What To Do With Your Used Christmas Wrapping Paper

Even if you’ve wrapped your gifts in fabric and opted for easily recyclable paper, there’s always a pile of glittery wrapping paper leftover at the end of a present opening session. Beatrice Murray-Nag looks how best to dispose of it to be kind to the planet.

We’ve all been there. It’s Christmas afternoon; the food has been eaten, the drinks drunk, the Queen has spoken and the presents have been opened. There’s a big pile of washing up awaiting, and an even bigger pile of wrapping paper. 

Do you collect it all in a bin bag, pop it in the recycling and hope for the best? Or do you carefully conserve each piece, ever so delicately peeling off the tape and ironing it out for next year? But then what about the ripped bits, or the glittery variations? 

What to do with leftover wrapping paper is a real Christmas conundrum, even for the most eco-conscious households out there. According to GWP, over 83km2 of the stuff ends up in bins across the UK every festive season – and that’s the size of a small city. Often dyed, laminated, or made from a mix of materials, our love of wrapping paper often doesn’t lend itself to recycling either. Since we can only drop so many hints to our friends and family about just how much we like presents in brown paper, eventually we have to work out just where we are going to put it all. From well-informed recycling to creative upcycling ideas, we rounded up the best ways to rid yourself of your post-Christmas wrapping paper pandemic in the most sustainable ways possible.

Check with your council 

While some wrapping paper is recyclable, it isn’t always accepted by paper mills due to the high cost that it entails to recycle a relatively small amount of quality fibres. If in doubt, contact your local council to double check – they may collect it with your household recycling scheme or ask you to drop it off to a specific recycling point instead. This handy online tool will help you find out exactly who provides your recycling service, so that you can quiz them come Christmas.

Look closely

Contrary to what its name suggests, wrapping paper isn’t always made from well, paper. Our favourite festive variations often contain plastic or chemical compounds, responsible for their metallic looks or sparkly effects. These additives might end up contaminating the whole load, and to make sure that doesn’t happen there are a few simple things we can look out for. All that glitters is definitely not recycling gold, and metallic patterns, laminated effects and extra sparkles likely mean that your wrapping paper will be destined for landfill. 

Do the scrunch test

According to Recycle Now, one easy way to tell if wrapping paper contains additional non-paper compounds is by doing the scrunch test. As simple as it sounds, all you need to do is scrunch it up into a ball in the palm of your hand. If it retains its scrunched-up shape, it can be recycled. If it pops back open, it might well mean that it is not made from pure paper and therefore could contaminate other materials if it ends up in your recycling bin. 

Remove the extras

Once you’ve separated the wrapping wheat from the chaff, the next step is to make sure it is free from any add-ons that may affect its ability to be recycled. Made of a plastic called polypropylene, Sellotape can cause a sticky situation for paper mills and currently cannot be recycled in the UK. You’ll need to remove all tape, bows and gift tags before sending anything to your recycling bin in order to ensure that the paper can be pulped properly and turned into something new. 

Get creative

While we can make sure to choose recyclable paper for the gifts that we wrap ourselves, we’re not always in our control when it comes to the ones we receive. We are inevitably going to end up with some unrecyclable wrapping, and that’s where creativity comes in. When recycling isn’t an option, the onus falls on upcycling; an equally great way to divert it from landfill. Pinterest offers a wealth of exciting options, perfect for a rainy day in January. 

Do some découpage

One of our favourite fail-safe ways reduce and reuse is by transforming all those wrapping paper scraps into beautiful decoupage designs. From flowerpots to furniture, this Christmassy craft involves decorating objects by layering up designs in paper and varnishing over them with a transparent glue to create a painted effect. Leftover wrapping is the ideal thickness for this pretty paper craft, and you can use up all your scraps by cutting out shapes from different prints or ripping them into squares for a collage effect. 

Save it for storage

If all else fails, wrapping paper will always be a useful alternative to plastic bubble wrap for packing away delicate items. Keep your Christmas decorations safe by careful wrapping them up before putting them away, and stash any you don’t need in a bag ready to use throughout the year. 

Buy recycled

At the end of the (Christmas) day, reducing our seasonal consumption is all about cutting out single use materials and prolonging the life of the ones that we can’t avoid. To cut back on the overall impact of wrapping paper, make sure to buy recycled versions and encourage others to do the same. Not only is it already on its second life, but it’s probably able to be recycled again too. Here’s to a whole year of circularity, right through to next Christmas.

Six ways to dispose of your Christmas tree sustainably.

For more tips to reduce waste at home, see our guide on how to reduce food waste and introduce some easy zero-waste swaps in the new year.