Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?

Some is, but some isn't — here's how to make greener gift wrap choices.

bin of wrapping paper rolls

@da.madden / Twenty20

Wrapping paper may have "paper" in its name, but that doesn't automatically mean it can be recycled. Some types of wrapping paper can be, but many cannot, due to additives such as glitter and metallic finishes. We'll help you sort out what goes where and explain how to find greener, reusable alternatives.

What Kind of Wrapping Paper Is Recyclable?

Wrapping paper can usually be recycled if it is plain and simple, non-laminated, made from recycled materials, and is not too thin. When the paper is exceedingly thin, it has few good quality fibers for recycling.

Wrapping paper cannot be recycled if it contains sparkles, glitter, sequins, foil, artificial texture, sticky gift labels, or plastic. Nor can it be recycled if it has been laminated or has loads of leftover tape, ribbons, or bows still attached. 

Do a Scrunch Test

To confirm that wrapping paper is recyclable, you can do a "scrunch test" by squeezing it into a ball. If it keeps the ball shape, then it can be recycled. If it springs back to a flat form, then it cannot. The following video from RecycleNow demonstrates the test:

How to Recycle Wrapping Paper

Make sure that all ribbons, gift tags, tape, and other decorative elements have been removed from the wrapping paper before you put it in the recycling bin. Having a mix of recyclable and non-recyclable papers is a real problem for recycling facilities, and they often end up tossing the entire lot because they cannot sort it out themselves. (This is known as wishcycling and it causes tremendous problems year-round with all sorts of materials, not just wrapping paper.)

Be sure to find out if your town, city, or municipality accepts wrapping paper, because even if the paper is recyclable, whether it happens depends on each region's regulations.

How to Reduce Gift Wrap Waste

Try these suggestions for cutting down the amount of wrapping paper you throw away.

Reuse What You Have

Wrapping paper has such a brief life span that it can be reused many times, especially if care is taken to unwrap it without tearing. It's estimated that the U.S. produces 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper annually, and 2.3 million pounds of that ends up in the trash. The remainder stays in people's homes, awaiting reuse. 

Use Different Material

Who says you have to choose glittery paper to decorate a present? Opt for basic brown Kraft paper that can be spruced up with a bow, ribbons, leaves, pinecones, or markers. Repurpose newspaper, old posters, and children's school artwork as wrapping paper. There are plenty of other eco-friendly alternatives to wrapping paper that are just delightful and celebratory.

Try Zero Waste

Use baskets, fabric, gift boxes or bags, tea towels, and more to conceal and reveal your presents. Learn the Japanese art of furoshiki, using beautiful knots to fasten colorful, reusable fabrics in attractive ways. This way, you'll have no wrapping paper waste to contend with.

Ask for Better Paper

Retailers stock what customers want, and recyclability should be a top priority, so let that be known when you're out shopping. As explained by Simon Ellin, CEO of the Recycling Association, a trade body that represents about 90 waste management companies and paper merchants in the United Kingdom, "It's a crusade we've been on all year – do you really need to design a non-paper wrapping paper? Make paper with recycling in mind!" Shop with that in mind, too.