Can You Recycle Gift Bags? (Don’t Make These Mistakes)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

While the buildup to gift-exchanging events, such as Christmas, baby showers, and wedding receptions is exciting, the aftermath is anything but. Left with a mountain of packaging and clipped labels, most people just start stuffing armloads of rubbish into a large plastic bag. 

However, one item usually gives people pause on their trip to the wastebasket: the used gift bag, which looks like it’s in excellent condition. Can it be recycled? Continue reading to find out this answer and more!

Can You Recycle Gift Bags?

Plain paper gift bags are recyclable and can be put in a regular recycling bin. However, gift bags made from plastic, foil-coated paper, fabric, or most other novelty materials must be discarded with the trash and sent to landfills. Furthermore, if they are recycled they will not decompose and could potentially cause harm to the environment.

As a result, many of the most “exciting” gift bags cannot be added to the recycling bin. Nonetheless, there are many ways to conscientiously move on from any type of gift bag. So, 

keep reading to learn how you can effectively recycle your gift bags and more! 

How To Recycle Gift Bags

Gift bags made from plain paper can be recycled. However, there are usually a few steps you must take before tossing them into the recycling bin:

  • Remove any contents from the gift bag. Don’t just assume that all of the ribbons, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and labels stuffed inside are recyclable—much of it is not.
  • If the bag’s handles are made from something other than plain paper, such as rope or plastic, clip them and throw them in with the trash. 
  • Remove any plastic coverings from the bag. Sometimes, paper gift bags are placed inside of plastic to protect them from moisture.
  • Clear the surface of the gift bag of any beads, glitter, or other protruding decorations.

How To Tell If A Gift Bag Is Recyclable

When determining if a gift bag is made from plain paper, the finish will tell you a lot. 

If it has a dull finish and would readily absorb water, then it is recyclable.

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However, if it has a glossy, shiny finish from which water would readily bead, then it is coated in some other type of plastic material. 

How To Dispose Of Gift Bags

In the event that you are left with non-recyclable gift bags, the following are some best practices for disposing of them if you cannot or do not want to reuse them:

  • Donate – there are stores, agencies, and organizations that collect used gift bags, either for furnishing underprivileged families or for sale in secondhand stores.
  • Keep intact – do not rip or shred old gift bags, as it is easier to ensure that the intact bag does not escape from the waste than it is a bunch of small pieces.
  • Don’t “wishcycle” – when in doubt, throw the gift bag in the trash. Many people think they are doing good by putting an item they are unsure about into the recycling, but this undermines the recycling process by contaminating good material and slowing down recycling centers as workers have to pick through the non-recyclable garbage.

How To Reuse And Upcycle Gift Bags

How To Reuse And Upcycle Gift Bags

When you have non-recyclable gift bags on your hands, there are several ways that you can reuse or upcycle them.

For example, turning discarded gift bags into new and desirable objects. Some ideas include:

  • Gift bag swaps – while it can be boring to use the same gift bag to package items for every single event, one creative idea is to do gift bag swaps with other recycle-minded families. 

Try to find a sustainability group in your area and swap your gift bags with other members to keep your assortment fresh for the next big occasion.

  • Convert to shopping bags – with some states set to ban plastic shopping bags shortly, it may be time to start collecting new totes for your trip to the supermarket.

Therefore, rather than spend money on reusable shopping bags, consider repurposing old gift bags to fill the need.

  • Use them for a DIY project – as the world is in the midst of a DIY boom, consider using your old gift bags for your latest creative project. 
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Head over to Pinterest to look for ways to make a colorful placemat or tablecloth quilt from your old gift bags.

Are Gift Bags Bad For The Environment?

As with most items, gift bags are not inherently bad for the environment. 

However, when they are not used and disposed of properly, then they have the potential to create a negative environmental impact. 

Too many recyclable gift bags are automatically thrown into the trash. 

In addition, most non-recyclable gift bags are used once and then discarded. 

As they are not biodegradable, improperly managed gift bag waste can cause harm to wildlife, forests, and water bodies. 

Can You Recycle A Gift Bag’s Complementary Products?

The issue with gift bags and recyclability is that a gift bag is seldom the only type of packaging included with a gift

This can create some issues because even if the gift bag is recyclable, there is a good chance that one of the complimentary gift preparation items is not. 

Therefore, it is important to not lump all items together and assess them individually for recycling purposes. 

  • Tissue Paper – most people are not shy about stuffing a gift bag with tissue paper to help hide the gift. 

Fortunately, most tissue paper is recyclable, however, before automatically assuming that you are good to toss tissue paper into the recycling bin, check to confirm that it is not metallic, plastic, or glittery, as only standard tissue paper is recyclable. 

  • Labels and Stamps – the recycling process will take care of removing any labels or stamps that are attached to your gift bag. 

Therefore, when preparing your gift bag for recycling, feel free to leave these items intact. 

  • Ribbons and Bows – ribbons and bows are not recyclable products. 

Therefore, try to reuse them, but if they are too shabby, toss them in with the waste. 

Furthermore, ensure all ribbons and bows are thoroughly removed from the gift bag before placing the bag itself in with the recycling. 

  • Tape – all kinds of tape, including the Scotch tape most likely used for gift wrapping, are not recyclable, as they are made from petroleum-based, waterproof materials.
  • Greeting Cards – the greeting cards inserted into the gift bag follow nearly identical rules as the gift bag itself. 
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If they are made from plain paper, they can be recycled. However, many of the fancier cards have some glossy coating or glittery finish that makes them non-recyclable. 

  • Wrapping Paper – unfortunately, most wrapping papers are not recyclable. As many of the glossy wrapping papers are coated in foil, cellophane, or plastic that can’t be recycled. 

Some plain-paper wrapping papers can be recycled; however, these are not as popular as coated products because they rip more readily during the wrapping process. 

Furthermore, an excellent way to tell if wrapping paper is recyclable is by scrunching it into a tight ball. If it stays scrunched, it is made from recyclable paper.

However, if it begins to open back up on its own, then it is most likely not recyclable. 

To learn more, you can also read our posts on whether you can recycle phone books, whether you can recycle Pringles cans, and whether you can recycle rubber bands.


Despite the excitement of gift exchanging events, the aftermath leaves a mountain of debris that can be difficult to dispose of mindfully. To this effect, one of the items that create the most dissonance during the clean-up process is gift bags. 

Plain paper gift bags can be recycled, while coated paper bags and bags made from novelty materials cannot. Whatever the case, there are several ways to creatively reuse and upcycle old gift bags to lessen negative environmental impact. 


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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