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17 Dec 2021

Can you recycle Christmas wrapping paper?

Find out which shops sell recyclable wrapping papper and how to create eco-friendly gifts that look the part

This weekend is prime present wrapping time. But whether you did yours back in October or are saving it all for Christmas Eve, find out which types of wrapping paper are recyclable, and how retailers are responding to consumer demand to make gifts more eco-friendly.

Once you get to the Boxing Day clear up, make sure you use the 'scrunch' test. If wrapping paper scrunched up into a ball in your hand stays scrunched when you release it, it's generally recyclable. If it doesn't, then it's likely to be laminated with plastic or foil-based and so can't be recycled.

There's also the tear test - if it can't be ripped by hand easily it's likely to be made of materials other than just paper, so will have to go in your normal household rubbish.

It also won't be recyclable if it's decorated with any glitter. The same applies to Christmas cards, so avoid buying glittery versions of either wrapping paper or cards.

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How to tell if wrapping paper is recyclable

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) says it's better to avoid paper that contains large amounts of foil or metallic printing. While a little bit of foil on paper doesn't necessarily prevent it from being recycled, it does reduce the amount of quality fibre that can be salvaged. This also applies to very thin paper. While this may technically be recycled it may not contain enough quality fibres for it to be worthwhile.

Steve Oulds, commercial manager for waste management company Biffa's material recycling facilities, told us: 'while composite materials may still be recyclable, recycling them becomes more difficult as more processes (and more costs) are involved to return it to being pure paper again'.

The best paper to use for your gifts is plain brown parcel paper. This can be recycled everywhere, has long high-quality fibres, and has the added benefit of often already being made up of a high percentage of recycled content. Make it look more festive with ribbons and bows (remember to save these afterwards to reuse them), twine and even trimmings of foliage found around the garden.

Make sure you remove any plastic sticky tape from paper heading into the recycling bin. Paper parcel tape and some paper-based washi tapes can be recycled with the wrapping paper.

Do local councils recycle wrapping paper?

This very much depends on the local authority. If the paper says it is recyclable, then most councils should accept it.

However, some local councils will still state that they can't accept any wrapping paper because of issues with the paper quality and the risk of contamination, so it's best to check your council's website for its waste and recycling information.

Some councils may not accept it with household recycling but will allow you take it to a household recycling centre.

Where to buy recyclable wrapping paper

We gathered information from retailers' websites about their recyclable gift wrap ranges. Where information was not available online, we asked retailers directly. The following applies to all paper-based wrapping paper. However, be aware that the retailer stating its paper is fully recyclable doesn't guarantee that your local council will accept it.

  • Asda A wide range of Asda's wrapping paper is recyclable, and this is clearly marked on packaging. It's also free of plastic and glitter (glitter has been removed from all 'single-use festive products'). All paper is FSC-certified.
  • Card Factory Has some recyclable paper - check the label.
  • Clinton Cards Nearly two-thirds of its range is recyclable - check the label. All is FSC-certified.
  • Flying TigerAll wrapping paper is FSC-certified and recyclable.
  • John Lewis/Waitrose All wrapping paper is glitter-free, FSC-certified and recyclable.
  • Morrisons All wrapping paper is glitter-free (as are all own-brand cards and seasonal items) and recyclable.
  • Paperchase All ranges are FSC-certified and the majority are recyclable. Look for information on the packaging or in-store.
  • Ryman One third of the range (including wraps, tags, bows, ribbons and gift bags) is 100% recycled and 100% recyclable. The recyclable products are clearly labelled. All the range is glitter-free.
  • Sainsbury's All ranges are FSC-certified and recyclable.
  • Tesco All wrapping paper, cards, gift bags and crackers are widely recyclable and glitter-free.
  • The Works Its brown parcel wrap is recyclable, but other ranges are not. There are some fully recyclable card ranges.
  • Waterstones All wrapping paper is all FSC-certified and recyclable.
  • WH Smith Has a recycled and recyclable range called Eco-wrap.
  • Wilko All ranges are FSC or PEFC-certified and recyclable.

Eco-friendly Christmas wrapping ideas

There are plenty of alternatives to using newly bought wrapping paper. Try using an old newspaper or magazine pages, or even pages from an old map you no longer use.

Start a habit of salvaging nice pieces of wrapping paper, tissue paper, cardboard boxes and parcel wrap you receive that could be used again, along with ribbons, bows and gift bags.

Using pieces of fabric to wrap gifts can be a stylish alternative to paper, that can be used again and again. It's a traditional Japanese technique called furoshiki wrapping and can yield impressive results.

Recyclable brown paper might not seem particularly inspiring, but it can be made to look festive by using a stamp or paints to add your own patterns, and tying it up with string. Add dried flowers, sprigs of seasonal foliage and cinnamon bark for an extra touch.