From the gift's perspective

Is the festive holiday wrapping paper that has littered living rooms for decades recyclable? In the case of holiday gift wrap, it’s better to reuse or not use at all.

How much wrapping paper lands in landfills?

Earth911 estimates that approximately 4.6 million lbs. of wrapping paper is produced in the U.S. each year, and that about 2.3 million pounds ends its life in landfills.

Recent data on the U.S. paper industry and market researcher Sundale Research’s 2010 estimate that the wrapping paper business generates annual revenue of $9.6 billion suggests the wrapping paper industry represents about 10% of the total U.S. paper market by revenue, which totaled $96.1 billion in 2015, according to Statista.

But wrapping paper is very light and expensive, so it represents perhaps only 2% of the annual industry weight by volume. Because it cannot be recycled but is often re-used, we estimate that less than half of the wrapping paper produced annually ends up in landfills each year.

Most wrapping paper is recycling contamination

A common mistake many people make around the holidays is loading their recycling bins with wrapping paper, tissue, ribbons, and more. Unfortunately, the shiny, laminated paper is, in fact, not recyclable in most circumstances. Including it in the bin with other paper products can make an entire load unrecyclable.

If wrapping paper is metallic, has glitter on it, or has a texture to it, it is not recyclable.

However, unlaminated paper-based wrapping paper and pre-recycled wrapping paper are usually recyclable. A good way to test, as the BBC reported last year, is to crush wrapping paper into a ball. If it stays bunched up, it is more than likely recyclable.

Other decorative features of gifts are also not recyclable. Decorative ribbons, bows, and glitter-laden holiday cards are nightmares for recycling centers.

Don’t worry, there are plenty of eco-friendly alternatives. Check out our guide to greener gift wrapping to learn more.

Editor’s note: Originally published on December 12, 2013, this article was updated in December 2018.

Feature image courtesy of Kevin Dooley