Recycle Smart This Holiday Season!

Happy holiday season, Smart Recyclers!  

Did you know that Americans generate 23% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year than any other time of year? That’s a lot of extra trash! Luckily, there are things we can do to reduce the amount of trash we generate this time of year. Read on for some holiday-spirited tips and tricks!

String Lights

An estimated 150 million light sets are sold in America each year.

Though beautiful on your house, tree or mantel, string lights don’t belong in your recycling bin. They wrap around machinery at your local recycling facility, causing sorting to come to a grinding halt.

Fun fact: Broken string lights may be an easy fix – try this repair tip.

If they still don’t work, look for a special collection bin. Many cities and towns across the state provide special collection bins for string lights at the holidays, (search “‘city/town name’ trash and recycling”), or year-round as electronic waste or scrap metal. If you can’t find a collection location near you, you can put them in the trash.

Food Waste

A significant amount of the waste we generate during the holidays is wasted food. Read more at ReFED.

No matter what holiday you are celebrating, a tasty meal is more than likely a central part of it. If you’re anything like us, you worry about how much food to prepare: hungry guests = party foul! Don’t worry, “Save the Food” has you covered with their Guest-imator dinner party calculator. It’ll help you plan how much you need so you can avoid buying too much. Of course, you may still have leftovers (yum!). Ask your guests to bring containers to take food with them, or use clean yogurt tubs and take-out containers to send them on their way with easy storage. And don’t forget, you can freeze leftovers, too! 

After you’ve cleared the table and packed your guests’ leftovers, make sure you rinse your cans and jars before you put them in the recycling. Food scraps should be placed in your compost or trash. As always, check the Recyclopedia if you’ve got questions about what goes in the bin.

Gift Bags, Wrapping Paper, Ribbon, Bows, and Tissue Paper

Americans trash an estimated 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper each year, and over 38 million miles of ribbon.

Once everyone has opened their gifts, what do you do with the piles of wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, and tissue paper? Reuse, reuse, reuse! Gift bags can be used for years along with refolded tissue paper. Consider also investing in some cute gift boxes or cloth bags of varying sizes that you can use over and over for wrapping gifts. They can also serve as handy storage containers for decorations, and all your reusable tissue paper, ribbons, and bows – bonus!

One more tip: Using kraft paper to wrap gifts is a win-win. It’s easily recyclable and reduces the need for tags – you can write right on it!

For anything that’s been broken, ripped, or can no longer be reused, here’s what you need to know. Gift bags can go in the recycling as long as there is no metallic ink, foil or glitter on them, in which case, they go in the trash. Don’t forget to cut those string handles off your gift bags before recycling! Tissue paper, ribbon, wrapping paper, and bows that are ready for retirement go in the trash as well.

Greeting Cards

Everyone loves mail at the holidays, so it’s no surprise Americans purchase 1.6 billion holiday cards this time of year. 

Spreading holiday cheer is one of the best ways to celebrate this special time of year. Consider purchasing cards made from recycled paper, making your own from cards you’ve received, or sending an e-card (some people do it 😉). Greeting cards and their envelopes are recyclable unless there is metallic ink, foil or glitter on them, in which case, they go in the trash.  

Watch out for cards with button batteriesButton batteries do NOT go in the recycling or trash because they can cause fires. This battery guide can help you identify and properly handle batteries.

Packing Peanuts, Bubble Wrap, and Padded Envelopes

Boxes and packaging are unavoidable during the gift-giving season, but there are ways to minimize the amount you get. Many online retailers provide ways to consolidate shipments and/or allow you to choose to forgo an extra box. Consider buying from local artists or from locally-owned shops in order to reduce the extra transportation and packaging costs associated with online shopping. The Center for Biological Diversity has loads of tips on more sustainable gift-giving.  

If you do receive a package, remember to flatten all cardboard boxes before putting them in the recycling bin – do not nest boxes within each other. Packing peanuts and any paper envelopes with plastic padding on the inside go in the trash. Bubble wrap and fully plastic padded envelopes can be brought back to your supermarket to be properly recycled along with plastic wrap and plastic bags. 

Paper Plates, Plastic Utensils, and Paper Napkins and Cups

We know that disposable plates, utensils, napkins, and cups make clean up easy, but unfortunately, most of that stuff cannot be recycled. All disposable paper products go in the trash. Plastic cups made of polystyrene (colored cups, or those that crack or crinkle when squeezed) also go in the trash. Clear plastic cups that easily squeeze in your hand, and aluminum cups, can be recycled. Consider using reusable tableware whenever possible.

Trees and Wreaths

When the holidays are winding down, remember that cut Christmas trees and holiday wreaths are handled differently. Most MA cities and towns provide Christmas tree collection programs (usually during the first 2 weeks in January). The collected trees are chipped and either composted or used for mulch. If you have questions about where to take your tree for proper disposal, or when to put it on the curb, contact your city or town for information (search “‘city/town name’ trash and recycling”).

Christmas tree collection dates are also often included on municipal trash & recycling calendars, so that’s another source of helpful info. Before you put it out, remember to remove all tinsel, lights, stands, ornaments, and/or garlands!

We know that many wreaths are made from trees, but they do not belong with Christmas tree or yard waste collection. The wires in wreaths are a contaminant, so put wreaths in the trash. We encourage salvaging all the doodads on your wreaths for future gift-wrapping magic!

📚 What We're Reading

Happy holidays and see you next year!

The Recycle Smart Team at MassDEP ❄️