Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Recycle Gift Wrap

Gift wrap is paper, so you would think you can toss it in the recycling bin right? Not so fast—your actions could be causing more harm than good.

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The holidays sure do bring a lot of cheer, but they also bring a whole lot of waste. According to Earth911, the United States produces 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper each year, and out of that, about 2.3 million pounds ends up in the trash. If you think you can recycle that wrapping paper, you’re out of luck—trying to recycle all that gift wrap could be doing more harm than good.

According to Jeremy Walters, a sustainability ambassador for Republic Services, the average American household generates about one thousand pounds of trash from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. And, it’s a common mistake during the holidays to load up your recycling bin with wrapping paper, tissue paper, bows, ribbons, and more without realizing that many of these things are, in fact, not recyclable—just like these other things you shouldn’t be throwing in your recycling bin.

Why is gift wrap not recyclable?

Most gift wrap contains elements, such as glitter, that is made up of other materials like metal and plastics. Danny Seo, editor-in-chief of Naturally, Danny Seo magazine, explains that if a huge load of recyclable paper comes in and it’s too full of non-recyclable material, it’s considered a contaminated load and gets tossed into the landfill. This means that tons and tons of recyclable paper actually end up going to waste due to a lack of sorting at home. Learn what else happens when you put the wrong thing in the recycling bin.

holiday gift wrap recycling guidecourtesy Republic Services

What can I recycle during the holidays?

The nice list: What to recycle

  • Cardboard (that is clean, dry, and flattened)
  • Paper boxes (including gift, shoe, and shipping boxes)
  • Plain wrapping paper and gift bags (no glitter, foil, or decorations)
  • Holiday cards and envelopes (without embellishments; remove the batteries from electronic greeting cards)
  • Plastic bottles and jugs (that are empty, clean, and dry)
  • Metal food and beverage cans (that are empty, clean, and dry)

The naughty list: What to reuse, donate, or discard

  • Decorations including lights
  • Trees—artificial and real
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Ribbons and bows
  • Cellophane wrapping
  • Fancy gift bags and wrapping paper (with foil, lamination, or decorations)
  • Packing materials: bubble wrap, plastic air pillows, foam sheets, and packing peanuts
  • Food waste
  • Electronics or anything battery-powered

If you are unsure whether or not your wrapping paper is recyclable, Michael Andreacchi, CEO of Junk King, says that most recycling plants recommend doing the crumple test. Take the wrapping paper in your hand and crumple it up—if it is difficult to crumple or doesn’t stay crumpled then this means it can’t be recycled. As for other items you are unsure about: when in doubt, throw it out! Although you have good intentions, you could end up harming the environment. In the future, try incorporating some of these simple ways to reduce waste into your life.

gift wrap alternatives brown kraft paperMaddyZ/Shutterstock

Gift wrap alternatives

In order to stay sustainable over the holidays, it is best to steer clear of classic wrapping paper. Danny Seo recommends investing in brown Kraft paper which is both affordable and recyclable. Decorate it with pinecones, sprigs of pine, and berries right from your yard. The result is a beautiful, modern country style gift that everyone on your list will love!

If you just can’t resist that pretty gift wrap, Michael Andreacchi recommends buying items that have multiple uses such as gift boxes and reusable gift bags. You can also make your own gift tags out of recyclable paper (or, one of these other recyclable materials you can find) to avoid ruining the box or bag for future use.

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