Why Recycling Wrapping Paper Can Be Tricky Business

Dec 26, 2013

The same shiny gift wrap and bright bows that make Christmas presents so enticing are exactly what give recycling centers headaches the day after Christmas.

At the Kootenai County Solid Waste Department in north Idaho, the day after Christmas has two distinctions: it's one of the busiest days of the year by volume, and one of the lightest days by weight. The reason: wrapping paper, says Roger Saterfiel, who oversees the department.

“You have your tinfoil type, your bows, your ribbons. I've noticed some really neat wrappings now where they put beads on it. All of those are a contaminant to the paper mill process,” he said.

Saterfiel says it’s possible to separate out the recyclable paper bits. But because wrapping paper is so light, it’s practically worthless on the recyclables market. So his department sends it all to the landfill.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, many solid waste departments do offer to recycle gift wrap, but with a bunch of caveats. Metallic wrapping papers aren't recyclable. Tissue paper is no good — the fibers are too short to be made into anything else. If the wrapping paper is plastered in tape, it's probably landfill bound. And as for bows, ribbons and plastic-coated gift bags — save those for next year.