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For Recyclers, Holiday Gift Wrap Is A Mine Field Of 'Contaminants'

 Most glittery or metallic wrapping paper can’t be recycled.
King County Solid Waste
Most glittery or metallic wrapping paper can’t be recycled.

The same shiny gift wrap and bright bows that make Christmas presents so enticing are exactly what give recycling centers headaches the day after Christmas.

At the Kootenai County Solid Waste Department in north Idaho, the day after Christmas has two distinctions. It's one of the busiest days of the year by volume. And one of the lightest days by weight.

“Because of the wrapping paper," says Roger Saterfiel, who heads the department.

“You have: your tinfoil type, your bows, your ribbons. I've noticed some really neat wrappings now where they put beads on it," he says. "All of those are a contaminant to the paper mill process.”

Saterfiel says it’s possible to separate out the recyclable paper bits. But because wrapping paper is so light, it’s practically worthless on the recyclables market. So his department sends it all to the landfill.

Elsewhere in the Northwest, many solid waste departments do offer to recycle gift wrap. But with a bunch of caveats.

  • Metallic wrapping papers aren't recyclable.
  • Tissue paper is a no go -- the fibers are too short to be made into anything else.
  • If the wrapping paper is plastered in tape, it's probably landfill bound.
  • Bows, ribbons and plastic coated gift bags -- save those for next year.

Among the places in the Northwest that do recycle wrapping paper: Boise, Kennewick, Pocatello, Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Richland, Wash., and the Rogue Valley.

Copyright 2013 Northwest News Network

Jessica Robinson
Jessica Robinson reported for four years from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho as the network's Inland Northwest Correspondent. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covered the economic, demographic and environmental trends that have shaped places east of the Cascades. Jessica left the Northwest News Network in 2015 for a move to Norway.