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, BeRecycled.org 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.