Holiday Tip: Don’t Recycle Gift Wrap

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 busines generates annual revenue $9.6 billion suggests the wrapping paper industry represents about 10 percent 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 percent 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


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  1. When I reuse wrapping paper I call it (not exactly correctly) recycling and so wondered why I was not supposed to do that. I read your piece and have a suggestion. To avoid the confusion and to relate the message even to people who don’t go as far as reading the piece, re-title the piece something like: Gift Wrap- Reusable, maybe Not Recyclable. I put in the “maybe” as the tissue and printed regular paper can be recycled, it is the foil and the ribbons that need to be removed.

  2. WARING! This is inaccurate information.

    Wrapping paper IS recyclable. While it is indeed best to reduce the amount of waste by not using paper if not needed, it is not true that wrapping paper is laminated, even the shiny stuff. Do not throw your paper in the trash, wrapping paper is shiny in the same way that magazines are shiny – it’s done with a buffed clay process that does not render the paper unrecycleable. If it were laminated, it would be encased in a film of plastic on both sides that would be very obvious.

    There is some wrapping paper that is not recylable, such as the stuff that is made of foil and paper together. But that is very rare these days. Ribbons, bows, etc. indeed are not recyclable.

    If you have questions about recycling, call your local jurisditional government in charge of systems in your area.

    1. i got a gift wrapped in shiny wrapping paper and it was indeed a plastic layer over paper. i was able to separate the 2 layers and the plastic part was Mylar-like. a laminated product is not necessarily encased on both sides. it can be laminated on one side only.

  3. Hmm, I’m not sure what kind of wrapping paper is “laminated,” most of it is just shiny paper due to inks or clay (unless there is some kind of foil on it) and does not include plastic. It may be true that it isn’t accepted many places, but we certainly recycle it like it’s going out of style in Portland. Kudos to you for recommending alternatives. Wrapping paper is certainly a waste (even if it is recycled) when there are plenty of reusable materials out there. Just a reminder that options for recycling vary from state to state and even among local jurisdications!

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