‘Tis the prettiest time of the year—especially when it comes to gift wrapping. Between Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah’s eight festive nights, that’s a whole lot of wrapping paper—which also translates into a whole lot of waste. But that doesn’t mean your gifting has to come with a side of guilt. Whether it's recycled and recyclable paper (which can be used at least seven times to make new and innovative paper-based products, according to experts at the American Forest & Paper Association), or gorgeous fabric wrapping that will live on year after year, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about recyclable gift wrapping, along with our favorite gift wrapping options to make this holiday truly green.
Recyclable Gift Wrapping
Just because wrapping paper is a type of paper doesn’t mean that you can toss it into your recycling bin. There is a difference between paper made from recycled material and paper that can be recycled. More often than not, typical gift wrapping paper has one life as it’s coated with polyethylene, polypropylene, and laminates to give it that sheen. “Much of the stuff is un-recyclable,” says Sara Smith, founder of Wrappily. “That glossiness is actually what works against the paper fiber’s ability to be pulped and used again.”
Glitter and foils are recycling no-nos as well. Anything shiny and reflective could be made with Mylar (yes, of the helium balloon fame) and has to go into a landfill. “Effective paper recycling comes from the paper fiber staying viable,” adds Smith. “Once mixed with plastic coatings or metallics, it is too destructive to the paper fibers to be used again.” Even without all the glitzy accoutrements, thinner papers may not have enough fibers for recycling, though like unadorned tissue paper, these may be compostable.
The easiest way to check if your wrapping paper can be recycled is to do a scrunch test—paper should easily smush in your hand without bouncing back. If you’re not sure if gift wrap is recyclable, toss it in the trash. Wishcycling—the hope that putting something in the recycling bin will actually get recycled—can actually hamper the recycling process, according the American Forest & Paper Association, because non-recyclables (plastic bows) and contaminants (glitter) can prevent otherwise recyclable paper items from resurrection.
Warhol Santa by Allport Editions
Instead of wrapping gifts in messy newspaper comics, opt for this reversible Andy Warhol-inspired Santas and soup cans by Wrappily, made from recycled newsprint that is entirely recyclable and compostable (the uncoated paper uses soy-based inks). Plus, the sheets are folded (no cardboard roll) and wrapped in biodegradable cellulose.