Tis the Season to Reduce Waste! Holiday Recycling Questions & Answers (and Tips)

Submitted by Jacqui Wakefield

The holiday season is busy, and for many of us, recycling may not be something we think much about.

During this time of year, we produce a lot of waste and recycling – and it is not just gift wrap or ribbons. In our municipality for the past two years in a row, the amounts of both waste and recycling have increased more than 25% in December and January, compared with November and February! And, as is true in all other months, the amount of waste is almost twice as much as recycling. So, what can we do – and still fully enjoy this wonderful season?

Q: What about presents?

A: REDUCE – Give less stuff and consider more experience-based gifts: tickets to a hockey game, movie or another event, which are often more memorable. Try to eliminate the use of shiny wrapping paper, plastic bows, bubble wrap or Styrofoam – none of these are recyclable.

REUSE – Wrap gifts in festive holiday fabric, cloth bags or dish towels, which can simply be washed and reused. Give gifts in baskets, bags, boxes, tins or jars that often can be reused. When only wrapping paper will do, try to find paper that is made with recycled materials and will also be recyclable. Sturdy paper grocery bags like those from Peacocks Foodland would make great canvasses for stencils, paints, crayons — and kids can do the decorating! Or perhaps reuse your old issues of the Press as wrapping (maybe a particularly interesting Publisher’s rant…)! The main thing to avoid when it comes to wrapping paper is shiny! Metallic, glitter, and cellophane wrapping paper are not recyclable. However, they can be reused if handled carefully. Otherwise they must be added to the trash and taken to landfill.

RECYCLE – When you’re done unpacking or unwrapping your gifts, be sure to break down and flatten the boxes. Then put the cardboard and boxboard in your recycling bin. With the extra volume of recycling during the holidays, recycling trucks need all the space they can get.

Q: What about the Christmas tree? 

A: Reuse as much of the tree as possible. Try standing the tree in a corner of your yard as a resting spot for birds or protection for wildlife over the winter, or let the tree decompose out of sight in your yard. Tree trunks can be dried and used for firewood or split for kindling. My brother is a wood worker, and he has made lovely candlesticks and bowls from the trunks. Use branches as mulch under acid-loving bushes and shrubs. If none of these options works for you or a neighbor, take to a landfill site (a fee applies).

Q: What about holiday dinners or parties?

A: Compost your kitchen food scraps from holiday dinners and parties – fruit and vegetable wastes only – not meat or grease. 

Make it easy for guests to recycle their glass bottles and aluminum cans by putting the recycling bin next to the waste can.

If leftovers are likely, encourage guests to bring their own containers to “take home” some good eats.

Other Holiday Tips

· When out shopping, bring your own bag. Plastic bags are big troublemakers for the sorting equipment at recycling facilities. Use a reusable shopping bag every time you head to the store. 

· Holiday light strings and tinsel often can be reused from year-to-year. However, they belong on the “naughty” list when it comes to recycling. These decorations look good on trees but create a mess once inside recycling facilities. When they are worn out or damaged, throw them into your waste bin.

· Recycle your old gadgets. Get a shiny new computer or phone this holiday season? Don’t toss out your old model – recycle it responsibly at a store or at a landfill site.

· Rinse your recyclables. Before you toss your empty aluminum pie plate or eggnog carton into the blue box, make sure to give it a good rinse. 

· Buy electronics or small appliances with an “Energy Star” label, which signifies that they save energy.

· Buy rechargeable batteries to go with new electronic toys.

Here are some other common items that unfortunately cannot be recycled:

· Clementine/Citrus boxes – the wood is not recyclable, but it can be used as kindling in a woodstove or fireplace.

· Ribbon and bows – reuse them as much as possible.

· Plastic Toys, Artificial Trees and Decorations

· Soiled paper plates, napkins and paper towels 

To preserve the spirit of giving, do not try to give too much. High quality goods may cost more, but they last longer and ultimately reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills. Less stuff means less waste and a healthier environment for everyone. What gift could be better?