Four Ways to Recycle—or Reuse—All That Holiday Wrapping Paper

Experts say you can use those papers again, wrinkles and all.

Sustainable gift-giving allows you to lower your environmental impact while helping your friends and family live more eco-friendly lives, but presenting piles of green gifts in conventional wrapping paper—which just ends up in the trash—sends a mixed message. "Traditional wrapping paper is often dyed, laminated, or made up of small, non-paper additives, such as glitter or plastics, which makes it a difficult item to recycle," says Shaye DiPasquale of TerraCycle North America. "While people usually have the best intentions when they place non-recyclable materials in the recycling, this can actually cause an entire bin of otherwise good recyclables to be contaminated and thus, renders the entirety of its content non-recyclable." Ahead, several ways to recycle—or, better yet, reuse—holiday gift wrap.

red and gold gift-wrapping paper
Kate Mathis

Follow the rules of recycling.

In the chaos of a holiday gift exchange, it's tempting to toss all the paper into your recycling bin and assume you've made the right choice, but not all towns and counties can handle all types of paper. "A good rule-of-thumb to remember is any wrapping paper that is velvety or metallic, has a texture, or contains glitter is not conventionally recyclable," says DiPasquale. "But 100-percent paper or lightly inked wrapping paper that has been stripped of any sticky tape, gift tags, ribbons and bows can sometimes be recycled by certain municipalities." It's essential to check with your recyclers to see what they accept before putting restricted papers into mixed recycling. "This is called 'wishcycling' and it can cause many problems," DiPasquale adds. "Waste stream contamination can slow, or even halt, operations at local recycling facilities as workers will have to hand sort out the un-recyclable materials. If the incompatible material is not sorted out, it can diminish the quality of the recycled end-product."

Another option: Fill one of TerraCycle's Zero Waste Boxes (from $93,—specially designated for gift wrap—with all your paper, bows, ribbons, garlands, confetti, and tissue paper, and send it back to the company, who will recycle it appropriately.

Reuse gift wrap—despite the wrinkles.

In general, reuse is a more environmentally friendly choice than recycling, so encouraging your family and friends to set aside their larger pieces of gift wrap for future use is a great idea. "We encourage this practice when possible!" says DiPasquale. "The more uses you can get out of the paper before it needs to be recycled, the better! While unwrapping gifts this year, try to open carefully and save what you can to reuse next year." Rebecca Burick, creative experience director at Paper Source, encourages the reuse of gift wrap by trimming off ripped edges and rolling the sheets around cardboard tubes for storage. "Most papers can be reused if they haven't been crunched into a ball," she says.

Choosing a thicker paper, or one with a busy pattern or texture, can also help: "Some papers are especially resilient and resist creasing and wrinkling, such as handmade crinkle paper from Thailand—it's fabric-like and already crinkled," Burick says. "Many Japanese fine papers, such as Yuzen and Chiyogami, also have a fabric-like quality that make them ideal for reuse. They also tend to have gold metallic accents, making them perfect for the holidays. Stone paper comes in continuous rolls and is also resistant to wrinkling and creasing." When wrapping, she recommends adding pleats to the paper to camouflage wrinkles, or creating a color-block aesthetic by using several smaller pieces of salvaged paper to wrap one larger gift.

Get creative with your scraps during and after the holidays.

If saving large pieces of gift wrap after your nieces' and nephews' frenzied opening isn't possible, Burick offers other ideas for reusing smaller pieces: Turn scraps into gift tags, envelopes, envelope liners, or paper bows, or, she says, "cut bands to wrap around your holiday cookie packaging." At TerraCycle, DiPasquale recommends giving used paper new life in several ways. "One of our favorite solutions for repurposing used wrapping paper is to shred or scrunch the paper into packing material that can be used to protect breakable items, like ornaments, when you are packing up your decorations at the end of the holiday season," she says. "There are also tons of great DIY crafts you can make from wrapping paper including using pieces of the paper in a scrapbook or as a part of a design for an upcycled holiday card next year."

Think outside the roll.

The type of paper you choose can also lower your environmental impact—the pretty vintage designs from Cavallini are an obvious choice for framing, either on their own or as part of a colorful gallery wall, says Burick. Buying recycled gift wrap is a sustainable alternative to conventional paper, says DiPasquale, and so is going beyond the gift-wrap selection at your local big box store. "You can purchase reusable fabric gift wrap or try Furoshiki, a traditional Japanese wrapping technique," says DiPasquale. "Old sheet music, maps, newspapers, or even scraps of fabric will give a cool vintage look to any package."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles