Now, that’s a wrap.

By Yelena Moroz Alpert
November 30, 2020
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‘Tis the prettiest time of the year—especially when it comes to gift wrapping. Between Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Chanukah’s eight festive nights, that’s a whole lot of wrapping paper—which also translates into a whole lot of waste. But that doesn’t mean your gifting has to come with a side of guilt. Whether it's recycled and recyclable paper (which can be used at least seven times to make new and innovative paper-based products, according to experts at the American Forest & Paper Association), or gorgeous fabric wrapping that will live on year after year, we’re breaking down everything you need to know about recyclable gift wrapping, along with our favorite gift wrapping options to make this holiday truly green.

Recyclable Gift Wrapping

Just because wrapping paper is a type of paper doesn’t mean that you can toss it into your recycling bin. There is a difference between paper made from recycled material and paper that can be recycled. More often than not, typical gift wrapping paper has one life as it’s coated with polyethylene, polypropylene, and laminates to give it that sheen. “Much of the stuff is un-recyclable,” says Sara Smith, founder of Wrappily. “That glossiness is actually what works against the paper fiber’s ability to be pulped and used again.”

Glitter and foils are recycling no-nos as well. Anything shiny and reflective could be made with Mylar (yes, of the helium balloon fame) and has to go into a landfill. “Effective paper recycling comes from the paper fiber staying viable,” adds Smith. “Once mixed with plastic coatings or metallics, it is too destructive to the paper fibers to be used again.” Even without all the glitzy accoutrements, thinner papers may not have enough fibers for recycling, though like unadorned tissue paper, these may be compostable.

The easiest way to check if your wrapping paper can be recycled is to do a scrunch test—paper should easily smush in your hand without bouncing back. If you’re not sure if gift wrap is recyclable, toss it in the trash. Wishcycling—the hope that putting something in the recycling bin will actually get recycled—can actually hamper the recycling process, according the American Forest & Paper Association, because non-recyclables (plastic bows) and contaminants (glitter) can prevent otherwise recyclable paper items from resurrection.

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$10, amazon.com

Instead of wrapping gifts in messy newspaper comics, opt for this reversible Andy Warhol-inspired Santas and soup cans by Wrappily, made from recycled newsprint that is entirely recyclable and compostable (the uncoated paper uses soy-based inks). Plus, the sheets are folded (no cardboard roll) and wrapped in biodegradable cellulose. 

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$12, thewhitecompany.com

While metallic foil is no good for recycling, the folks at The White Company solved this issue by using metallic soluble ink, making this Starry Night Christmas gift wrap fully recyclable. The durable paper—produced from timber of sustainable forests—folds easily for prim presents. 

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$10, papersource.com

You've probably heard of waxed paper or cellophane, but have you heard of stone paper? That’s right, Paper Source created this festive cedar branch greenery gift wrapping paper without using a single tree. The recyclable and reusable paper is also water resistant, so you can make like grandma and save it for next year.

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$3, washitape.com

No paper gift wrapping is possible without tape, a huge recycling culprit. Try using Cutetape washi tape made from paper. Not only do the charming designs add flair to your gift wrapping, unlike its pesky plastic cousin, washi tape comes off in a cinch. 

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$6, wrappily.com

America produces enough holiday ribbon refuse to wrap it around Earth. Eek! That doesn’t mean your presents have to look naked. The eco-friendly paper ribbon from Wrappily is recyclable, compostable, and uses water soluble dye to add a vivid splash of color to any gift. You’ll never go back to fabric trim again. 

Recycled Paper and Post-Consumer Waste Paper Wrapping

Wrap your mind around this: If 1 percent of the U.S. population used recycled paper to wrap just one gift, we’d save more than 2,000 trees and over 900,000 gallons of water.  True recycled paper is made from 100 percent post-consumer waste recycled materials—that means all the paper scraps from the mill that would otherwise end in the landfill. Luckily, using recycled paper is that it minimizes methane release from the paper that ends up in the garbage.

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$18, unwrp.com

To say that this ornament design is eye-popping is an understatement. UNWRP is a small business that collaborates with diverse artists across the world who create gift wrapping paper you’ll want to upcycle into farmable art (though it is recyclable). Printed on 30 percent post-consumer materials and Forest Stewardship Council-certified, the sheets feel luxurious to the touch. 

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$4 per sheet, fishlipspaperdesigns.com

You’d never guess that the satin finish of Fish Lips Paper Designs is made from 100 percent recycled paper and processed without chlorine derivatives, keeping icky chemicals from contaminating water in manufacturing. The company takes eco gift wrapping seriously by ensuring that all papers are printed with soy-based inks, which emit way fewer VOCs than its traditional petroleum-based alternatives. 

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$10, papersource.com 

The sloth may very well be the mascot of 2020, so why not dress up your gifts in one? You’ll feel good knowing that it is recyclable and made from 30 percent post-consumer waste paper. 

Fabric Gift Wrapping 

Gift wrapping goes back to 8th century Japan when emperors wrapped their valuables in furoshiki cloth to imply respect. If you opt to wrap gifts in reusable fabric over traditional one-time gift wrap, you’ll also be respecting nature. Don’t let the fabric origami intimidate you; once you learn, the process is as simple as setting out dinner napkins.

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$15, wrappr.com

These organic cotton furoshiki wraps by Wrappr are shipped in 100 percent recycled and biodegradable boxes that are ideal for gift wrapping. Choose from a dozen original designs to start a new gift wrapping tradition you can pass along to everyone in your family. Each furoshiki cloth is machine washable, guaranteeing years of present dress-up. 

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$18, unwrp.com

Check out these bright satin furoshiki wrap options by UNWRP that come in four different sizes. The whimsical Fro Friend fabric design will delight beyond its gift wrapping capability, so much so that customers have ironed out the wraps to use as scarves. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving. 

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$10, evergreenwrapping.com

For a more traditional reusable fabric wrap, look no further than Evergreen Wrapping, like this Winter Twilight cotton wrap that comes with an attached ribbon for easy bows. It’s machine washable and takes up a fraction of the space compared to typical bulk rolls of gift wrapping paper. 

Butcher and Kraft Paper Gift Wrapping

Butcher and kraft paper rolls are ideal for eco-friendly DIY gift wrapping.  “While butcher paper is not recyclable because it's waxed, it can be composted easily by tearing it up into small pieces,” says sustainability expert Danny Seo of Naturally, Danny Seo. “Kraft paper is recycled, recyclable, and quite durable.” Invest in a large roll, like this 100-foot roll of recycled and biodegradable kraft paper ($25; amazon.com). The possibilities for kraft paper design are endless (case in point: just look to artist Raeesa Manaal’s Instagram @beautifuloops_ for inspo).