Birthdays and other holidays mean friends and family, sweet treats and presents. And unless the former are a super environmentally friendly bunch, the latter probably means you will be left with a pile of wrapping at the end of that special day.
Wrapping paper is a tough thing to recycle. So are related gift wrapping items such as ribbons, bows and tissue paper. If you find your local recycling company will not accept your old wrapping paper, look into the many ways to reuse it.
How to recycle wrapping paper
The name “wrapping paper” implies that this should be an easy item to recycle. After all, paper products such as newspaper, envelopes and junk mail are among the easiest things to recycle curbside.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true of wrapping paper. While this common product used to be made of nothing but paper, today’s wrapping paper often has many other components mixed in. Some types of wrapping paper are made partially or entirely with foil. Others are coated in a plastic film.
Wrapping paper that is made with paper and nothing else can be recycled in some communities. For example, New Orleans residents are encouraged to place wrapping paper in their recycling bins once they are finished with it.
However, it is more common for communities to refuse wrapping paper. Check with the company that hauls your curbside recycling to see if they accept wrapping paper. If they do not, you can see if your county or a local business that specializes in recycling can take it.
How to recycle tissue paper
Tissue paper is made with very low-grade paper and is not recyclable in most communities. There are exceptions, however, so check with your local recycling agency as to what their policy is.
In some cases tissue paper can be composted. Boulder County’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials (CHaRM) center, which is managed by Eco-Cycle, will accept it for this purpose. If you want to try it at home, make sure the tissue paper does not contain glitter and other pieces that will not decompose.
Tissue paper can be saved for reuse. Wrap it around gifts before you put them in bags or boxes. Use it to wrap gifts in lieu of traditionally wrapping paper. I had a friend who always used tissue paper as wrapping paper because it was a solid color. He would then embellish the paper with vintage postcards or trinkets he’d picked up from flea markets and antique shops.
If you know the tissue paper is acid-free, wrap your linens in it the next time you put them away in a wood chest. The tissue paper will help prevent any residual sap from leeching onto your linens and leaving them with ugly stains that are nearly impossible to remove.
How to reuse wrapping paper
There are many ways to reuse wrapping paper. The first and most obvious is that you can keep it and use it as wrapping paper again. I store all my old wrapping paper in long plastic totes that I can keep in a closet or under the bed. I also store bows, ribbons and other wrapping accessories (none of which can be recycled) in those boxes.
Wrapping paper is great for cards, scrapbooking and other paper craft projects. My kids get the cutest wrapping paper on their birthday and Christmas gifts. I save whatever bits they don’t destroy and use them to make thank you cards. I’ve often sent those cards to the person who gave them the gift so they can see that every part of their present (even the paper) is being put to good use.
You can line the back of a bookshelf or the drawers of a dresser with wrapping paper. Buzzfeed has a fun blog post
that gives instructions for using wrapping paper to make party decorations, book covers and bows for future presents.
How to reduce your wrapping paper usage
There are lots of great alternatives to regular wrapping paper.
1. Use brown paper grocery bags, craft paper, newspaper or other large sheets of paper. These types of paper are easy to recycle once you are finished with them. They are also less expensive than buying wrapping paper (and are free in some cases). Decorating the paper with crayons or markers is fine. Adding paint, glitter and many other materials can make the paper unrecyclable.
2. Buy decorative gift bags or boxes that can be reused again and again. Or find nice shopping bags and boxes and use those for gifts. I once received a Victoria’s Secret gift card in a really beautiful gift box topped with a ribbon rose. That box has been passed around in my family for years.
3. Wrap gifts in fabric, kitchen towels or other reusable materials. There is a traditional Japanese method for wrapping gifts in fabric that has been all the rage in recent years. Do an online search for “furoshiki” to find instructional videos.