Wrapping paper and the recycling bin

Eco-friendly ideas to wrap up the holiday season.

Recycled bags

GET CREATIVE! Make your own holiday wrap this year. (Photo: lovelihood/Flickr)

By Cy Tottleben

I received a friendly reminder from my local recycling company this week that wrapping paper (even if it is marked as recyclable) does not meet the standards for paper mills and is not accepted at our facility.

I’m glad they’re spreading the word, because I’ve certainly been guilty of this in the past. While I prefer the more reusable gift bag, nothing is as thrilling for children than shredding the wrap on their holiday or birthday presents and uncovering the gift beneath. My family has always accommodated this thrill, knowing we could put the paper on the curb and send the fibers back into the recycling process.

The Internet provides mixed messages about gift wrap. Many sites say that some of it can be recycled, as long as it is not one of the foil types, coated in plastic, and is stripped of all tape and embellishments. According to the Hendricks County, Ind., Waste Management District, “In general, wrapping paper is not recyclable. Often the ink used to produce wrapping paper isn’t simply on the paper’s surface. Many times the paper is ‘beater dyed’ which means the color is actually in the pulp of the paper. The de-inking process used to recycle most other types of paper is not effective at removing ink from paper that has been beater dyed. Many types of wrapping paper are very thin and contain few good quality fibers for recycling. Additionally, wrapping paper is often laminated and/or contains glitter, tape or other additives that cannot be recycled.”

Keep your gifts gorgeous but green
If you love the game of creating a beautiful mystery with gift wrap on special occasions, don’t fret. Gift wrap can be reused. It wasn’t so long ago that this was rather commonplace. I remember Christmases at my grandmother’s house, where she always made us open our packages carefully and fold the paper afterward so she could store it until next Christmas and bring it out again. We passed bags to collect bows, and usually only the tape went to waste. Some keep the cardboard tube from the paper and roll the delicately used portions back up for easy storage. If you’re like me and have questionable organizational skills, but are great at wadding, many papers can also be ironed when you’re ready to wrap again.

Alternatives to traditional gift wrap are endless and can create some very memorable presents. Here are some popular ideas:

  • Paper grocery sacks. While some of these have printed surfaces, they usually offer plenty of space for kids to draw a picture or to scribble greetings for the receiver of the gift, saving the use of a name tag as well.
  • Reusable shopping bags. My customers taught me this one. Every year we sell hundreds of these, many with NFL logos or other branding. But I can count on one hand how many I see returned to the store for shoppers avoiding plastic bags. During a conversation with a customer last year, who had her cart piled with them, she pointed out that they were only a dollar, so much cheaper than reusable paper bags, and could be used over and over for anything. Fantasic idea! In an effort to encourage my family to ditch plastic bags, I did the same last year. My adult gifts were all wrapped in cloth bags.
  • The newspaper. Don’t become a hoarder on my account, but save up a good pile to get you through the holidays. The comics are always a favorite for children, and they still get that thrill of ripping open their gifts. You can even use the inserts for this project, including store ads and the weekly magazine.
  • Junk mail, or any other waste paper you would send to the recycling facility. Get creative with it!
  • Go to the thrift store and find something interesting, like old maps or some really memorable fabric.
  • Stick one gift within the other. Almost like stuffing a stocking with treasure, you just have to use your imagination.  Giving a tackle box? Put his new tie inside it. A purse? Fill it with a new MP3 player.
  • Buy an alternative wrap, such as the fabric ones sold at Lyziwraps. Support a small business in the process!

Remember that many boxes you accumulate through the year are also great for gift giving.

While your waste management facility might accept wrapping paper, using alternatives is the eco-friendly way to go. Keep the trend going by having contests among gift givers for the most creatively designed packaging. Children love arts and crafts projects and will be incredibly proud to present their hard work as a gift — a great lesson when teaching them to reuse and recycle.

This article has been reprinted with permission from the Mother Nature Network where it was originally published.

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