During the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, Americans generate 25 percent more waste, or 1 million extra tons of trash each year, according to the EPA. Whoa. So what to do with all that extra trash?
Every year, I get lots of emails asking whether certain holiday items are recyclable: gift wrap, tags, ribbons, boxes, bags. To help you make sure you’re keeping your trash to a bare minimum, here’s my guide to cleaning up the Christmas season.
If you’re anything like my family, you’ll end up with a pile of packaging discards after the presents have been opened. The easiest thing to do is shove all this packaging into a garbage can, haul it to the curb, and forget about it. Many Americans do exactly that, which is why landfills are swollen with extra junk this time of year.
Instead, do what I do. Wait until things have died down a bit after the holiday festivities are over. Go retrieve that bin of wrapping discards, plop yourself in front of a good football game or cooking show, start sorting into the following piles:
- Wrapping paper: This is almost always recyclable. Submit it to the “tear” test – can you tear it easily, like newspaper? If so, it’s recyclable with your normal paper. Wrapping paper made from foil or plastic cannot be recycled. It’s okay to leave little pieces of tape and the adhesive labels to the paper when recycling. (Note: If the wrapping paper is particularly nice and still in good condition, nothing says you can’t save it, iron it on very low heat, and reuse it next year).
- Ribbon and bows: Ribbon is not recyclable. Reuse it if you can – I have a bag filled with ribbons from gifts I’ve received, so I never have to buy new ribbon.
- Tissue paper:This stuff is really too thin to be recycled, but it’s definitely compostable. Or, reuse it! It’s meant to looked crinkled anyway.
- Gift bags: Reuse these. We have some bags that have been passed around from family to family dozens of times. They’re sturdy, durable, and very pretty.
- Raffia: Raffia is that stuff that looks like grassy ribbon – it’s brown, frays easily, and looks very natural. Raffia is a plant-product, so it can’t be recycled. Instead, compost it.
- Cardboard and boxes: Reuse all those boxes if you can. Otherwise, break them down and recycle them.
- Packaging peanuts: Click on the link to find a local mailing/shipping facility near you that accepts Styrofoam peanuts for recycling. Or, keep these somewhere in a closet and reuse when you need to ship something fragile – but be sure to ask the recipient to recycle, too; packing peanuts are nasty on the environment.
- Plastic film: Stretchy plastic film can be recycled in your local grocery store plastic bag recycling receptacle. Use the finger test to be sure – slowly stretch your finger through a piece of plastic film. If it stretches with your finger, it’s recyclable. If it stays put or breaks, throw it out.
- Blister pouches and plastic clamshells:Look for for the plastic number coding symbol on plastic clamshells. Often, these are recyclable, but it depends on facilities in your area. If you find something marked # 3 plastic, this is garbage because the # 3 is code for PVC – this stuff is so nasty, it’s actually better to throw it away than melt it down for recycling, which releases toxic chemicals into the air.
- Gift tags: If gift tags have sticky backs and they’ve come loose from their wrapping paper, they are garbage. Otherwise, recycle any paper gift tags with paper recycling. The only paper gift tags that aren’t recyclable are the ones that come bedazzled in glitter, sequins, ribbon, pom-poms, etc. – these get thrown away.
Two other holiday items should be recycled. Don’t forget about:
- Christmas cards: When you are finished with your beautiful holiday cards, consider sending them to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. The organization accepts card donations, removes the front, and attaches the front to a new back. Donors can buy these recycled holiday cards and support the organization at the same time.
- Christmas trees and greenery: If you have a cut Christmas tree or other festive greenery in your house, don’t send it to the landfill. Take advantage of a local curbside recycling program. If you don’t have access to one, cut the tree into smaller parts and slowly compost it.
Now, it’s time to start thinking about those green New Year’s resolutions. Stay tuned!