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Is wrapping paper recyclable? Get answers to your holiday trash and recycling queries

The post-holiday period leaves many well-meaning Minnesotans wondering what items should be trashed and what can be recycled.

Is wrapping paper recyclable? Get answers to your holiday trash and recycling queries
Is wrapping paper recyclable? Get answers to your holiday trash and recycling queries

Christmas has passed, leaving behind a mess of debris.
Mountains of wrapping paper, broken string lights, holiday cards, and Christmas trees pose a dilemma for eco-conscious Minnesotans: what goes in the trash and what can be recycled?
The answer isn’t clear-cut, often resulting in “wish-cycling”—tossing items into the recycling bin on hope rather than certainty. Unfortunately, this usually misses the mark.
“It essentially just prolongs an item’s journey to the landfill,” explains Alisa Reckinger, communications and outreach specialist at Hennepin County’s Environment and Energy Department. “It also compromises recycling efficiency by contaminating genuine recyclables.”
While materials like paper and plastic have standard disposal methods, guidelines for other items may differ by location. For specific instructions, check with your local municipality or waste management provider.
Here are some tips on how to correctly handle common post-holiday waste.

Wrapping Paper

Consider it trash, unless it’s a simple material like brown paper or newsprint. To ensure recycling sorters process it correctly, fold the paper instead of crumpling it into a ball.

“A large ball of paper may not be recognized by the sorting machines,” explained Reckinger. While excessive tape is problematic for recycling, a small amount is usually acceptable.

There are two main issues with wrapping paper: First, many types are embellished with foil and glitter which hinder recyclability. “These additions prevent easy recycling,” noted Reckinger.

Secondly, conventional wrapping papers are often made from low-quality paper saturated with dye. “The poor quality complicates the recycling process,” she added.

Tissue Paper

If it’s beyond use, discard it. Tissue paper is typically low-grade and heavily dyed like many other wrapping papers.
However, Andrea McKennan, the outreach and engagement supervisor at Ramsey County Environmental Health, suggests reusing it when possible. “I fold and save any pieces that aren’t torn or excessively wrinkled,” she mentioned. “It’s also great for packing away ornaments when dismantling your Christmas tree.”

Real Christmas Trees and Greenery
Disposal methods vary by location; check with your local municipality or waste collection service.
In Ramsey County, residents can take their trees to designated yard waste sites. While flocked trees are not accepted here, some places may accept them. The county advises disposing of Christmas trees promptly to prevent harboring invasive pests.
In Minneapolis and St. Paul, trees under 6 feet tall can be placed beside your trash bin for collection.

Ensure all decorations and lights are removed before disposal.
For wreaths and garlands containing metal or wires, verify if they’re accepted at yard waste facilities as many do not take them.

String Lights

Do not recycle string lights in your home recycling bin; doing so could land you on the recycler’s ‘naughty list.’ String lights are known as ‘tanglers’ because they ensnare themselves in sorting machinery—often requiring manual removal.
Extend the life of string lights through repair whenever possible. Once unusable, Hennepin and Ramsey counties have drop-off centers for these items where the metal can be extracted for recycling.

Additionally, various retailers offer recycling programs for old string lights. For locations throughout Minnesota offering this service visit:

Holiday Cards:

Should you toss or recycle holiday cards? It depends on the material. Discard cards with photo paper, glitter, foil, or ribbons in the trash. However, if it’s just plain card stock, feel free to recycle it, advises Reckinger.

Batteries and Electronics:

Always recycle these items at an appropriate facility. By taking batteries to a designated drop-off site, you’ll not only ensure their materials are reused but also prevent potential fires at waste facilities.

If your area offers electronics recycling—like Ramsey County does through its partnership with Repowered—it’s a wise choice. “You can bring computers, gaming systems, TVs, and phones—even with batteries—for either recycling or refurbishment,” McKennan explains. “They’ll erase any data before deciding whether to redistribute functioning items within the community.”

Toy Packaging:

The recyclability of toy packaging varies. Generally speaking, both paper and plastic components can be recycled—if they’re separable; recycle the paper portion as per McKennan’s guidance.

For plastics marked with a recyclable number for your region: go ahead and recycle them. If there’s no number or it isn’t accepted locally—which is often the case—you should dispose of it in regular garbage along with styrofoam.

Planning for Sustainability:

Feeling guilty about holiday waste? Now’s an excellent time to plan for more sustainable practices next year suggests Reckinger. Consider using gift boxes that can be reused alongside reusable bags, bows made from cloth rather than disposable options—all aimed at reducing landfill contributions.

“Set this intention now; having a strategy will simplify things when next year’s holiday season gets busy,” she encourages.

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