Ah, the holidays—a time for celebration, family, and garbage. Lots of garbage. Lots of decorative garbage that lasts for up to a month or a day before meeting its end in the trash. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans churned through over five million Christmas trees in 2017 alone. And Earth911 estimates that 4.6 million pounds of wrapping paper are produced each year, with roughly half of that ending up in landfills.
If you’re wondering how best to recycle or trash your holiday-related items this year, you’re in luck; below you’ll find advice on the right ways to get rid of everything from your used single-use wrapping paper to bubble wrap.
Of course, any recycling advice is contingent on your local curbside recycling program’s rules, which may or may not have recently shifted in the wake of China’s ban on the import of our recyclables. In this instance, it’s always good to do an online search for your program’s rules to be sure. That said, here are tips to keep in mind before you leave your sad Christmas tree on the footpath.
Last week, we discussed the problem Amazon’s cardboard boxes have created for recycling facilities everywhere. According to one New York City recycling facility, cardboard boxes now make up roughly half of the local recycling stream, as compared to 15 per cent 15 years ago; in other words, the problem isn’t going away, particularly with the dominance of Amazon shopping.
Here’s the good news: Generally, cardboard is still recyclable across most local curbside recycling programs, which means you’re free to dispose of cardboard boxes in your blue bin. But keep in mind that your boxes should not come into contact with any other soiled recyclables. If they become contaminated, they may no longer be considered recyclable. (This is why pizza boxes are rarely recyclable.) And don’t forget to break them down, too, using a pair of scissors or a box cutter. This makes it easier for your curbside program to collect them in bulk.
The verdict: Recycle if it’s clean.
While you might think wrapping paper can be recycled, in some instances, it actually belongs in the trash, as Earth911 writes. You should absolutely not recycle any laminated wrapping paper, the kind with a shiny surface. Same goes for papers with a metallic surface or glitter, all of which have no recyclable value in the eyes of waste facilities. On the other hand, un-laminated, “plain” paper is generally recyclable.
The verdict: Trash if it’s shiny or has glitter. Recycle otherwise.
Bows and ribbons
Don’t do it. In fact, you should step away from the bow and ribbon section at any stationery store or pharmacy altogether. As you can imagine, bows and ribbons can very easily entangle recycling machinery facility, requiring workers to separate them by hand and slowing down their process.
The verdict: Trash.
Generally, bubble wrap isn’t recyclable via your curbside recycling program—but you can recycle it at local drop-off locations at many big box stores. Some Target and Whole Food stores, for instance, might accept them at store-front containers. (They’ll likely accept any single-use plastic bags, too.) To find a drop-off location near you, use the Plastic Film Recycling’s search locator and enter your zip code. And call ahead, to be sure.
The verdict: Recycle via drop-off location.
As is the case with wrapping paper, holiday cards are only recyclable if they’re plain, as in no glitter or metallic sheen. As USA Today recommends, you might at least tear the card in half, so you can recycle part of it.
The verdict: Recycle if plain. Trash otherwise.
Christmas trees can be recycled, too, though it largely depends on your local resources. Certain curbside recycling programs, like those in New York and San Francisco, will pick them up on your behalf and generally up to two or three weeks after Christmas’ end; the trees may end up getting recycled as mulch in city parks. Just be sure to do a search for your local program’s rules and to strip the tree of any ornaments or tinsel beforehand.
If that fails, you might also search for any local “mulch events,” which might involve hauling your tree to a drop-off location. As a last resort, use Earth911's search locator to find a nearby collection site. Whatever you do, if you decide to forgo our advice and dispose of your tree in the trash, don’t place it in a bag to contain it. As one sustainability expert told the New York Times, landfills are packed so tightly that your tree may not receive sufficient oxygen to properly decompose while enclosed in a bag.
The verdict: Recycle if you can.