Glitter wrapping paper is sparkly, shiny, and can really set the holiday mood for everyone. But here's the bad news: glitter gift wrap isn't safe to recycle. In fact, any wrapping paper that's laminated, decorated with colored foil, or glittery can't be recycled and must be sent to a landfill.
This waste adds onto an estimated total of 25 million tons of extra trash that's created during the winter holidays — which usually start with Thanksgiving and ends by New Year's Day.
"The fancier the wrapping paper, the less recyclable it is," says Jeremy Walters, the sustainability ambassador at Republic Services, to Mic. Republic Services is the second largest provider of waste disposal and recycling in the United States. "The challenge with the 'fancy' paper is that it simply isn’t all paper," he explains. "Glitter, foil, and cellophane are made of plastic or metallic materials, and it’s impossible to separate them for recycling."
So all that glam and glitter means sparkly wrapping paper is actually part-paper and part-plastic or foil. Each component of the paper is so small and mixed up with other materials that it can't be sorted in the recycling facility. The glittery parts that are left in the landfills can end up contributing to the amount of microplastics that now pollute our food and water sources.
"Only simple glitter-free, non-laminated wrapping paper can go in your recycling bin," he continues. But that doesn't mean all your glitter goods should be tossed out immediately. "Once the gifts are opened, you should save and reuse glitter-laden bags," Walters suggests. "This saves natural resources and can help you save money when the holidays come around next year."
Gift givers should also try to reuse "cellophane wrapping paper, shiny bows, and ribbons because they can’t be recycled either."
If you haven't bought your wrapping paper yet, consider more sustainable alternatives that are reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable.
"When it comes time to wrapping gifts with sustainability in mind, take simple or creative approaches," recommends Walters. "For example, try wrapping gifts in brown craft paper, which is recyclable, and add a pinecone or sprig from your tree to give your gift wrap some rustic flair while being eco-friendly. For the kids, wrap their gifts in the comic section from the newspaper. As they eagerly wait to open their gifts, they can read their favorite comic strips."
As with most sustainability efforts, it's best to use what you already have. Other crafters suggest using cloth or scarves to wrap any awkwardly shaped gifts. Reusing containers, like glass jars or tin boxes, can also serve as sturdy packaging without requiring you to buy more.
According to Walters, other good, recyclable items to use are "cardboard and paper boxes, plain wrapping paper and paper gift bags, holiday cards and envelopes that don’t have embellishments like glitter and glued-on decorations," and sticky gift tags that are "affixed to an envelope or wrapping paper." Sticky gift tags are not recyclable on their own, however.
If you're still concerned about the amount of holiday waste produced during this time of year, then glitter gift wrap isn't the only item to be wary of. Other festive items that can't be recycled include "bubble wrap, foam packaging, cellophane, plastic bags, holiday lights, tinsel, ribbons, laminated/coated gift bags, bows, artificial and real Christmas trees, batteries, food packaging and waste, clothing, shoes, and electronics."
"We call this 'Santa’s Bad List,'" Walters adds. "If you can’t reuse or donate these items, put them in a waste container, not your recycling bin."