can compost or recycle wrapping paper afterward. “That feels really good, versus the guilt of filling up a trash bag full of wrapping paper and throwing it out to go to the landfill,” Smith says.

Try kraft paper

Think outside the roll when considering an eco-conscious approach to gift wrapping. Not only is simple brown kraft paper recyclable and compostable, but it’s also customizable. Add embellishments like colorful hemp cords or natural elements such as an evergreen sprig, a fresh or dried flower, a pine cone, or berries. For added fun for the little ones, wrap gifts for kids in kraft paper, then let them draw on it or use stamps over the surface once they’ve unwrapped their presents.

Go for fabric options

While paper is the most common material for wrapping gifts, don’t overlook fabric bags and cloths, which are infinitely reusable as gift wrap. They’re a great option for gifts for your wife if you’re not so handy with wrapping paper and tape but are adept at tying a bow.

Furoshiki, traditional Japanese cloths used to wrap gifts or goods, come in various sizes and are gorgeous ways to gift. Plus, your recipient can pay it forward by reusing the beautiful material the next time they need to wrap something themselves.

Reuse before you recycle

You found the perfect gifts for Grandma and have your eye on a gorgeous roll of gift wrap. Bonus points to you if she can recycle wrapping paper from her presents. But even compostable and recyclable wrapping paper adds up, so before you buy, consider how you might reuse old paper, bags, and bows.

A gift bag is a wonderfully sturdy way to wrap presents and can be easily stored for reuse. (Bonus: You can save cash on gift wrap!) If it has absolutely no life left, use it as filler when shipping packages or insulating holiday ornaments in storage. Waste adds up, so reusing gift wrap is a simple way to not only help the environment but also save money.

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Liz Kocan
Liz Kocan has over 20 years of writing and editing experience, contributing to numerous lifestyle and culture publications including USA Today, Vulture, VH1, Reader’s Digest, Decider, and SheKnows. Her interests include burritos, watching television, and serial commas.