Recycling and Gift Wrapping Paper

grift wrappingHalloween is over and the stores are ramping up to push Christmas hard and heavy. You still have Thanksgiving to get through but you are thinking about Christmas: decorating your home, parties to plan or attend, and gifts to buy and wrap. If you are conscious of the environment, you may be wondering about gift wrapping paper and its impact.

A pile of impressively wrapped packages crowded in under the tree is part of the traditional American Christmas experience. Some may be reluctant to change that, but others may be open to a more sustainable celebration. Talk with your friends and family about the possibility of agreeing to go to a more eco-friendly holiday tradition. 

Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?

Like many paper products, how wrapping paper is made will determine if it can be recycled. Also, ability to recycle will vary from one system to another: ask your waste management company to be sure. In general, wrapping paper that is ineligible for recycling includes:

  • Paper with a high gloss finish. Very shiny paper is made by glazing it with a ceramic-like clay product. This product contaminates many paper recycling processes and will not be accepted.
  • Metallic paper. Paper with a foil finish or decorations are usually ineligible for recycling because the foil is difficult to remove from the paper slurry.
  • Wimpy paper. Thin papers contain few good fibers and are mostly fillers and glue: recyclers don’t want these types of papers.
  • Plasticized paper. Any paper with a plastic coating will be very difficult to separate and is usually ineligible for recycling.

So, does that mean you are limited to brown craft paper and newsprint for wrapping your gifts? Not necessarily. These days manufacturers are making holiday wrapping paper that is intended to be recyclable. Much of it is made from recycled paper as well. This paper may lack the flash and glitz of foil finish or glittery papers, but many are still very attractive, in a more subdued, natural way.

You can spiff up these packages with ribbons and bows of you must, but remember that these too are not recyclable unless you use natural fibers like jute or hemp string. Cloth ribbon is recyclable if it is a natural fiber (usually cotton) and is not heavily decorated with plastic or metallic elements.

What to do With Non-recyclable Wrapping Paper

If ripping the papers to shreds as you tear open the gift to get at what’s inside is part of the fun: dispose of it afterward. The non-recyclable papers would go in with your regular household trash to be sent to the landfill. Do not burn it.

Of course you could carefully remove the paper and keep it for another use. You may reuse it for wrapping packages next year. Or the bright, colorful paper and images can be used in many ways by scrapbookers and crafters. If you are not into these things, check with your friends, they may be eager to get these supplies. Also ask at your local grade school or preschool: they often use decorated papers in their art projects, and with tight budgets, contributions of this sort are welcome.

Alternatives to Wrapping Paper

If you want to forgo the wrapping paper altogether you may consider using reusable gift bags or boxes. Saving these and reusing them next year is a perfectly acceptable form of “re-gifting”! Just don’t write names or messages on the container, use removable tags for that.

Give the Gift of Sustainability

A scene from the movie “Splash” comes to mind. The mermaid just out of the sea is so excited by the beauty of a wrapped present that she does not realize the need to open it at all. Most people, however, simply tear into the package. In the end, what is inside the wrapping is what is most important.

Giving gifts in recyclable or reusable wrappings may well add to the consideration of the gift – if the recipient is at all eco-conscious.


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