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The Simple Holiday Wrapping Recycling Guide


One of the greatest joys of giving and receiving gifts is the act of unwrapping. There's something about the beautiful paper, bows, and care (regardless of outcome) the giver took to make that goodie a surprise that is deeply heartwarming.

While the unwrapping is fun, the cleanup is not quite as pretty. To make your holiday season as kind to the planet as possible, here are some basic rules to help you sort out what goes to the bin and what can be recycled.

DISCLAIMER: Every county has its own recycling protocols! Please check what your local recycling facilities can process.

To Recycle

  • Wrapping Paper: For the most part, wrapping paper is good to go into your curbside recycling bin. Little bits of tape here and there should be okay, but be sure to remove any large pieces. Contamination is a huge problem in recyclables not getting recyled, and we want to minimize that (e.g. tape) as much as possible.
  • All paper and shipping boxes. If you can remove excess tape first, that's fantastic.
  • Paper gift bags and boxes (better yet, reuse them!)
  • Unembellished tissue paper

To Trash

  • Anything shiny – that means anything foiled or glittery – goes to the landfill (I know, heartbreaking). Should you receive some of this pretty but doomed paper, try to salvage it to reuse another time. Plus, careful unwrapping extends the anticipation, right?
  • Plastic wrapping: Unless clearly stated as biodegradable or compostable cellophane (it exists!), anything plastic goes to the bin.
  • Plastic, foil, or glittery bows and ribbon (most of what's out there)
  • Plastic, foiled, or glittery gift bags and boxes
  • Glittery or foiled tissue paper

Packing Peanuts

Did you know packing peanuts are color coded? Surprise, surprise, green peanuts are the friendliest, with white and pink being less so. Some plant-based peanuts actually do decompose, so test your peanuts by running one under water to see if it begins to break down. If it does, you can put it in your compost bin, or in planters to help with drainage.

Packing peanuts are made of EPS (expanded polystyrene), or plastic #6, and are technically recyclable, but most recycling programs do not accept them. Never fear! There are non-trash options for these babies.

Earth911 has a handy tool for helping you find a place to drop off packing peanuts for recycling, and due to the lightweight nature of the peanuts, they can also be sent through the mail to appropriate recycling facilities. Woohoo! Find out where you can recycle your peanuts here. More information about recycling location options (plus mailing instructions and options) for EPS/Packing Peanuts can be found on the EPS Packaging site here.

Packing supply companies, like UPS and FedEx, will also often take your clean peanuts to reuse. Be sure to call your friendly neighborhood store before bringing them a bag of peanuts.

If, for whatever reason, you must trash your peanuts, please put them in a plastic bag (that has to be thrown away anyway) first. That way they'll remain more contained and pose fewer risks to wildlife.

Holiday Lights

Have burnt out lights or upgrading to LEDs? Don't throw away those old strands! Find out how to recycle them here.


Of course, the best way to help out with holiday wrapping is to make eco-friendly choices in the gifts you give. Try wrapping in paper bags from the grocery store (most of us don't remember our reusable bags 100% of the time), newspaper (if you still get one of those, saving the funnies for wrapping is a tried and true tradition), and buy wrapping paper made from recycled content (the higher percentage the better!) and that is, itself, recyclable. Also try to reuse paper and bags you receive, and be conscientious of the ribbons, bows, and tags you buy.

If you need some last minute eco wrapping paper, Wrappily sells adorable options that are printed on newspaper with soy-based inks.

Shopping Tip: Check out this double-sided deer and birch tree option. So cute!

In addition to being recycled content, their products are both recyclable and compostable. Woohoo! Word of advice, though, the paper is newspaper and requires extra care as it will tear easily. Just remember, you're trading patience for do-gooding. Sounds pretty good that way, eh?

Thank you for doing your best to make the season merry, bright, and a little lighter for the earth!


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