Improperly recycled gift wrapping creates sorting headache for waste plants

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Brew

In the mad rush to pile that present mountain under the tree in shiniest bows and ribbons, how many of us think about the waste we’re generating in the process?

Because once the gifts have been unwrapped, the shiny bows and ribbons discarded into a green bag, even the most conscientious recyclers may inadvertently be creating a headache for the folks at the local waste management plant.

As CBC reports, our collective recycling skills still need some refinement, particularly after the holidays. Many Canadians still haven’t mastered the difference between what gets recycled, what gets thrown in the trash and what gets sorted into compost – and this applies doubly to the discarded remains of our Christmas loot.

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The news network spoke to Heather Myers, disposal manager at P.E.I.’s Island Waste Management Corporation, who said her employees tend to find themselves up to their ears in extra sorting at this time of year.

While wrapping paper belongs in compost, she said, the ribbons and bows attached to the paper do not. Workers have to manually extract these items to prevent them from compromising the quality of the finished product.

"The organics go to the central compost facility for processing, so if there's plastic in there, then the plastic doesn't break down. And it's very difficult for the staff to pull it all out in the sorting line," she added.

Instead, wrapping accessories with plastic or foil belong in the trash.

According to the Regional District of Nanaimo, the extra waste we create each year from giftwrapping and shopping bags alone adds up to 545,000 tonnes – and a generous percentage of that stockpile no doubt comes from the holiday season.

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Another startling statistic: if Canadians choose to wrap just three gifts in reused paper or gift bags, we’d save enough paper to lay across 45,000 hockey rinks. Aside from the poor Zamboni drivers, it’s hard to argue against taking a few simple steps to reduce excess waste. also offers a few tips on how to minimize the extra load. If possible, try to preserve the wrapping paper and ribbons by unwrapping carefully and storing it in a cupboard or drawer (this does not apply to children’s gifts, which may look like they’ve been unwrapped by a horde of Tasmanian Devils.).

Gift bags are also easy to save, along with tissue paper that can be smoothed out and refolded for future use.

And if you’ve received any gift catalogues that you don’t wish to keep, make sure to put those in the recycling bin set aside for paper goods.

For those still in a holiday haze, it’s not too late to properly resort the recycling. Studies have shown that it can reduce the duration and intensity of spiked eggnog hangovers. (OK, no studies show this, but please be conscientious!)