The ultimate guide to what you can recycle this Christmas

  • Before you throw wrapping paper, gift bags or greetings cards into the bin, sort out what can be recycled, and what needs to go to the landfill
  • Experts share advice and guidance on what can and cannot be processed at recycling plant, and why
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Do you know what goes in the recycling bins?

The season of gift-giving is a wonderful time. Less fun is the tidying up after, and trying to work out how to get rid of the waste.

If you’re surrounded by endless wrapping paper, festive bows and Christmas cards this holiday, it’s important to note proper recycling protocols – especially for paper products.

Heidi Brock, President and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, said a common mistake people make at the end of the year is “Wishcycling”.

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“The act of putting something in the recycling bin in the hope that someone else will figure out what to do with it, actually impedes the recycling process,” Brock said.

It’s important to sort waste at home. Not everything can be recycled, and a whole lot of things probably just need to go in the bin.

Unsure of what to do as you pack up this season’s festivities in a sustainable way? Recycle? Reuse? Or garbage? Here’s what you need to know.

Wrapping paper

Plain wrapping paper can be recycled. Sheets with foil, glitter and plastic or poly coatings cannot. Additional non-paper embellishments should also be avoided.

Not sure if your gift wrap passes the test? Britain’s national recycling campaign Recycle Now suggests the “scrunch test”: if you scrunch your paper and it doesn’t spring back, chances are it can be recycled.

Try reusing wrapping paper that can’t be recycled. If Christmas morning causes damage beyond repair, dump – and maybe consider sturdier gift bags to easily reuse in the future.

Gift bags

Gift bag recycling requirements are similar to wrapping paper. Plain paper bags can be put in the recycling bin – but not bags made with plastic, foil or fabric, according to Brock and the American Forest and Paper Association.

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If a paper bag has rope handles, beads or other non-paper decorative elements, remove them before recycling.

If your bags don’t fit recycling requirements, they will need to be thrown away or reused. Good news is, they are easy to take care of and use over and over.

Ribbons and bows

Ribbons and bows are not accepted at recycling bins. The decorations can clog production at recycling plants.

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,” said Peter Spendelow, a materials management specialist for the Department of Environmental Quality in the US state of Oregon.

When ribbons and bows are too dead to reuse, throw them away. If they’re fabric, take them to a facility that collects used clothes and cloth.

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If they’re in good shape, save them for next year – tape can be a perfect substitute adhesive.

Christmas cards

Don’t forget to sort holiday cards.

According to the American Forest and Paper Association, cards and envelopes made of paper can be recycled. But those with glitter, plastic or metallic accents should be tossed in the bin.

Most recycling processes will remove stamps.

Cardboard boxes

Online orders are on the rise this year and cardboard boxes need to be recycled properly.

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In short: don’t forget to flatten and remove non-paper packing materials.

Paper peanuts and bubble wrap are not recyclable. And unflattened boxes take up more room in recycling trucks – causing crews to make more trips, and use more petrol, contributing to more air pollution.

“This year many gifts will arrive to households in corrugated boxes, which are designed to be recycled,” Brock said. “These recycled paper fibres can be used at least seven times to make new paper products. We ask consumers to remove any non-paper packing materials, break boxes down flat, keep them dry and clean, and place them in the recycling bin.”

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