Not sure whether you can recycle gift bags or other Christmas gift wrap? Experts share their top tips

Can you recycle gift bags and other Christmas gift wrap? Here’s all you need to know

Christmas presents wrapped in marbled paper
(Image credit: Sofology)

As merry and bright as the Christmas season is, it is also a time that produces a lot of waste. The main source of it in our homes is undoubtedly gift wrap, which comes with pondering how to dispose of it correctly as recycling in general is a confusing subject. So can you actually recycle Christmas wrapping paper and gift bags?

Creative gift wrapping is among the best DIY Christmas decor ideas as having beautifully wrapped presents under the tree or even as a table centrepiece just adds to the whole festive ambience.

But figuring out what to do with all the leftover gift wrap once Christmas is over is a headache. Which is why we asked our recycling and gifting experts to give us the lowdown of what gift wrap should be recycled, reused and which are best to chuck in the bin. But let this knowledge also guide you when choosing what wrapping paper, gift bags and ribbons you invest in this year, knowing that some are better for the planet than others.

Christmas presents displayed next to an advent calendar and candles

(Image credit: Future PLC/Maxwell Attenborough)

Can you recycle Christmas gift wrap?

Once you’ve settled on your favourite gift wrapping ideas to make your presents stand out from the rest, it’s worth giving some thought not only to the design and aesthetics of your gift wrapping essentials. But also to their composition and with it their recyclability.

But if you’ve already purchased your wrapping paper and gift bags and are wondering what to do with them once they’ve served their purpose, then read on. 

1. Gift bags

Brown paper Christmas gift bag with a snowman tag

(Image credit: Future PLC/Simon Whitmore)

Can you recycle gift bags? Good question. Mostly you can, but it depends on their material.

‘Recycling gift bags is possible, but it depends on what material they are made from and what’s on the bags so it’s important to always check before you chuck,’ says Dr. Adam Read, chief external affairs and sustainability officer at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK. ‘If the bags are made of paper, they are generally widely recyclable. But gift bags with glitter cannot be recycled because glitter itself is not recyclable.’

Emily Carr, co-founder of Create Gift Love, continues, ‘Those made of plastic or containing non-recyclable elements like metallic parts, fabric handles or glitter might not be suitable for recycling.’

‘If the bag is paper-based, ensure it's free from non-paper elements, then flatten it before placing it in the recycling bin. For plastic gift bags, check if your local recycling program accepts plastic bags and films.’

But before you throw away your gift bags, consider storing and reusing them instead if they’re not damaged. You can just add a new gift tag next year and no one will ever know.

2. Wrapping paper

Is all wrapping paper recyclable? Unfortunately, not all of it as some wrapping papers are made with additional coating or additives so it is no longer plain paper. This is something to look out for when buying your gift wrapping paper. But if you’re not sure if your already bought paper can be recycled, then there are a couple of tests you can perform to find out.

‘Gift wrapping paper should pass the scrunch test – if it scrunches, it can be recycled; if it bounces back, it cannot and should be placed in the rubbish bin,’ Dr. Adam advises.

Emily adds, ‘A good test to check if you have paper-based gift wrapping paper is to tear it. If it tears easily, it is probably paper-based. Plain wrapping paper made solely of paper without plastic coatings, glitter or foil is typically recyclable. Heavily embellished or laminated papers might not be accepted by recycling centres.’

But just like with the gift bags, everything that’s non-recyclable must be removed from the paper. And that includes tape, which you’re most likely to be using unless you’ve mastered the gift wrap hack with no tape and no ribbon.

‘Tape is made of plastic and can’t be recycled, as a general rule of thumb, please make sure to remove tape before recycling paper,’ Dr. Adam concludes.

3. Ribbon

Christmas presents wrapped in marbled paper

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Ribbon is one of the materials that we would recommend keeping and reusing or repurposing. Especially given the current Christmas tree ribbon trend taking over this festive season.

‘Fabric ribbons can be recycled or repurposed in various ways,’ Emily explains. ‘If in good condition, can be reused for future gift-wrapping or crafting projects and can also be donated to schools or charitable organisations for use in art or wrapping. Some textile recycling centres may accept fabric ribbons, so checking with local facilities is advisable.'

But if your ribbon is a plastic one, then you can still reuse it if in good condition. ‘Plastic ribbons can be reused for gifts or crafting and some recycling centres accept them as part of plastic film recycling programs. Ensure they're clean and free of non-recyclable elements before recycling,’ Emily says.

Dr. Adam warns, ‘However, when in doubt, it’s better to leave it out to avoid contaminating other recycling.’ That is the danger of wishcycling that is best to be avoided.

4. Gift tags

Wenge AF-180

(Image credit: Benjamin Moore)

‘Gift tags made of plain paper are generally recyclable, but it's essential to remove any non-paper elements such as ribbons or strings before recycling,’ Emily says.

It is, of course, possible to reuse gift tags as you most likely give presents to the same people year after year. But if you are going to do that just make sure you don’t include the year on said tag, which is advice backed by Ideal Home’s Editor-in-Chief, Heather Young.

‘My mum is the queen of reusing gift wrap,' Heather says. 'She carefully collects up all used wrapping paper, gift tags and ribbon and saves it for another year. One warning though – be careful what you write on the gift tags if you're thinking of using them again. I had one last year that had been recycled and my mum's handwritten message wished me a 'Happy 2015'!'

And now you know what to do with all of your gift wrapping post Christmas. You’re welcome!

News Writer

Sara Hesikova has been Ideal Home’s News Writer since July 2023, bringing the Ideal Home’s readership breaking news stories from the world of home decor and interiors, as well as trend-led pieces, shopping round-ups and more. Graduating from London College of Fashion with a bachelor’s degree in fashion journalism in 2016, she got her start in niche fashion and lifestyle magazines like Glass and Alvar as a writer and editor before making the leap into interiors, working with the likes of 91 Magazine and copywriting for luxury bed linen brand Yves Delorme among others. She feels that fashion and interiors are intrinsically connected – if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.