Ecology Center’s Guide to Gift Wrap

photo of many boxes in shiny blue and white wrapping paper. the bottom of the image says shiny, glittery, metallic wrapping paper is landfillThe winter holidays are a time of gifts! After the festivities and gift exchanges, it can be tricky to properly sort leftover wrapping and accessories. This guide is designed to help you know how to dispose of gift wrap and to help you consider your best wrapping options.

Not So Green

Wrapping Paper

A common misconception is that all wrapping paper can be recycled. Unfortunately, many wrapping papers are not recyclable. The fibers that make up metallic, shiny, and glittery wrapping papers are multi-material (paper plastic composite). Due to the amount of energy needed to recover the paper fibers in this composite, this material is non-recyclable and destined for the landfill. However, non-metallic wrapping paper is accepted in your curbside recycling cart in Berkeley.

A side by side comparison of a piece of wrapping paper being crumpled up in a person's hand, and then of the person releasing their grip with the wrapping paper failing to maintain its shape.

Gift wrap that fails the crumple test by losing its balled-up shape

How can you tell the difference between metallic and non-metallic wrapping papers?

There are two quick and easy ways to determine the recyclability of your wrapping paper. First is the crumple test: crumple your paper into a ball, if it crumples well and maintains the crumple shape, it is recyclable. If it opens out of the ball shape and is difficult to crumple, it is not recyclable. 

If the results of your crumple test are inconclusive, try the rip test. If your gift wrap tears like printer paper, it’s recyclable. If the wrapping paper won’t tear or you notice a plastic-like layer, it should be placed into your landfill cart. Read more about these two tests on Resourceful– our digital sorting resource. 

Tissue Paper

Tissue paper cannot be recycled and should instead be composted as the material is made of shortened fibers. However, because it carries no nutritional value it is not a preferred compost material. Also keep in mind that glitter will disqualify this material from composting, so this type of tissue paper should be sorted into your landfill cart. Since there is not a way to recycle it, try saving the tissue paper you have for future gifting or consider using a tea towel or festive scrap of fabric as an alternative!

Reusable Gift Wrap

Boxes

a colorful box on a wood table.

A great example of a reusable gift box

If your gift is not only wrapped in paper, but a box, be weary of some landfill destined boxes. Brown corrugated cardboard boxes are perfect for recycling. But, pre-decorated boxes with ribbon or bows attached to them cannot be recycled and belong in your landfill cart.

Similarly, be sure to check that the box is not filled with protective foam or made out of foamboard. To tell the difference between cardboard and foamboard, you can use the same rip test as you would use for wrapping paper. If the box is easily ripped and you only see paper fibers, it is cardboard and can be recycled. If the box is difficult to rip and you see foam between layers, it is made of foamboard and should go to landfill. Minimal amounts of tape on cardboard boxes is ok. 

Whether or not your box can be recycled, you can save resources and extend its life by reusing it. 

Gift Bags

Gift bags are a great option because they are very easy to reuse. At the end of their use, like wrapping paper, if they have glitter, are metallic, or have a thin plastic coating, they should be placed in your landfill cart. Consider using brown paper bags, as a recyclable alternative or saving your gift bags for reuse.

Ribbon

Ribbons, bows and other decorative items are made of a mix of synthetic materials, organic fibers, and sometimes metal all of which should be sorted into your landfill cart. ​​Please avoid placing these in your recycling as they can tangle up machines at recycling facilities. To prolong your ribbon’s life, consider saving it for future gifts or crafts. Locally, East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse or Reuse Arts & Crafts might accept the ribbon for reuse, though they do not accept scraps, tangles, or bits. Be sure to check out their respective websites to see a list of currently accepted donations.

Sustainable DIY Ideas

a woman smiling holding a tote bag with text "Berkeley Farmers' Market"

photo credit: Flavia Stoian

The wrapping can also be part of the gift. By wrapping gifts in a reusable tote bag – like a cotton Berkeley Farmers’ Market tote – your gift wrap doubles as a gift. Or consider using a basket to elevate the gifting experience.

a cylindrical container wrapped in newspaper. It is labeled "to: Help Desk from: McNeilly"

After enjoying a good read, this Berkeley Times cover made a great gift wrap.

Another idea is furoshiki, the Japanese craft of wrapping with fabric. In addition to being a beautiful way to wrap your gift, using fabric means that your wrap can be reused time and time again. To try your hand at this wrapping method check out Etsuko Yamada’s Wrapping with Fabric: Your Complete Guide to Furoshiki the Japanese Art of Wrapping, which is available for check out from our Lending Library

 

In a pinch, turn to the classic reuse of newspapers. After reading up on local happenings, share the news by wrapping gifts in your favorite op-eds or comics. 

four boxes wrapped in colorful newsprint paperWant to add some flair to your newspaper wrapping? Try out Wrappily, recycled gift paper for any occasion, available at the Ecology Center Store. Produced in the continental United States using recycled newspaper, Wrappily cuts down on emissions both during production and transportation. On top of these benefits, since newspapers can be recycled several times, this paper can have another life after the holidays. 

For more information on waste sorting in the City of Berkeley, use Resourceful, our digital sorting guide!

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