The Shocking Environmental Impact of Wrapping Paper & What You Can Do to Help!

Environmental Impact of Wrapping Paper

It's Christmas: the gifting season! But how will you dispose of your wrapping paper?

The Christmas season might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also an extremely wasteful time within the UK's consumer economy. 

Christmas is synonymous with gifting. There's no replacing a beautifully wrapped gift, but sadly, wrapping paper waste comes at a high cost.

Nobody wants to steal the joy from your magical Christmas celebrations, but in order to protect our environment from the damaging effects of waste pollution, we need to face a few harsh realities. 

Let’s unwrap the hidden truths behind wrapping paper. 

The truth about wrapping paper!

christmas wrapping paper

Approximately 227,000 miles of wrapping paper are thrown away each year in the UK. If (like us) you need some perspective on that, it's roughly the distance from the earth to the moon. In rolls, that equates to 108 million rolls. A year!

Each year, 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper ends up in landfill due to poor waste management. This contributes to pollution from greenhouse gas emissions, loss of habitats, and damage to both human and wildlife health. 

Greenpeace recently found that as little as one kilogram of wrapping paper emits three and a half kilograms of CO2 during its production process. This takes around one and a half kilograms of coal to power its production!

(It isn’t good is it!)

Why is wrapping paper damaging to the environment?

Like millions of other individuals, you're probably thinking that recycling wrapping paper is the simple solution to this environmentally damaging phenomenon. It is paper after all!

Actually, it isn't just paper. Paper, in its natural form, is paper. Wrapping paper comes in different textures, fibres, and materials with a whole host of additional embellishments, so to generalise would be unethical. The hard truth is that it isn't quite that straightforward. Sorry! 

Did you know that some recycling authorities don't accept wrapping paper for recycling? That’s because certain types of wrapping paper are very thin and contain few decent-quality fibres for recycling. In many cases, wrapping paper is dyed or laminated which deems it unsuitable for the recycling bin

(Told you it wasn't straightforward!)

So, wrapping paper can't be recycled?

Certain types of wrapping paper can be recycled. That much is true. If it's plain wrapping paper, you're absolutely fine to pop it in the recycling bin or recycling waste stream. The problem lies in the fact that Christmas wrapping paper is rarely plain

Once you start to add a plethora of elaborate Christmas-themed embellishments such as gift tags, bows, artificial berries, and ribbons, you're no longer dealing with paper items. The same goes for glittery, metallic wrapping paper which adds an undoubtedly attractive sparkle to gifted items but doesn't fall into the standard paper recycling category.

Let’s explain that in a bit more detail. 

Why Wrapping Paper Can’t Be Recycled

When recycling waste is taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF), different types of paper are sorted by hand and then baled. If there are too many types of paper or mixed materials such as foil, glitter, sticky tape, metallic wrapping paper, card, and paper embellishments mixed with standard paper recycling, contamination is likely to occur which results in the recycling load being sent to landfill. 

For your recycling to end up in landfill defeats the object of recycling in the first place and has a detrimental impact on the environment. Landfills are already in danger of overflowing and causing a waste crisis, we certainly don’t want to be adding to it! That's why it is essential that your Christmas wrapping paper recycling strategy is informed and pre-planned. 

Once you gain a better understanding of what can and can't be recycled, you can then take the appropriate measures to reduce the environmental damage caused by your wrapping paper disposal. 

How do I know which gift-wrapped materials can be recycled? 

wrapping paper

It sounds complicated to make sense of wrapping paper recycling, and even the most discerning of minds can be inaccurate. However, you can always try the scrunch test with your Christmas paper. 

You're no doubt used to unwrapping a gift, scrunching the paper into a ball, and tossing it over your shoulder. (It is Christmas, after all!) If the paper remains scrunched into a ball, it is recyclable. If it doesn't, it isn't recyclable and needs to go into general waste. 

Get the family involved!

Believe it or not, you can make this small but satisfying arrangement something of a gimmick as you unwrap your gifts. Get the family involved if you're at home! Encourage the kids to gather the rolled-up paper and make an informed (and guided) decision about which wheelie bin liner it should go into! 

It's an efficient way of receiving help with the post-unwrapping tidy-up if you have one bag for recycling and another for general waste. If it's a pre-Christmas work party, ensure that you have two bags available and offer clarity to your employees with your wrapping paper recycling strategy. 

This task requires just a few minutes of effort, but the environmental benefits are vast. (And we recommend that you share the scrunch test with everyone that you meet!)

How should I dispose of wrapping paper correctly? 

If you're adamant that Christmas won't be the same without presenting your gifts with wrapping paper, there are steps you can take to reduce your contribution to environmental damage. 

Recycled and Recyclable Wrapping Paper

Where possible, aim to purchase only 100% recycled and recyclable wrapping paper. Modern recycling awareness means that a whole host of retail outlets and websites are now making this a viable option. You don’t need to plunge into the depths of the internet, and you don’t need to take a trip to Germany (the best recycling country in the world)!

Recycled wrapping paper is made from post-consumer materials which contributes to a reduce, reuse, and recycle circular economy. It also tends to be more durable and cheaper in price than its non-recyclable counterparts. Recyclable wrapping paper, often known as eco-friendly wrapping paper or gift bags, is easily recycled and has a beautiful edgy and urban quality about it. 

Remove Extras

For those special Christmas gifting occasions when a bit of glamour is required, always ensure that you remove gift tags and sticky tape before putting them in your recycling wheelie bin. If you've opted for metallic or textured wrapping paper, you should dispose of this in your general domestic wheelie bin

The post-Christmas period is the worst time of year for waste generation, so if you can think ahead and dispose of your festive wrapping paper correctly, you can call yourself a green champion as far as we're concerned! 

Is there an eco-friendly option for wrapping paper? 

eco-friendly wrapping paper

Absolutely! It is important to note that wrapping paper isn't a necessity in order to successfully offer a gift. Christmas will not be cancelled! 

As landfill-related issues create havoc for our environment, more individuals and businesses are seeking innovative ways of presenting Christmas gifts. 

  • Think outside the box: These can include recyclable paper bags (personalised branding can be a great idea!), old newspapers, magazines, and scrap paper. It might not sound as glamorous as luxury Christmas wrapping paper with the necessary embellishments, but it complements your sustainability mission if you're so inclined to do your part for the planet. 
  • Reuse as much as possible: Reusing is even better for the environment than recycling as products and materials are kept in use longer. Consider saving your gift bags and reusing them next year. This minimises waste, reduces consumption and associated carbon impacts, and saves you a few extra pounds at a busy time of year. 
  • Try different methods: Wrap your Christmas presents using the traditional Japanese art of Furoshiki, a highly sustainable method of wrapping using a piece of cloth or fabric. Your wrapping choice will be unique and unexpected, as well as visually attractive. Furoshiki tradition also dictates that the wrapping material is returned to the giver after use. Maybe you can start your own tradition with close friends and family whilst adopting an environmentally safe disposal strategy. 

So, when Aunty Susan gives you a beautifully wrapped gift this Christmas in that metallic paper with lots of sticky tape and plastic robins, maybe demonstrate the scrunch test to her after dinner!

Get in contact today or visit our wheelie bins website to find out more about our services!