The Cambrian

Recycle that wrapping paper, but not the ribbons: Holiday recycling do’s and don’ts

A recycling basket sits atop a trash can in downtown San Luis Obispo. Photo by Joe Johnston 07-30-18
A recycling basket sits atop a trash can in downtown San Luis Obispo. Photo by Joe Johnston 07-30-18

“It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiime of the year,” goes the old holiday tune.

And it is, in so many ways. However, many of us quake at the thought of the increase in consumerism across the land and the consequences it holds for our planet’s well-being. Many of us try to mitigate this uptick in purchasing of goods by recycling or reusing. Here are a few tips as you unwrap that hand-knit sweater from Gramma.

First and foremost, reduce. But it’s too late to decline offerings. The sweater came.

What do you do with the wrapping?

Cardboard: As long as it is uncoated, break it down and put into the recycle bin after removing any excessive plastic strapping tape. That’s a pretty obvious one, but what if, like me, someone reuses say, a frozen food box to present some nice candles in? Do not recycle boxes with any kind of coating on them. Just like pizza boxes with oil or food on them, they gum up the works and contaminate the load of recyclables (you’re going to see the word “contaminate” a lot in this piece). Pull the top, clean portion of the pizza box off, by the way, and blue bin it)

What about the wrapping paper? If it’s plain old paper, into the recycle bin it goes.

However, if it has glitter, flocking or doesn’t pass the “crinkle test” (crush it up in your hand; if it pops open instead of staying crumpled up) it must go into the garbage can. It isn’t recyclable, and it will contaminate whole loads of material collected. Same with bubble wrap, cellophane and anything else with mixed materials in it. The facilities are unable to separate these things.

I love to take time to send 100 Christmas cards out, and I love receiving them as well. It just makes me feel connected. What to do with them after the holiday is over? Perhaps you like to save the photo cards in albums to watch people grow and adventure through life. If not or for the others, you can recycle some of them. Do not put the following materials into the recycle bin: glitter, add-ons, flocking, coated, strings or ribbon. You may cut the plain paper backs off cards and recycle them, but toss the rest. Home-printed photos are fine to recycle, but some commercially printed pics are not. Make art with them or… trash them.

Speaking of ribbon, Do not put ribbons in the recycling bin! Tinsel, ribbons and strings all clog up the discs used to separate materials out. I read where they are likened to hair getting wrapped around the roller brush in your vacuum. Take the time to separate all these materials, including tape-on bows from all packages and cards.

Decorations? Artificial trees are not recyclable but are certainly donate-able! Christmas lights can go into E-waste bins. Ornaments are unfortunately not recyclable. Any broken glass, whether standard household light bulbs, glass ornaments, wine glasses, picture glass all must go into the garbage. Besides, it is too unsafe for sanitation workers to be surprised by the material.

My mom used to have a whole cupboard shelf dedicated to used wrapping paper, ribbons and bows. They got reused countless times. Paper gift bags are easily reused. Cover your text books with colorful paper. We used last year’s greeting cards to make into ornaments or gift tags. While cookie tins are recyclable, consider reusing them to organize nuts and bolts in the garage, Legos, craft or sewing supplies, etc. You can decoupage them with some of the groovier wrapping papers you received.

China has been the recipient of much of America’s recyclable materials, mainly paper goods. However, due to our poor separating habits, much of the waste is turning into just that – waste – as it cannot be recycled with so many contaminants. My son in Portland says that is a big issue up there where they ask citizens to separate out things way further than we do in SLO County. It is widely suggested, even if your particular municipality doesn’t specify it, that all acceptable paper goods be put into their own container and containers to be recycled should be clean and dry before going near paper goods (no dirty paper plates, coffee cups, used paper towels – all the dampness gets gross and possibly moldy).

The bottom line? Enjoy the holidays. Take time to pull tape off papers, remove any strings or ribbons or bows and put them into their own package to be reused or trashed. Pay attention to all the plastic wrappers or bags that often accompany electronics or items that have “some assembly required.” Be grateful that you have been so blessed by someone’s generosity and good intentions but clean up in the most responsible way possible.

Happy New Year!

For more information on what to recycle locally, go to

For more information on recycling in general, go to

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian.
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