For many, opening presents is a beloved holiday tradition. But the festive wrapping paper, bows and ribbons that adorn gifts can be costly for the environment.
Paper in general "has environmental impacts associated with its manufacture, use and disposal, including the use of trees, the use of energy, the use of water, the use of chemicals," said Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Similar to other types of printing and writing paper, gift wrap can also come from primary trees, and not all is recyclable, she said.
While paper broadly is one of the most easily recyclable materials, not all gift wrapping can go into your bin. Here's what to know about recycling gift wrap and how you can reduce waste from wrapping presents this holiday season.
Do . . .
Recycle plain wrapping paper
"The closer it is to what you would think of as Kraft paper, the stuff that looks like a brown paper bag, the better it probably is from a recycling perspective," said Anne Germain, chief operating officer for the National Waste and Recycling Association, a trade group.
Still, experts say some types of paper that look glossy may be recyclable. Certain brands will note whether its wrapping paper can be recycled. Typically paper that contains plastic, glitter, metal foil or other non-paper additives can't be recycled. If gift wrap appears highly shiny, is laminated, or has metallic foil or glitter on it, you should consider trying to reuse it.
Test your paper if you're not sure.
If it's not clear whether your wrapping paper is safe to recycle, here are a couple of simple tests you can try:
- Tear test: If you can tear the paper with ease, it typically means it can be recycled, Hoover said. For wrapping paper that has shiny designs or metallic or glittery patterns, make sure to try tearing across those areas, she said.
- Scrunch test: If the paper can be scrunched up and it stays in a ball, then it should be recyclable, experts said. Paper that's been treated with additives or coatings that could contaminate recycling streams probably won't be able to hold its shape when balled up.
"That extra coating, the glitter and stuff, isn't recyclable," said Patti Boerger, executive director of communications and industry outreach with the Paper and Packaging Board. "It contaminates the recycling stream."
In select places, plain wrapping paper as well as paper tubes and boxes can also go in municipal compost bins.
Be careful with gift bags and cards
Plain gift bags made entirely out of paper, including the handles, can be recycled, according to the American Forest and Paper Association, a trade organization. If a paper bag has rope or plastic handles, glitter or beads, those pieces need to be removed before putting them in the bin.
Paper-based cards and envelopes are also usually recyclable. But don't add them to your recycling if they're covered in glitter or made from photo paper. If only the front of your card is glittery or treated with an additive that makes it not recyclable, you can tear off the back half that's just paper and recycle that, Germain said.
Check your local recycling guidelines
While general recycling guidance around types of gift wrap often holds true, experts say it's important to check with your local recycler before you place anything into your bin. For instance, some places might accept tissue paper as long as it isn't glittery, metallic or treated with another type of coating while others will not.
Don't . . .
Obsess about tape
There's usually no need to stress about removing every single piece of tape from wrapping paper or cardboard packaging before you recycle, experts said.
But, Hoover said, you should be mindful of large amounts of tape.
"If you've really just gone to town with the Scotch tape on all of your presents, that paper might not be as easy to be recycled," she said, noting that how much tape is acceptable could also vary by community.
Consider cutting back on how much tape you use, as a small amount will often get the job done.
Recycle bows and ribbons
Bows and ribbons are often made of fabric or plastic and not recyclable. Re-use is the best alternative to throwing them in the trash.
Other ways to reduce waste
Save and reuse
Before you tear into gifts this year, consider unwrapping carefully and saving the paper. Hoover said she has a drawer full of used wrapping paper from past presents.
"There are some pieces of wrapping paper that I'm pretty sure have made the rounds up to 20 times," she said.
Gift bags, bows and ribbons can also be reused.
Be creative with wrapping
You can also try to forgo buying any wrapping paper this year, Hoover said. "You can find paper or other ways to wrap things from materials that are already in your house."
Some alternative wrapping options include maps, magazines, newspapers or even wall calendars.
Cloth gift wrap, which is durable and ideal for reuse, is another possibility. For example, Japanese furoshiki is a traditional practice of using fabric to hold, store or wrap various items.
"Almost anything has potential to be a wrapping paper," Hoover said.