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It’s time we all gave serious thought to how we wrap our gifts

Published: 1 December 2020

Wrapping Paper Wrapping paper

In his regular feature, Denis the Dustcart talks about wrapping paper and how some wrapping paper is contaminated with glitter and foil, which the paper mills definitely don't want.

You can follow Denis on his Facebook page to keep up with information about Recycling issues.


It’s time we all gave serious thought to how we wrap our gifts.

Like in previous years, in Exeter we won't be able to take wrapping in the green bin this Christmas.

Why? I mean, it's paper, right?

Yes, but it's terrible paper.

It's such poor quality that it doesn't make pulp. Its fibres are too short and it turns into a sludge that can't be formed into new paper.

Also, some wrapping paper is contaminated with glitter and foil, which the paper mills definitely don't want.

If we sent wrapping paper off to the mill with our normal paper, it would mean that load couldn’t then be recycled into quality newsprint. Moreover, the paper mill wouldn’t give us very much for any of it, affecting income for public services.

The UK gets through an estimated 227,000 miles of wrapping paper each year, according to the GWP Group. Even if it were recyclable, which most of it isn’t, that’s a lot of single-use paper.

Greenpeace estimates that 1KG of wrapping paper can cost up to 3.5KG of carbon emissions during production alone. So that isn’t including transportation to the shop or our travel to buy it, or the collection and disposal of the waste.

And then of course we must consider where the paper comes from in the first place. DEFRA suggests that 50,000 trees are cut down each year to make wrapping paper and gift bags. Gift bags can be used again, but still.

Here in Exeter we took the decision a few years ago to ask people not to put their wrapping paper out for recycling. It just causes too many problems. Attempting to recycle something that is largely unrecyclable is not a viable use of fuel and energy – electrical and human. Picking wrapping paper off the conveyor belts after Christmas can cause our workers to miss other more recyclable and therefore more items.

We CAN, however, take brown paper. You can even print it with inks or water-based paints. You could also use newspaper or old comics. Try to keep tape to a minimum and don't put any ribbons or string in the green bin.

But the most sustainable options are reusable gift boxes and cloth wraps. These can be given as part of the gift or, if they’re staying in your home, stored away for use next year.

The beauty of giving gifts in reusable wrapping is that it creates either a circular gift-wrap economy or a ‘pay it forward’ situation, with each recipient able to pass the wrapping back next year with their own gift or send it on to someone new who can then use it in turn.

It’s the gift wrap that keep on giving.

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