Handmade Wrapping Paper Is A Cute Idea – But Is It Actually Recyclable?

Thought brown paper was the answer to a green Christmas? It depends on how you decorate it.

I thought I knew about the perils of Christmas wrapping paper. That Britain uses more than 100m rolls of festive wrap every Christmas, most of it headed straight to landfill by Boxing Day. That my penchant for the glittery stuff is probably no better for the environment than dumping a load of plastic straight into the river.

So, this year I’ve decided to go, ahem, cold turkey, and embrace the warm, wholesome glow of brown paper, hand decorated by my two little boys.

This was the plan: buy a few rolls of recycled brown wrap, scatter various paints and art materials over a table, make some stamps, and let the kids go mad. Messy, yes, but the end result would have family and friends cooing over their carefully chosen presents and homemade wrapping. And once they’d admired my offspring’s talents, they could it put in the recycling bin, conscious-clear. This is going to win me green points and parenting ones, I thought smugly.

But I had a problem. We thought we were saving the planet. We were wrong.

The Christmas wrap production line was already underway when the plan began to unravel. We’d fished out a few hairy old potatoes from a cupboard and fashioned them into stamps. I’d got poster paints and paint sticks (water soluble, must be fine). My five-year-old, with a bit of artistic direction from his younger brother, drew rockets and aliens, and wrote things (mostly insane LOVE YOU!! messages) all over the paper. His friends loved it. I took pictures.

We were winning. I had even (self-righteously) ordered brown paper sticky tap. I’ll just check a few sites about recycling tips, I thought. Won’t take long.

And there it was – ‘brown paper’ listed in the ‘no thanks’ column of the proper, grown up, recycling advice. What about all the parenting and craft blogs and Pinterest posts extolling the virtues of the stuff? I don’t even want to tell you what I read when I Googled ‘can you recycle paper that’s been painted on?’.

So, I decided to press pause on our crafting and track down the experts from WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme). And here’s what I learnt.

Brown paper is treated separately to other paper. Made from recycled material: often. But recyclable? Well, it depends. Wherever your local recycling services ask you to separate paper and card, brown paper goes in the card pile. And this is why so many sites says ‘no’ to it and it can still end up in landfill.

Next, our paint mistake. Your kids can draw to their hearts’ content. But paint can only account for about 5% of the wrapping, otherwise, it’s much harder to recycle. And if you add glitter, that makes the wrap completely non-recyclable.

As for the brown sticky tape, that goes in landfill too – even if it looks good and was also recycled in the first place. WRAP’s Recycle Now, campaign advises using string, raffia, ribbon or any other ties you can reuse instead.

It was time to go back to the drawing board – or kitchen table – this time with some different materials – pencils, crayons, (no one said they weren’t banned), and an Ikea watercolour palette. We used a baby shape-sorter puzzle and posh cookie cutter to trace shapes, then added splodges of colour with some chunky day-glo paint sticks for added brightness. No more than 5% coverage, mind.

The results, as you can see below, are a clear homage to the early Russian avant-garde movement, with a hint of Constructivism. Or something like that.

Not only can this special wrapping be recycled, it’s made with love and it’s personalised (a great excuse to make if what you handing over more closely resembles something the cat walked over with wet paws). Oh, and you’ve got the kids to do something productive for half an hour. So now you know.

Making sure the present inside isn’t plastic – now, that’s your next challenge.