When you’re staring down that giant pile of ripped-up wrapping paper after the gift-opening frenzy, do you ever wonder what’s the best way to dispose of wrapping paper? Can you recycle it? Can you compost wrapping paper? Read on for more details about what can go where in the waste stream when it comes to wrapping paper.
The stockings are hung from your chimney with care and presents are wrapped with sustainable flair. You’re hoping the paper won’t go in the trash but was your wrapping paper choice rash?
(Takes a bow for my peachy prose… just kidding).
Rhymes aside, people in the United States throw away over 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper each year. Canadians don’t fare much better. And I doubt I’m taking an Evel Knievel leap to presume that most industrialized countries aren’t far behind. And let’s be real, most people don’t really care about the wrapping; they care about what’s inside.
This is especially true for kids. The only (and I mean only) comment I’ve ever received from a child about my gift wrapping is “Can you help me open this? I can’t figure out how to get the ribbon untied.” It turns out that if they have any feelings about my wrapping job, those feelings are probably not great because I’m slowing down the gift train. Nonetheless, I proceed with my twine and brown paper.
Despite the gobs of crumbled paper and sparkly bows, there is some good news lurking about that giant pile of wrapping paper next to your tree on Christmas morning. Some of it can be recycled and some of it can even be composted.
Wrapping paper that’s not laminated and isn’t adorned with any fancy foils or glitters (oh the glitter!!) can be recycled. Recycling paper is better than tossing it all in the garbage.
Compostable wrapping paper is an even better option if you have access to a compost system (a service, a bin, a neighbor’s bin, a municipal drop-off site… you get the gist). But which wrapping paper is compostable and which will just contaminate that sweet soil amendment?
Let’s dive into the mountain of post-present gluttony and figure out whether or not you can compost your wrapping paper.
What Wrapping Paper is Compostable?
Plain newspaper and brown kraft paper belong in a compost pile. The microbes in the compost pile will love the carbon-rich papers among food scraps and coffee grinds. Further, any standard paper that is free of embellishments or shiny coatings is probably compostable (and almost certainly recyclable).
If you want to decorate your plain paper, don’t forget that paint isn’t typically compostable. If you chose to paint brown kraft paper, for example, with standard acrylic paints, the paper is no longer compostable. Alternatively, try using this compostable tempura paint on your wrapping paper and your gift wrap can find a happy home in the compost bin after the holidays.
What Makes Wrapping Paper Not Compostable?
When it comes to wrapping paper, watch out for papers that are shiny or glossy. These likely have a thin coating on them that would contaminate the finished compost.
If the paper has glitter, foil, or other textured embellishments on it, it definitely belongs in the trash. These can’t even be recycled. Those embellishments are most often made from microplastics. They’re not fit for the compost, they contaminate recycling waste streams, and they’re bad for the soil and water cycles.
To the extent possible, skip wrapping paper with all that jazz on it. Does anyone really like glitter all over their gifts anyway? Maybe it’s just me, but glitter drives me mad. Once it enters the house, it seems to hang around forever.
If you already have wrapping paper that’s neither compostable nor recyclable, you may as well use up your stash. The most sustainable option will almost always be to use what you have as long as it works and it lasts.
But next time you’re shopping for new wrapping paper, skip the shiny stuff and choose something you can compost or recycle. Better yet, skip spending money on wrapping paper altogether! This is a case of sustainable living saving you money. There are so many affordable (and often free!) sustainable gift wrap options. Many shipping materials make perfect upcycled gift wrap. Reuse gift bags. Try Furoshiki. The options are endless.
Got more specific questions about compostable wrapping paper? Leave them in the comments, and we will do our best to answer them!
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About The Author
Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.
You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.