The holidays are a time for joy, giving, and…taking out the trash.
In fact, between the Thanksgiving holiday and New Year’s, Americans throw away 25% more trash than any other time of year. Mailboxes become stuffed with coupons, flyers, and cards. Packages are shipped and received at an incredible pace.
And your trash just keeps piling up. All of this adds up to 1 million extra tons of waste per week!
’Tis the season to recycle
According to Stanford University, if every American family wrapped just three presents in re-used materials, it’d save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. Yet even when proactively avoiding excess waste, some holiday leftovers are just inevitable… and usually not as easy to recycle as your typical waste.
We’ve created this list to help you identify what items are recyclable and how you can aid in recycling efforts. Here’s what to do with those hard-to-recycle holiday items.
Holiday recycling by the numbers
- Approximately 1.5 billion cards are sent over the holiday season in the U.S., which requires 300,000 new trees to be harvested per year.
- Holiday lights in the U.S. use more than 2.2 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity every holiday season, enough electricity to run more than 173,000 homes for a year.
- There are roughly 33 million live holiday trees sold in the U.S. every year.
- In the past 50 years, humans have consumed more resources than in all previous history.
Walking in a winter… wasteland of…
Packing peanuts and Styrofoam blocks
Also known as expanded polystyrene (EPS), these items are extremely difficult to break down and often end up in landfills. But, you can actually find a way to recycle this material.
The Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers offers a great resource for finding out where to drop off or mail your Styrofoam. Just make sure it’s clean and free of any tape, labels, film or glued-on cardboard.
Wrapping paper is just ‘paper’ right?
Well, there’s a reason why it’s so easy to tear. Wrapping paper is made out of low-grade materials and often isn’t accepted for recycling. But some cities and haulers offer an exception this time of year, so check with your city council. Keep in mind that foil, shiny and glittery paper has to be tossed, along with the ribbons and bows that may have been on the paper.
Gift and toy packaging
Toys are often packaged in cardboard boxes with plastic “windows” to see what’s inside. While you can recycle cardboard boxes (more on that below), you’ll need to remove the plastic attached to it.
Paper gift bags are great to include in your recycling bin, but you’ll need to remove the rope or metal handles attached. And gift bags made out of plastic, plastic-coated paper or fabric will, unfortunately, have to be tossed.
Cardboard boxes are easily recyclable, so long as you break them down and remove any excess tape. Or, you can use them as donation boxes and use this program to ship goods you no longer need at no cost to you.
Lights, batteries, and electronics
Many big retailers offer recycling programs for hard-to-recycle products like holiday lights, batteries, and outdated electronics. IKEA, Best Buy, Home Depot and Lowe’s all have programs to help. Additionally, Christmas Light Source accepts holiday lights year round, and your donation helps benefit Toys for Tots.
While artificial Christmas trees can be stowed away for another year, your real ones can’t. Many cities will offer Christmas tree recycling programs, letting residents drop off their trees (sans ornaments, tinsel, lights, and stands) at different locations.
Another alternative is cutting your tree into smaller pieces and recycling it – similar to the way you would with other yard waste. More options can be found near you using Earth911’s database here.
Gift cards are incredibly popular, but they’re typically made out of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. While these cards are useful gifts, they eventually leak harmful chemicals into the soil or air when discarded. Recycle This Card and Earthworks are both resources that resolve this problem, taking your old cards and finding new uses for them.
There are so many different ways to recycle items you’d typically toss this season. Gift bags and tissue paper can be reused, and your old tree could be the start of a compost pile. Get creative this season and help prevent a winter wasteland.
Editor Note: References made to businesses/companies in this post are not meant to convey endorsement by Rubicon of those companies in any way.