How to Recycle Your Christmas Paper

Bows, glitter, ribbon are not recyclable. Here’s how to recycle your Christmas wrapping paper

Here’s a quick guide to determine if your Christmas items are recyclable.

Bows

As pretty as they make a package, the plastic-paper composite of most bows doesn’t work when you’re trying to create cardboard. Add in the glue that sticks them to the gift and they’re a no-no in the recycling bin.

The good news is that they’re probably the easiest Christmas item to reuse rather than recycle. Even if they lose their stickiness, a bit of tape makes them as good as new.

During the unwrapping, keep a paper grocery bag next to you and play “can you dunk it?” with the bows that come off the presents. You may never need to buy a bag of bows again. When they’re truly dead, trash them.

Wrapping Paper

Yes, you can recycle Christmas wrapping paper — unless it’s metallic, has glitter or has velvety flocking on it.

That said, reusable gift bags are nice in that they can be, well, reused.

Ribbons

You wouldn’t think shiny curls of ribbon would strike fear into the heart of recycling plant managers, but they do.

A bow can go through the entire system and be screened out by the pulping equipment. Ribbons, on the other hand, are insidious.

Our facility is a single stream facility. Meaning our we collect recyclables and sort out the cardboard using a large piece of equipment called disc screens, or sets of spinning discs with spaces in between. Large flat items like cardboard are carried up and over the screen, while smaller items fall through the spaces between the discs.

Unfortunately, ribbons (as well as plastic bags, twine, and anything else that’s long and stringy) end up wrapping around the spinning shafts that hold the discs. It’s kind of like hair wrapping around the roller brush of a vacuum cleaner.

Over the space of just a few hours, the gaps between the discs can fill up until the smaller items that were supposed to fall through the spaces no longer can.

To fix the problem the facility then needs to shut down all the equipment so they can get in and cut out all the junk that has wrapped around the shafts holding the discs.

Christmas Cards

In a word, you need to sort them.

Plain paper Christmas cards can go straight into the paper recycling bin, no questions asked.

But the shiny Christmas cards printed on photo paper need to go into the trash. It’s the same with ones that have lots of metallic embossing, though usually, you can tear the card in half and at least recycle the paper portion.

Cards that have a lot of glitter on them should also stay out of recycling.

Cardboard- Break it Down

Online purchases now make up 9.1% of all U.S. retail sales, according to the Department of Commerce. All those sales mean more individual boxes being shipping to customers’ homes — and in turn more boxes that need recycling.

Cardboard is a great material to recycle because it’s clean, easy to reprocess and every ton of it that’s reclaimed saves 17 trees.

The most important thing when recycling boxes is simply to break them down flat. Otherwise, they take up so much room in the recycling bins that it requires our bins to be dumped extra. This uses extra trips, requiring more energy, and eating up all the net good recycling would have done in the first place.

Packages closed with paper tape don’t require anything more than flattening. Boxes with a single strip of plastic tape are okay too. If you get one with a lot of heavy-duty, wide plastic tape, it’s worth taking a moment to peel one end up so you can pull the whole strip tape off.

But don’t feel like you’ve got to remove every single bit of plastic tape and only throw pristine cardboard into the bin, he said. The recycling process will take care of it.

As you engage in the oddly satisfying task of breaking down boxes, ponder that everything you’re tossing in the recycle bin will most likely come back to you next year.

Many of the the items we order online are made in China. Those items come in cardboard boxes. The boxes are made in China. 

And what are they made from? You guessed it — recycled paper from the United States.

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