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Plastic-Free Living

How To Sustainably Wrap Gifts

December 15, 2020


Written by: Allie Willison, Customer Experience @blueland

The holidays are a wonderful season, providing tons of opportunity for family time, decorations, community service, good food, generosity, and spiritual reflection. But the holidays have a dark side too, and it comes in the form of paper and plastic waste. In fact, Americans throw away 25% percent more trash during November-December than any other time of year. So, let’s unwrap the hidden costs of holiday cheer, and discuss all the best ways to recycle your wrapping and wreaths to keep waste from piling up underneath your tree!

Is Wrapping Paper Recyclable?

Even the most eco-friendly individuals have a hard time making it through the holidays without a pile of wrapping paper ending up on their hands. So, if you want to know how to best handle all of that paper, sort the wrapping paper you receive into these three categories.

1. Wrapping paper that you can directly reuse, either for gifts or other purposes

2. Wrapping paper with no foil, metallic, glitter, or plastic (paper that is just paper)

3. Shiny, plastic, or extremely metallic wrapping

For any wrapping in category 1, no instructions are needed! Reuse what you can however you see fit, be it for more wrapping, arts and crafts, décor, or whatever you like!

For wrapping in category 2, it may be recyclable! Wrapping paper sometimes contains clay, which makes it hard to effectively recycle. Contact your local waste management company or recycler to find out if they accept wrapping paper and how you should dispose of it. Some will accept it through curbside recycling and others will request that you drop it off at a special location for recycling. Be sure to remove bows, ribbons and excessive tape from wrapping paper before it is recycled.

Unfortunately, wrapping in category 3 is unrecyclable and needs to be landfilled. However, there are plenty of options in place to eliminate wrapping like this from under your tree! Look for 100% paper, 100% recyclable, and compostable wrapping papers like the ones from EcoEnclose or ULINE.

Is Tissue Paper Recyclable?

Tissue paper is an inseparable partner (and wasteful accomplice) of wrapping paper, and needs to be thoughtfully disposed of as well. Tissue paper is technically recyclable, but its fibers are shorter than high quality paper. Therefore, responsible management of tissue paper is limited, and recyclers do not generate much revenue from the product. That is why reusing it as much as possible is an important ecological step.

Luckily, tissue paper is also supposed to look crinkled, so it can be reused again and again. And if you’re not going to reuse it for wrapping, it can also be used for every type of arts and crafts under the sun. Then, when tissue paper inevitably reaches the end of its life, you can either find a recycler who handles it, or compost it!

And when you’re buying tissue paper of your own, look for 100% paper or 100% recycled content paper without any colored dyes, glitter, foil, or plastic. This way you can be sure from the start that your tissue paper is recyclable and compostable!

Are Gift Bags Recyclable?

Gift bags will eternally be the easy way out for people who aren’t great at wrapping, and that’s okay. But there’s also an easy way out to make sure you’re handling your gift bags in the most eco-friendly way.

Firstly, if you’re on the hunt for gift bags to use, consider reusing one you already have on hand first. Much like tissue paper, gift bags are designed to be reusable, and many of us have a stash of old gift bags in the corner of our house somewhere. Go through them at the beginning of the holiday season and pull out anything usable.

If you have to purchase gift bags, look for durable ones that you can reuse and recycled paper gift bags that are made with recycled content to begin with. There are also beautiful gift bags and sacks made of muslin and hemp, like ones from Rosary Petals, that give a more natural look to your holiday gift. Encourage recipients to reuse the gift bags or take them back if that makes more sense.

If you’re closets are about to overflow, and you must recycle some of your gift bags, simply make sure the bags are made of 100% paper before recycling!

Are Ribbons And Bows Recyclable?

Unfortunately, the lovely finishing touch that ribbons and bows give a nicely wrapped gift comes at a rather steep cost. Most ribbons and bows are made out of polyester or nylon, and many come with other metallic or foil ingredients mixed in. The way these raw materials are woven (to give bows the satin feel they have), as well as their size, make them totally unrecyclable. They are not accepted by curbside or alternative recyclers. When you get them on a present you’ve received, save them for future holiday seasons. Some people even save them for arts and crafts projects.

If reuse is not an option, these should be landfilled. Which means there’s good reason to look for alternatives to these pretty present toppers: Ribbons or bows made from hemp, jute, or Raffia can be composted at home or at a facility. Ribbons made from 100% recycled material, like the ones from EcoEnclose, are designed to be reused hundreds of times, and pure paper-based decorations (like the ones from GreenWrap) can be added to curbside recycling.

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