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Top Holiday Recycling Tips

The Christmas holiday season is a time of giving, celebration and enjoying quality time with loved ones. While there’s excitement in the holiday hype, did you know that household waste volumes increase by as much as 25% during the fall and winter holiday seasons? New items are bought, and old ones are tossed into the trash alongside masses of wrapping paper and packaging materials.

Luckily, we have some easy ways to spread holiday cheer by trimming the trash and making more sustainable choices. This year, Rumpke is delivering the gift of our top ways to reduce waste during the Christmas season.

Tip 1: Choose Reusable Gift Packaging

One of the biggest culprits of holiday waste comes from the colorful wrapping paper for gifts that immediately get discarded. Try reusing newspapers as packing cushions when sending packages or as an alternative for wrapping paper.

Some reusable gift packaging options:

- Sturdy gift boxes
- Gift bags
- Decorate paper bags or cardboard boxes—avoid using glitter or foil
- Put together a gift basket
- Holiday tote bags
- Buy a stocking for each member of your household to hold smaller presents

Tip 2: Know Which Gift Packaging is Recyclable

Knowing the difference between acceptable and unacceptable items will help ensure recyclable items end up out of the landfill. These gift packaging materials are often acceptable for recycling, but be sure to check your service provider:

- Cardboard boxes
- Gift boxes
- Shoe boxes
- Candy boxes
- Craft paper gift wrap

Tip 3: Think Outside the Gift Box

The season of giving is not about the number of presents, but rather, the thoughtfulness and sincerity behind them. Expressing generosity is not strictly limited to purchasing countless items. Consider a few gift ideas that are just as meaningful and can reduce over-consumption: 

- If you’re crafty, hand-make gifts such as paintings, knitting/crocheting and pottery—the possibilities are endless!
- Offer a kind act of service that someone needs--for example, help someone complete a DIY home project.
- Have an experience gift such as attending a show, concert or fun event
- Bake someone some holiday goods.
- Focus on a couple of quality items that someone really wants or needs.

Tip 4: Deck the Halls Sustainably

This time of year, shelves are full of eye-catching, decorative displays at the store. Before buying, consider the following questions as a more mindful consumer:

- Will I use it again next year?
- Do I already have one like it?
- Do I have storage space?
- Could I find a similar item at the thrift store?

Tip 5: Use Natural Holiday Decorations

Another eco-friendly approach to getting your home ready for the Christmas spirit is by making your own decorations with natural items.

Some examples include:

- Make small wreaths using rosemary
- Paint some peanuts and make them into snowmen
- Glue some lollypop sticks to make snowflakes
- Create floating candles using a glass mason jar, cranberries, evergreen tree clippings, like pine or cedar, water and a wax votive candle for the tables

DIY Ornament: Salt Dough Cutouts

Make your home bright with some décor made by the whole family! Create fun ornaments or figurines using baked gingerbread or salt dough cutouts. The recipe for salt dough is quick and convenient, especially for your little ones:

- 1 cup white flour
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup water


1. Mix the ingredients into a dough, roll it out and use cookie cutters to form on-theme shapes like stars, reindeer or snowmen. 

2. Set the oven to 300 degrees and bake them for 3 hours. 

3. Once cooled, decorate your cutouts with paint and have a keepsake you can hold onto forever!

Tip 6: Add Recycling to Holiday Parties

From family gatherings to office Christmas parties, there’s apt to be boundless holiday merriment. When hosting, have convenient disposal options by placing a designated recycling container next to the trash can. Some holiday party recyclables to consider:

- Plastic bottles, jugs, tubs, and cups
- Metal cans (aluminum, steel, tin)
- Glass bottles and jars (any color)--remove the top from jars and recycle them separately. Throw away bottle caps and wine corks
- Dry food paper boxes
- Pizza boxes (no food or grease)
- Broth, juice and milk cartons
- Paper grocery bags

Tip 7: Recycle Those Christmas Cards

The US Postal Service will deliver 15.8 billion cards, letters and packages from Thanksgiving to Christmas—that’s a lot of paper. Using recycled paper fiber to make one ton of paper will save the equivalent of 17 mature trees; imagine how many trees would be saved by recycling these items: 

- Paper wrapping paper (no foil, glitter or plastic)
- Envelopes (with and without windows)
- Greeting cards (paper only)—not the kind that plays music with batteries and non-paper accessories
- Catalogs and magazines
- Newspaper
- Paper Amazon mailers 

Tip 8: Recycling Naughty List: Unacceptable Items

While some materials are easily identifiable as recyclable, other holiday-related items received at facilities are not. As you prepare your meals and decorate your home, closely look at the leftover packaging. 

Here is a list of common holiday items that are usually not accepted at recycling facilities, but be sure to check with your local recycling facility for your particular circumstance.

- Foil wrapping paper
- Ribbons and bows
- Plastic toys—no rigid plastic
- Styrofoam—search for a local drop-off location
- Aluminum foil, tins and casserole pans
- Packing peanuts and bubble wrap
- Plastic shopping bags
- Décor (wreaths and garlands, etc.)
- Batteries
- Electronics
- Plastic wrap
- Christmas lights
- Plants & trees
- Ceramic & drinkware

Tip 9: Avoid Recycling Contamination

Recycling contamination occurs when incorrect items are put into the recycling system, or when the right items are prepared in the wrong way, especially food containers.

Imagine all the time and effort you put into preparing your holiday recycling, only to find out that it was later placed in a landfill. This is exactly what occurs to contaminated batches of recyclables.

With a major increase in holiday waste volume, this holiday season take the extra moment to prepare your recycling properly to help ensure recyclables get recycled.

Tip 10: Know Your Wrapping Paper

Do you know how to properly trash or recycle your wrapping paper? Wrapping paper is typically a low-grade of paper, often manufactured with recycled paper. There are two rules to remember when recycling wrapping paper:

1.  Make sure it is paper-styleno foil, glitter, or plastic.
2. Remove all bows, ribbons, tape and tags.

Why are these rules important? If the bows, ribbons, tape and tags are not removed, an entire load of paper might be rejected by a paper mill and sent to a landfill. The same can happen if the foil-style wrapping gets mixed with regular paper.

Tip 11: Gift Experiences Instead of Materials

Opting for experiences such as shows, concerts or fun events is not only a great way to help avoid household waste, but can be an awesome alternative to the traditional gift under the tree for a number of reasons.

1. Gifting an experience often has less physical waste compared to the production, packaging, and disposal of material gifts.

2. Experiences can help reduce landfill waste. Additionally, experiential purchases can promote local economies and sustainable practices, like ecotourism. 

3. It is the gift that keeps on giving. Some experiences have the ability to satisfy longer than physical gifts, potentially reducing overall consumption. 

Tip 12: Reduce Food Waste

There’s nothing more joyful than gathering around the dinner table to enjoy a meal with family and friends. Regrettably, food waste is an annual concern post-holiday, but we can successfully decrease food waste with more eco-friendly alternatives:

- Don't prepare more food than you need
- Look for recipes to utilize scrap ingredients
- Store leftovers in the freezer
- Use reusable containers with leak-proof lids
- Send leftovers home with guests

Tip 13: Donate Unwanted Items

Rather than throwing usable items away, spread some cheer and goodwill by donating unwanted items to those who truly need them. Items can include:

- Toys
- Books
- Electronics
- Clothing
- Décor

Tip 14: Properly Dispose of Your Christmas Tree

Whether you purchase a real or artificial Christmas tree, consider your disposal or storage options once the holiday ends. If you want to replace your artificial tree, try donating or giving it to someone you know instead of throwing it away.

For real Christmas trees, there are a few composting options:

- Cut the tree into pieces for firewood
- Chip it into mulch
- Throw into a brush pile for wildlife protection and decomposition

Tip 15: Trash, Donate, or Reuse Old Christmas Lights

Most curbside recycling does not accept Christmas lights, but be sure to check with your local solid waste district. Usually, there are drop-off locations available around this time of year to recycle them properly. 

Donating old Christmas lights or reusing them for DIY projects is another great way to save these twinkling strands of joy, even if all the bulbs aren’t working.

Tip 16: Make a New Resolution to Recycle

As we move on from the previous year, we can start setting goals to work towards and achieve throughout the new one to better ourselves and those around us. By making a New Year’s resolution to adopt better recycling habits, we can ensure that our environment thrives by diverting recyclables from landfills and recycling correctly to eliminate stream contamination at our recycling centers. 

Tip 17: Thank Your Truck Driver

Trash and recycling workers brave the elements and potential weather-related road hazards every day. Despite frigid temperatures and snow, our team of drivers provide an essential service for our communities and customers. Be sure to offer a warm “thank you” to your drivers this holiday season.

A Note From Rumpke Waste & Recycling

From our family to yours, we wish you a merry Christmas and happy holiday!