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.
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
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.
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
‘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!
Get the Ideal Home Newsletter
Sign up to our newsletter for style and decor inspiration, house makeovers, project advice and more.
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 and interiors. 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. She feels the two are intrinsically connected - if someone puts an effort into what they wear, they most likely also care about what they surround themselves with.
Alan Titchmarsh reveals his secret to keeping your garden daffodils blooming for as long as possible
The celebrity gardener has a hack to make daffodils last longer
By Sara Hesikova
Amanda Holden's dining room nails the anti-quiet luxury look, embracing 2024's hottest emerging wallpaper trend
It's a masterclass in decorating the '5th wall'
By Jullia Joson
Bold, funky and bursting with character, see how Ideal Home has incorporated '70s-inspired decor then and now
Take a look at these retro interior trends then and now
By Molly Cleary
The everyday household items you can use to store Christmas decorations safely, easily and for free
These tricks will ensure your decor stays in pristine shape without buying a thing
By Amy Hunt
Martin Lewis reveals the cost of running Christmas lights - and it all depends on the type of lights you have
Are our twinkling lights expensive to enjoy over December?
By Amy Hunt
The best Christmas tree storage bags and boxes to keep your artificial tree safe until next December
The best Christmas tree storage to keep your artificial tree looking its best for many festive seasons to come
By Sara Hesikova
Christmas Eve box ideas to help you make the night before even more magical
The countdown's on! It's time to start thinking about the goodies to fill these popular gift boxes
By Tamara Kelly
These are the 5 places to declutter before Christmas for a peaceful festive period
A clean and tidy home is the perfect place for hosting and relaxing over Christmas
By Holly Cockburn
How to store an artificial Christmas tree - experts all agree you need to invest in this dedicated storage solution
Keep your artificial Christmas tree looking like new for years to come
By Sara Hesikova
Elf on the Shelf ideas – 15 ways to inspire your mischievous Elf Scout this Christmas
If you're rapidly running out of Elf on the Shelf ideas, we have plenty of creative ways to keep the kids entertained
By Tamara Kelly
How much do Christmas tree lights cost to run? Expert tips for a festive glow that won't burn through your budget
Here's how much it costs to light up your tree over the festive period
By Millie Hurst