Unwrapping The Truth: Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?
In the wondrous world of holiday traditions, wrapping paper plays the starring role—a dazzling decoration for our heartfelt eco-friendly gifts.
Yet, behind the glitz and glamour lies a heap of confusion over this festive finery, namely: is wrapping paper recyclable?
Unless you’ve opted for specific kinds of eco-friendly wrapping paper, there’s a good chance it’s not—but how do you know?
And when can you recycle wrapping paper?
Let’s peel back the paper and foil layers and uncover which types of gift wrap are ‘gifted’ in the recycling realm, along with some tips for upcycled and recycling wrapping paper.
The Full List For Can You Recycle Wrapping Paper?
1. When Can Wrapping Paper Be Recycled (If Ever)?
So, can gift wrapping paper be recycled?
It’s an important question because the only thing worse than not being able to recycle wrapping paper, is doing it incorrectly and ruining otherwise recyclable items in the process.
And the answer is equally convoluted.
Just like with recycling trash bags, sometimes gift wrap can be recycled and sometimes it can’t—all depending on not just the wrapping paper itself, but your own local recycling guidelines (which you should always get familiar with).
Not all wrapping paper is created equal in the recycling realm.
First, why is wrapping paper not recyclable?
The culprits undermining wrapping paper’s recyclability are often the shiny, glittery, or plastic-coated varieties.
These elements, while enhancing aesthetics, aren’t actually paper, but are instead made of metal, plastic, and even synthetic fabrics, in the case of those pleasantly tactile velvet papers.
They may look (and feel) lovely, but the blend of materials interferes with the paper pulp’s purity, rendering it unfit for recycling facilities.
So what wrapping paper can be recycled and what can’t? How do you know?
2. How Do You Tell If Wrapping Paper Can Be Recycled?
Knowing how to tell if wrapping paper is recyclable is key to making more choices regarding the disposal of and procurement of new wrapping paper.
For that, consider the scrunch test your gift wrap guru.
Take a piece of wrapping paper and give it a gentle scrunch. If it holds its shape like a compact little ball, you’ve hit the recycling jackpot.
However, if it unfurls like a spring eager to leap back into action, it’s likely coated or contains non-paper elements—best to skip the recycling bin and redirect it towards a new destiny.
But that’s just a loose rule of thumb, let’s open things up one gift at a time and dive into what wrapping paper can be recycled and what can’t.
Is Plain Wrapping Paper Recyclable?
Assuming we’re defining ‘plain’ as uncoated regular paper without any flashy embellishments, then yes.
However, if you are recycling, make sure there’s no tape, tags, bows, or ribbons still attached. These are almost always made of plastic and may contaminate the entire recycling batch.
Is Foil Wrapping Paper Recyclable?
Foil wrapping paper, with its metallic sheen, poses a challenge in the recycling realm.
The fusion of foil and paper creates a material that recycling facilities struggle to process efficiently, meaning most facilities will not accept it.
Is Glossy Wrapping Paper Recyclable?
This is the tricky one, because it’s often difficult to tell just what is causing that shiny appearance, which will determine whether you can recycle shiny wrapping paper.
Certain glossy paper types are accepted by most recycling facilities—think: flyers, postcards, and posters. Typically, the chemicals combined with paper fibers to produce these types of glossy papers are organic, such as fine clay.
Concern arises when glossiness is achieved through other, unnatural additives like wax or plastic, which is commonly used in today’s wrapping.
In fact, those clear colored cellophane wrapping papers are nothing BUT plastic (but still not the kind you can toss in with your recyclable plastics!).
As with anything in the realm of recycling, when in doubt, leave it out.
If you’re not sure whether that sheen on your gift wrapping paper is recyclable, assume it’s not.
Is Tissue Wrapping Paper Recyclable?
Tissue paper, being lightweight and often uncolored, stands a better chance in the recycling game. If it lacks metallic or plastic adornments, it can generally be recycled.
However, crumpled tissue paper or tissue people with tape can contaminate other recyclables—and that’s often the state it’s left in post present opening.
A safer option is to attempt to reuse it in future gifts.
Other types of wrapping paper that should never go in the compost or recycling bins include those with velvet and glitter (even if it’s supposedly biodegradable glitter).
So what to do when gift wrapping paper can’t be recycled?
3. What To Do Instead Of Recycling Wrapping Paper
So you’ve determined that your pile of crumpled wrapping paper isn’t recyclable—now what?
You’re probably wondering, “What can I do with unwanted wrapping paper?”
Here’s our short list of coated paper recycling suggestions:
Specialty Recycling Programs
First, don’t entirely rule out recycling. Just because that Christmas wrapping paper isn’t recyclable in your blue curbside bin doesn’t mean it isn’t recyclable period.
Terracycle offers a Wrapping Paper & Gift Waste box, in which you can pack up any type of wrapping paper, along with ribbons, bows, tissue paper, party supplies, garlands, and confetti.
They do cost money, but see if everyone in your family will pitch in a little bit to buy one to ensure everyone’s holiday is waste free.
Your local recycling facilities may not be able to recycle glossy wrapping paper, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.
If you’re careful when unwrapping (and encourage your loved ones to be the same) you can open presents in such a way that it leaves the wrapping paper mostly intact and ready to be reused for special occasions to come.
The more uses you can get out of that roll of non-recyclable wrapping paper, the more sustainable you’re making it.
Consider repurposing them in creative ways—art projects, eco-friendly crafts, handmade cards, other forms of DIY Christmas decorations, non-toxic wallpaper, or even as protective padding for future mailings and packages.
If you truly have no use for it yourself, find someone who does. Advertise it on Facebook marketplace, or perhaps donate to a local charity that could use it to wrap gifts for those in need.
While thrift stores aren’t the ideal destination for used wrapping paper pieces, they will likely accept half-used rolls you no longer want.
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Final Thoughts On Can Wrapping Paper Go In The Recycling Bin?
So, can Christmas wrapping paper be recycled?
On occasion, but oftentimes in the modern era—and all its glorification of gloss and glitter—no.
Knowing whether you can recycle gift wrapping paper is an important step toward a more sustainable Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate), but it’s not the only one.
Remember, the key lies not only in recycling but also in reducing and reusing.
Making conscious choices to beging with when wrapping gifts (like using zero waste gift wrap alternatives) can significantly contribute to more sustainable celebrations in the future, ensuring your ethical gifts you share leave a positive mark on both the recipient and the planet.
If at this year’s holiday get together you overhear your loved ones asking, “Can I put wrapping paper in the recycling bin?” help them out by passing along this article.