Ask Eartha: What is the best way to dispose of wrapping paper this holiday season? (column) |

Ask Eartha: What is the best way to dispose of wrapping paper this holiday season? (column)

Eartha Steward
Ask Eartha
Christmas aftermath
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

How should we dispose of our wrapping paper this holiday season?

-Valencia, Dillon Valley East

One of the joys of the holiday season is giving. However, all that “giving” is traditionally wrapped for surprise which can have unfortunate effects on the environment if paper is not properly disposed of. Did you know, the average American gives 42 gifts per year? It is estimated that if everyone used reusable gift wrap for only three of these, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.

Luckily there are several ways to properly dispose of gift wrap, which comes in handy around the holiday season.

We agree that knowing how to properly dispose of wrapping paper can be complicated. This is due partly to the many different materials wrapping paper is made of, including non-recyclable material. Think of all the different types of wrapping paper. It is colorful, often dyed or laminated. Sometimes foil or glitter is included to create decorative effects. Plastic decorations, bows and ribbons are often added, which are definitely not recyclable. Furthermore, many of the fibers used in the cheaper types of paper are not strong enough to be recycled again.

The great news is, our Summit County Resource Allocation Park supports wrapping paper recycling if it passes a couple tests: the shake test, the scrunch test, and the tear test.

The Shake Test:

Shake your wrapping paper. First, be sure to shake off or remove all ribbons and bows, strings and plastic gift tags from the paper as these items are not recyclable. Also, shake it to see if there is any glitter coming off. If your wrapping paper is shedding that sparkly dust, it is not recyclable.

The Scrunch Test:

Scrunch up your wrapping paper. If it scrunches into a ball and generally maintains its scrunched shape, it is recyclable. If the paper bounces back to a flatter shape, this usually indicates it is foil based or contains special laminates and waxes to maintain its shape. Not recyclable. The good news about paper that does not pass the scrunch test means that it can be reused to wrap another gift in the future. Instead of tossing this paper in the recycling bin, set it aside for another use.

The Tear Test:

Paper recycling has to do with the amount of quality paper fibers that can be restructured for use in another paper product. Some wrapping paper is very thin (usually the cheaper kind) and contains few good quality fibers for recycling, therefore it can no longer be recycled. A good way to see if paper has good fibers is to tear it in half quickly. On the torn edge, if it layers or you can see the actual fibers, it can be recycled.

If there is a clean or smooth tear with no fibers evident, it cannot be recycled again. Please be aware that tissue paper usually cannot be recycled because its fiber content is so low. In the Steward household though, we like to use tissue paper again and again for other presents, package padding or fun future craft projects.

Speaking of fun craft projects, the most eco-friendly way to wrap a gift is by creating your own giftwrap from everyday materials around the house. The Steward family loves making our own wrapping paper. Santa has even noticed our handmade giftwrap under the tree and mentioned to us in a letter that he is making efforts at the North Pole to reduce the amount of waste generated over the holidays.

Our family uses old crossword puzzles, maps, newspapers and brown paper bags as wrapping paper. This is one terrific way to avoid having to buy new material and promotes creativity and family fun.

If you must buy new wrapping materials, search the labels for 100 percent recycled content and be sure that it passes the shake, scrunch and tear tests. If you have any additional questions about disposing of wrapping paper and other holiday items, do not hesitate to reach out to us at 970-668-5730.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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