Is Christmas wrapping paper recyclable? Tips for leftover holiday packaging

Opening presents together with loved ones is often a joyous part of the holiday season, but it can also create a lot of extra waste. 

With piles of shiny Christmas paper, bows, boxes, and gift bags, some may be left wondering how to dispose of all the remnants. 

Here are some tips on recycling for the holidays:

Can you recycle Christmas wrapping paper or tissue paper?

Paper gift wrap often is not recyclable when it has a shiny or laminated coating, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

Some wrapping paper is not recyclable because of the materials that go into making the products. The paper is commonly dyed, laminated and/or contains non-paper additives such as gold and silver colored shapes, glitter and plastics, which cannot be recycled, according to, England’s national recycling campaign.

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Some wrapping paper is very thin and contains few good quality fibers for recycling, the website says. A lot of wrapping paper still has tape attached to it, which also makes recycling difficult. 

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FILE - Packaging paper of Christmas presents sits in a living room in a file photo. (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Ultimately, individuals may want to check with their city’s recycling rules to confirm how to dispose of all the different types of gift wrap this season. EcoEnclose, which offers "eco-friendly" packaging and shipping supplies, says some will accept it through recycling and others may request that residents drop it off at a special location.

As far as tissue paper, some municipalities also accept tissue paper for recycling or may ask that individuals compost their (minimally printed) tissue paper instead.

"Like with other holiday packaging and wrapping, however, make sure your tissue paper doesn't have foil, plastic, glitter, or excessive ink on it if you recycle or compost it," EcoEnclose advises. "Additionally, try to reuse it as much as possible before you recycle it."


Paper and cardboard containers full of gift wrapping and toy boxes on Dec. 25, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. (Photo By Alejandro Martinez Velez/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Can you recycle ribbons, bows and gift tags?

While there is nothing more festive than a gorgeously wrapped gift, traditional ribbons and bows — typically made of polyester or nylon — are not recyclable, according to EcoEnclose. 

"The way these raw materials are woven (to give bows the satin feel they have) and their size make them unrecyclable — they are not accepted by curbside recyclers," the website says, adding that people can save bows and ribbons to reuse them. 

"If you receive hemp, jute or Raffia ribbons, these are compostable but not recyclable," EcoEnclose added.

Other recommended ways to dress up a gift include using old holiday cards as gift tags or even natural pine cones or hemp twine to finish off the present. 

Can you recycle gift bags?

Gift bags can be a great alternative to wrapping paper as they are easy to reuse and work well when putting multiple things in one package. 

But similar to wrapping paper, the shiny, foil-lined gift bags are not typically recyclable, according to EcoEnclose. 

"But, even if these gift bag can’t be recycled, they can almost always be reused - don’t throw it away as soon as you open it," the website says. "Encourage recipients to reuse the gift bags or take them back if that makes more sense."

Can you recycle gift boxes?

Gift givers looking to be more green this year should avoid shiny boxes that likely have a coating to them, which makes it either challenging to recycle — or not recyclable at all, according to EcoEnclose. 

"Avoid heavily printed boxes that often use unsustainable printing inks and are more difficult for paper repulpers to process," the website says.

If boxes are made with paper and don’t include poly or metallic additions to them, they are typically curbside recyclable. Individuals should flatten boxes out, remove any foam or filling inside or leftover adhesives, then drop the box in curbside recycling.

Gift wrap alternatives you can recycle

The EPA and others often encourage families to reuse gift bags, boxes and tissue paper. 

"If you use gift wrap, purchase a type that can be recycled or is made from recycled content," the agency says. "Newspaper is an excellent alternative to gift wrap."

Plain, 100% recycled Kraft packaging paper is easily recyclable and even compostable, according to EcoEnclose. There are other eco-friendly gift wrap ideas, including the Japanese gift wrapping tradition of Furoshiki using multi-functional cloths.

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Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published on Dec. 22, 2021.

This story was reported from Cincinnati.