Give the Holiday Gift that Keeps on Giving: Recycle!

The holidays are here!  And as always, paper will play an important part in our celebrations – from shopping bags, gift boxes and decorations to greeting cards and cardboard shipping boxes. And after the holidays are over, you can give a gift that keeps on giving by recycling. The paper and paper-based packaging you recycle this holiday season extends the life of a valuable natural resource (wood fiber from trees), prevents waste from going to landfills and avoids the release of greenhouse gas emissions that occur when paper decomposes in landfills. And who knows, it might just end up as part of someone else’s holiday celebration next year!

Nearly all Americans and Canadians have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs, and both Americans and Canadians are clearly committed to recycling – not just during the holidays, but throughout the year. The U.S. recovers 66% of its paper and paperboard packaging and 92% of corrugated cardboard for recycling annually.  Canada recovers nearly 70% of its paper and paper-based packaging and 85% of corrugated cardboard.

Even so, the wide array of holiday-related paper items in our homes can confuse even the most dedicated recycler. To help clear up any confusion about what should and should not go into your recycling bin, here are some tips from the American Forest and Paper Association.

Cardboard boxes. The cardboard boxes you received on your doorstep from shopping online are designed to be recycled. Remove any non-paper packing materials (like air pillows or foam peanuts), break boxes down flat, keep them dry and clean and place them in the recycling bin. You don’t need to remove shipping labels or tape. Even if your box is dented, beat up, ripped or even a little dirty from the shipping process, it can still be recycled.

Greeting cards and envelopes.  Paper greeting cards and envelopes can be put in the recycling bin. Don’t worry about removing the stamp from the envelope – the recycling process takes care of that for you. But if your cards include glitter, metallic accents, plastic or other materials that can’t be removed, they should be placed in the trash.

Paper gift bags.  Paper gift bags can be put in the recycling bin. However, gift bags made with plastic, foil-coated paper, fabric or other materials will need to go in the trash can if you can’t reuse them. If your paper gift bag has non-paper handles, glitter or beads, those things need to be removed before placing the bag in the recycling bin.

Wrapping paper.  Wrapping made from paper that does not have a plastic coating can be recycled in many municipalities. Foil, cellophane and plastic-coated wrapping paper, as well as paper with glitter, cannot be recycled.

Tissue paper.  Tissue paper can typically be recycled as long as it’s not metallic or glittery.

Ribbons and bows.  Unfortunately, ribbons and bows are not accepted in recycling bins. If you can’t reuse them, put them in the trash.

If you’re unsure of your community’s recycling guidelines, offers a nationwide lookup system that can lead you to the right spot for your town’s recycling rules.

If you’ve checked your local guidelines and are still unsure about recycling a particular item, throw it out. Putting items in your recycling bin that can’t be recycled can jam recycling equipment and contaminate recyclable paper that otherwise could be made into new products.

For more information, check out our fact sheet on Paper Recovery and Recycling.

Letters to Santa … A Sustainable Holiday Tradition

Who depends on print and paper more than anyone else this time of year? Why, Santa of course! A handwritten letter is still the method of choice for sending Christmas wish lists to the man in red. According to the U.S. Postal Service, hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus arrive at post offices across the country each December. Santa’s helpers, through programs like the USPS’s 100-year-old Operation Santa® program, respond to many of these letters, making holiday wishes come true for needy children.

In addition, the USPS provides a fun way for Santa to reply to children’s letters — complete with the North Pole postmark! The Greetings from the North Pole Post Office program adds to the excitement of Christmas and is ideal for getting kids interested in letter writing, stamps and penmanship. To participate, letters to Santa must be in the mail by December 7.

The time-honored tradition of putting ink on paper, sealing the envelope and dropping a letter to Santa in the mail is one of those very personal, tactile experiences that’s impossible to capture with an email. It’s also a very sustainable way to communicate with the North Pole’s most celebrated resident. In fact, we have it on good authority that Santa, a fellow known for keeping lists, uses the following “Top 10” to remind people that print on paper is a sound environmental choice.

Santa’s Top 10 Facts on Print and Paper Sustainability

  1. Paper is made with wood fiber from trees grown in sustainably managed forests. Wood, when sourced from well managed forests or plantations, is a renewable material with many advantages over non-renewable alternatives. (World Wildlife Fund)
  2. More trees are grown in the U.S. and Canada – through planting and natural regeneration – than are harvested each year. (U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Canada)
  3. Between 1990 and 2020, U.S. net forest area increased by 18 million acres – an area equivalent to 1,200 NFL football fields every day! Net forest area in Canada remained stable at around 857 million acres during the same period.  (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)
  4. Logging to make paper is not considered a cause of deforestation because the trees are expected to grow back through natural regeneration or sustainable forestry practices. (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)
  5. 58% of the forestland in the U.S. is owned and managed by private forest owners, which include nearly 11 million family forest owners who typically own less than 100 acres. 89% of wood harvested in the U.S. comes from these private forests, which provide most of the wood for domestically produced paper products. (U.S. Forest Service)
  6. The demand for sustainable paper products provides a strong financial incentive for landowners to manage their land responsibly and keep it forested rather than selling it for development or other non-forest uses. (Dovetail Partners)
  7. In the United States, paper is recycled more than any other material, including plastics, glass and metals. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
  8. More than 66% of paper and paper-based packaging produced in the United States is recovered for recycling, and in Canada nearly 70% is recovered and recycled. (American Forest and Paper Association, Forest Products Association of Canada)
  9. Over 65% of the energy used to manufacture U.S. paper comes from renewable, carbon-neutral fuels, primarily wood-based biomass. (American Forest and Paper Association)
  10. The print, paper and mail value chain supports 7.4 million U.S. jobs and contributes $1.5 trillion in sales revenue to the U.S. economy. (EMA Foundation)

Click here for more facts on the sustainability of print, paper and paper-based packaging.