What Wrapping Paper Can Be Recycled?

Crumpled up wrapping paper

After the biggest gift-giving week of the year, we’re willing to bet you’ll soon have a mountain of wrapping paper littering the living room floor. What are you supposed to do with all that festive, used-up paper? A lot of it can be recycled, but not all of it. Here’s what to consider when deciding whether certain wrapping paper is recyclable.

Non-Recyclable Gift Wrap

It’s a common mistake for families to assume that because gift wrap is made of paper, it’s automatically recyclable. Here’s how to spot non-recyclable wrapping paper:

  • Glittery, metallic, foil, or textured wrapping paper is automatically non-recyclable, so be sure to keep it out of the recycling bin.
  • Bows are made of a plastic-paper composite that makes them non-recyclable. The glue that sticks bows to a gift makes it even more of a no-no. Make sure you pull bows off recyclable wrapping paper before tossing it in your recycling bin.
  • Ribbons are even more harmful to the recycling process than bows. Pulping equipment can screen out a bow, but a long, curly ribbon is more likely to wrap around the equipment designed to separate cardboard from other items. The entire recycling facility may need to shut down for workers to clean ribbon (and plastic bags, twine, and other long, stringy objects) from the equipment.
  • Tissue paper is made from low-grade paper and is not recyclable in most communities.
  • Gift bags often contain non-recyclable plastic coatings, ribbons, cords, or adhesives.
  • Shiny, glittery, or embossed Christmas cards are the same as fancy wrapping paper—non-recyclable.

Wrapping Paper That Can Be Recycled

Most wrapping paper is recyclable—as long as it’s plain paper. As a test, crumple up a wad of gift wrap in your hands. If it stays bunched up, it probably doesn’t contain foil and is most likely recyclable. Don’t worry about removing all the tape before you toss it in the bin.

Other gift trimmings that can go straight into the paper recycling bin include:

  • Plain paper Christmas cards
  • Brown paper gift bags
  • Wrapping paper tubes

Of course, all those cardboard boxes that presents come in are also recyclable. Every ton of reclaimed cardboard saves 17 trees. Just remember to break the boxes down flat so they don’t take up too much room in recycling trucks.

When in doubt, check with your local recycling company. Rules vary by location, and filling a recycling bin with non-recyclable wrapping paper can contaminate the entire load.

Reusing Wrapping Paper

Fortunately, gift wrap and trimmings can be reused, regardless of whether they’re recyclable. Here are some creative ways to salvage used wrapping paper:

  • Buy one bag of bows to reuse year after year. A little bit of tape on the back is all you need to make them stick like new.
  • Save gift bags and tissue paper, fold them back up, and reuse them next year.
  • Shred used gift wrap in a paper shredder to make confetti or stuffing for future gift bags.
  • Line a box containing fragile items with crumpled wrapping paper.
  • Make origami, paper snowflakes, clothes for paper dolls, or other crafts with your kids. (Use an iron on the lowest setting to flatten crumpled paper.)
  • Cover textbooks to protect them and add a decorative flair.
  • Use gift wrap as a mat backing for picture frames.

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