What wrapping paper can you compost and which will contaminate your soil?

wrapping paper to compost
You can compost tissue paper, foreground, but that glossy paper on top could contaminate your soil. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

It’s so exciting to see beautifully wrapped gifts, but what happens to all of that wrapping paper once the gifts are opened? Can your compost it?

You can compost some kinds of wrapping paper, but many kinds contain heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and arsenic that will contaminate your compost, said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County.

“Those heavy metals don’t break down and could end up in your vegetable garden,” Farfaglia said.

The wrapping papers that you shouldn’t compost are the ones that are glossy; that have a plastic, waxy, or metallic coating, or are shockingly bright (officially known as Astro bright), according to an article on the site of the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Think before you buy gift wrap. What will you do with it after it comes off the package? Try to choose things that you can compost, reuse or recycle.

Compost

If you plan to compost the gift wrapping, choose wrap that can be composted, such as tissue paper or non-glossy wrapping paper.

People sometimes use newspaper, especially the comics pages, as a cute way to wrap gifts. Those can be composted. Most of the printing inks used today are soy based, said Jean Bonhotal of the Cornell Waste Management Institute, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. However, don’t compost magazines with glossy pages or other glossy paper– the inks on those papers can contain heavy metals.

Plain brown paper bags or craft paper can be used to wrap gifts. You can make the paper more festive by adding your own designs, but make sure you use non-toxic craft supplies, Farfaglia said. I know that some acrylic and watercolor paints contain heavy metals, so you may want to stick to pencils, inks and markers.

Farfaglia said that if you used paints, then composted the brown paper, there would probably be only trace amounts of heavy metals in your compost, then added, “But who wants to take a chance? You don’t know where that compost will end up. It might end up in your vegetable garden.”

While not all wrapping papers can be composted, the tube from the wrapping paper can be composted.

Reuse

Gift bags can be reused. That’s not only environmentally friendlier, it saves money, too.

And if you’re careful when you open a gift, the wrapping paper can be reused as well.

A growing trend in reusable gift wrapping is furoshiki, a Japanese style of wrapping gifts in fabric. It’s simple to do and the finished packages are gorgeous. You might have an old scarf or some other fabric on hand already that would work beautifully.

Recycle

Your local recycling might take wrapping paper. A customer service agent at Modern Disposal Services said that they do accept wrapping paper. Lori Caso, who is in public affairs at Waste Management, says they also accept wrapping paper, but not foil, glitter or cellophane wrapping. Check with your local recycler to see what they accept.

Don’t burn

Don’t burn wrapping paper. It can release toxic chemicals and particulates that could actually send you to the hospital. It’s so dangerous that it’s actually against the law in New York State to burn any kind of household trash. See more here. 

Have a safe, healthy and happy holiday season!

6 Comments on “What wrapping paper can you compost and which will contaminate your soil?

  1. Linda, I’m glad you found it helpful. It seems that every Christmas I’m puzzled about what to do with the wrapping paper. I figured other people had these questions, too.

  2. Thank you for your wonderful news letter. I really appreciate it. I seem to remember that you mentioned a bug that is invading us with a stink bug. It resembles a tiny leaf. Do you have a picture and name for this bug? I have found two in my house. Yuck!

  3. Simple sewing skills can be used to make reusable gift bags. Christmas material is probably on sale now at Joanne’s and you have another 11 months to make them in any size and shape you might need. Also use designs to match a person’s interest. My nephew really liked the motorcycle motif bags. A large Santa sack I made for my niece 15 years ago is still used to bring and take gifts each year.

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