Is wrapping paper recyclable?

Wrapping paper is a durable, decorative paper either made of plastic, paper, or a combination of both; it is generally used to wrap presents. 

In this article, I will tackle the question of whether we can recycle wrapping paper or not. I will also go over how it is processed if it is recycled and what happens to it if it is not recycled.

I will also discuss the potential harms this product may have on the environment and what we can do to minimize it. 

Can we recycle wrapping paper?

It depends, but in most cases, wrapping paper isn’t recyclable.

Wrapping paper is an integral part of the holiday season. In the US and the UK, most wrapping paper sales happen during Christmas. 

Even though it has paper in its name, wrapping paper is seldom just paper. Most festive wrapping papers have glitters, metals, or plastic mixed in with the paper. These contaminants keep the paper from being recycled. 

Wrapping paper that does not have any other material like glitter or plastic mixed in can be recycled, however, most are still discarded by the recycling companies. 

Most people mean well when they throw the wrapping paper out for recycling. What they don’t realize is that pieces of tape, ribbons, bows, or other decoratives attached to the paper only result in the whole batch being thrown out. 

Most recycling centers cannot separate the tape and decorations off of the paper, that process would be too time-consuming, so they throw out the whole batch. 

These contaminants need to be removed because they affect the quality of the recycled paper and if they are not removed, the recycled paper will almost definitely be unusable. 

Most wrapping paper is not recycled or reused, which means it all ends up in landfills. 

It’s important to keep in mind laminated wrapping papers are usually not recyclable either.  There is a simple way to determine if the wrapping paper is recyclable. 

The Scrunch test: 

There is a general rule that will help you figure out if the gift wrap is recyclable, it’s called a scrunch test. You take the paper and scrunch it into your palm, when you let go, what does the paper do? Does it try to go back to its original shape? If so, it failed the test and cannot be recycled. If it does stay scrunched up then chances are it is recyclable. 

Keep in mind, even if the paper stays scrunched, it cannot have any glitter or metal in it. You still have to remove all the tape, ribbons, and any other accessories. 

If the wrapping paper is recyclable, then throw it in with your other paper recyclables. Wrapping paper without contaminants is just paper and it’s processed just the same as other paper in the plant. 

How is wrapping paper recycled: 

It is just paper, this statement only applies to recyclable wrapping paper. 

In the recycling center, it’s sorted and shredded along with all other paper. Then it’s mixed with water and some other chemicals to make a pulp which is then treated and dried to make recycled paper. 

Most wrapping papers are quite thin, which means the fibers it’s made from are not very good quality. Poor quality fibers cannot be used to make high-quality fiber. Most wrapping paper is recycled into tissue paper, egg cartons, cheap paper, etc. 

Now, what of the wrapping paper that cannot be recycled? The best thing to do is to reuse those papers for the next gift-giving session. However, most of us now can easily afford new wrapping paper, and taking our time opening the gifts so the paper won’t be damaged is a sentiment hard to explain to most of us. 

So where do these go? Trash, it goes in the trash. Every year, especially during the Christmas season, tonnes of wrapping paper end up in the landfills. 

Environmental impacts of wrapping paper use: 

Wrapping paper may look innocent, you may think, there is no way this is a big enough crisis to worry about. You would be wrong, unfortunately. Thousands of trees are cut down to make wrapping paper each year. These trees are cut down from precious forests. 

Most wrapping paper in Europe is made of paper from the Scandinavian forests. The rate of deforestation has been so extensive that only 5% of the natural forests remain today. 

This is not to say that the Scandinavian forests are gone now because of wrapping paper, there are multiple other factors at play here. Nevertheless, wrapping paper is partly to blame for this disaster. 

Every year in the United States, approximately 2.3 million tonnes of wrapping paper end up in landfills. It’s not the only one, wrapping paper is wasted globally.

Wrapping paper use is an easily avoidable problem. Spreading awareness, educating the public, and offering valid replacements for wrapping paper, is what can be done to help reduce waste in landfills. Particularly by presenting viable alternatives to wrapping paper, people may be convinced to make the switch. 

Alternatives to wrapping paper: 

There are several replacements for wrapping paper which may be even better than wrapping paper. Let me give you 5 options, 

  • The Japanese art of Furoshiki is an excellent alternative. Furoshiki relies on using reusable fabric to wrap and tie the gift in creative and aesthetic ways. You can keep these clothes for years, and reuse them.
  • You can use Kraft paper to wrap your gifts. These papers are fully recyclable. They may seem a little simple but remember, you can always ordain them with flowers or hand-drawn paintings. 
  • You can use newspapers or any paper lying around the house to wrap your gifts. It may sound crass but do we really care what the gift is wrapped with? In most cases, we’ll just rip through them in seconds to get to the surprise. 
  • You can custom-make reusable gift boxes. Just take any cardboard box and glue some wrapping paper or colorful paper around its exterior. Now you have a homemade gift box. You can reuse it continually until it expires.
  • You can always put the gift in a reusable bag. That bag just ends up being part of the gift since it’s reusable.

I’m sure there are other alternatives you can think of or find on the internet. Wrapping paper is a major source of waste in our landfills, particularly during the Christmas season. Anything you can do to reduce its waste is welcome. 

Conclusion: 

In this article, I tackled the question of whether we can recycle wrapping paper or not. I also went over how it is processed if it is recycled and what happens to it if it is not recycled.

I discussed the potential harms this product may have on the environment and what we can do to minimize it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): Is wrapping paper recyclable?

Can you recycle wrapping paper?

Yes, in certain cases. Make sure no tape, ribbons, or any such thing is attached to it. Also, ensure it does not have any plastic or glitter in it. 

How do you know if the wrapping paper is recyclable? 

Perform the scrunch test, if it tries to get back to its original shape, throw it. If it stays scrunched, it’s likely recyclable. 

What is wrapping paper recycled into? 

Since most of these papers are made of low-quality fibers, these are recycled into tissues. 

Is wrapping paper biodegradable? 

Yes, the paper part of it is. However, if it has metals, glitters, or plastic in the paper, it will take significantly longer to degrade. 

References: 

  1. Kimble Companies. 2021. Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?. [online] Available at: <https://www.kimblecompanies.com/is-wrapping-paper-recyclable> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  2. Recyclenow.com. 2021. Wrapping paper | Recycle Now. [online] Available at: <https://www.recyclenow.com/what-to-do-with/wrapping-paper-1> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  3. Treehugger. 2021. Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?. [online] Available at: <https://www.treehugger.com/is-wrapping-paper-recyclable-5075370> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
  4. Reader’s Digest. 2021. Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?. [online] Available at: <https://www.rd.com/article/heres-why-you-shouldnt-recycle-gift-wrap/> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  5. Metro. 2021. Find out if you can recycle wrapping paper.. [online] Available at: <https://metro.co.uk/2021/11/04/can-you-recycle-wrapping-paper-in-the-uk-15542351/> [Accessed 9 December 2021]. 
  6. Wastenet.org.nz. 2021. [online] Available at: <http://www.wastenet.org.nz/Hints%20and%20Tips/WrappingPaper.aspx> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  7. Recyclebank. 2021. Because You Asked: Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?. [online] Available at: <https://livegreen.recyclebank.com/column/because-you-asked/is-wrapping-paper-recyclable> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  8. Brightly. 2021. Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable? Try the Scrunch Test to Find Out. [online] Available at: <https://brightly.eco/is-wrapping-paper-recyclable/> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  9. Homewood Disposal Service. 2021. Wrapping Paper Recycling Tips – Homewood Disposal Service. [online] Available at: <https://mydisposal.com/wrapping-paper-recycling-tips> [Accessed 9 December 2021].
  10. Popular Mechanics. 2021. Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable? Here’s the Deal. [online] Available at: <https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/green-tech/a38476768/is-wrapping-paper-recyclable/> [Accessed 8 December 2021]

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