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Used wrapping paper not much of a gift to the recycling market

Marketplace Contributor Dec 26, 2016
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David Everett Strickler/Visualhunt

Now that Christmas has passed and Christmas presents have been unwrapped, all that wrapping paper has to go somewhere. What about the recycling bin? How does that market work when it comes to gift wrap?

When a piece of used gift wrap gets recycled, a collector picks it up, bundles it with a lot more and sells it to a paper mill by the ton. Americans spend more than $7 billion on wrapping paper each year, according to Sundale Research. With so much of that torn off of gifts during the holiday season, you might think the influx of supply would drive the price down.

Not so, said Michael Hoffman, an analyst with Stifel Financial.

“It would take an awful lot of Christmas paper,” he said. “You won’t impact the weight enough to have altered the volume in the marketplace. It’s just too lightweight.”

About 70 percent of recycled paper comes from cardboard; wrapping paper is only a small fraction. And it’s so thin and inky that it’s often more trouble than it’s worth to extract the fibers. 

“The ink diminishes the yield, it creates extra sludge when you process it, it requires additional chemicals,” said Bill Moore, a paper recycling consultant based in Atlanta.

Moore is an avid recycler who divides his own paper waste into four recycling streams. So what would he do with wrapping paper?

“I’d throw it away,” he said.

Then, he reconsidered: “I might use it to start my fire.”

And forget about gift wrap made with foil or plastic. Most recyclers won’t take it.

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