Most Wrapping Paper Isn’t Recyclable. A Hawaii Woman Wants to Change That.
Wrappily’s Sara Smith collaborates with artists and designers across the United States to create graphic styles made with recyclable newsprint.
We don’t usually think about what happens to gift wrapping after it’s ripped away. But Sara Smith has spent years thinking about it.
Most wrapping paper isn’t recyclable and won’t break down on its own, due to the amount of plastic and non-paper additives that go into conventional wraps. So, Smith founded her company, Wrappily, to provide an environmentally conscious alternative. The Hawaii resident now collaborates with artists and designers across the United States to add new styles to her already extensive line of wrapping paper made with recyclable newsprint.
While it’s a seemingly small change to make this holiday season, here’s the rub: Plastic shopping bags, sacks, and wraps comprise 4 million tons of trash a year nationally, according to the federal government.
Why did you start Wrappily?
When all my friends were having kids or getting married, I was the one at the end of the party smoothing out the tissue paper and wrapping up ribbon—then it was stacking up in my house in a giant basket. I was calling recycling centers across Hawaii and they wouldn’t accept it. I realized there was nothing to do with all of the leftover gift-wrapping supplies, so my brain started thinking about alternatives.
What is your background?
My dad owned his own printing press and was raised in my grandfather’s printing press in New York. I remember as a little girl going in there and they would print labels for Johnson & Johnson. I went to school and studied journalism and worked in print at The Maui News. That’s why I could envision the printing presses.
What does the average consumer not consider when buying gift wrap?
Most people want to do the right thing for the environment. Maybe on a label it has a sustainability icon or it’s on 100% recycled paper or says it is recyclable, but sometimes these papers still have glossy coatings, or glitter and foils, and that means it goes in the trash. I’m particularly sensitive because we have a landfill in the center of Maui that’s just getting larger and larger, so we want to keep things out of there. Tree-free is a new thing that people are seeing, like stone paper, but even that is 20% plastic.
Newspapers are easy to recycle and can be pulped and reformed. They say a piece of newsprint can be recycled seven times because it’s so easy to remill.
How should people get rid of it?
Newspaper is next to aluminum cans and is one of the easiest things to recycle. So when the present is unwrapped, you can recycle it [the giftwrap] with your newspaper, compost it, put it in your worm bin, or if it does end up in landfill, it will biodegrade a lot quicker than glossy conventional wrap.
What’s your printing process?
The press that we print on now is up in Washington state. Our paper is also milled in Washington. The printer produces daily and weekly papers, and then they switch out the plates to feature Wrappily prints with animals and plants and all of our vivid colors which is always a cute scene. Newspapers are automatically double-sided, so our wrapping papers also are, which lets us offer two patterns on one sheet.
Where does each design come from?
Our paper may be humble because of its process and purpose, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it super fresh. I decided I was going to collaborate with artists and bring their designs to life. It’s not polka dots or stripes or chevrons. I’m working with artists that have their own styles and are doing fun stuff. They’re watercolorists or screenprinters. I just collaborated with a woman who makes mosaics out of plants and we turned that into a sheet.
How do you hope to influence the way people wrap their gifts?
I really love when people write to me, saying they composted all of their wrapping paper after Christmas. In the West, we have a lot more progressive recycling capacities but everyone doesn’t have that. You’re giving and receiving gifts all over the place; you’ll end up with someone else’s idea of gift wrap. Make an effort to call your local recycling center to see what they suggest you do with leftover paper and wrappings. They have clear guidelines of what they will accept or where to take it instead.