Week 11

Holiday Waste

An addition 1 million tons of trash are thrown out every week between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Merry Christmas! Our holiday was spread out over a week this year due to family travels, so today we opened our gifts from Santa and immediate family. The kids got everything they wanted and more, and the adults made out pretty good, too!

By 7 a.m., all of the presents were opened, and all of the wrapping and packaging was all over the living room, staring at me. There is a lot of confusion about what can be recycled, composted and what is trash in general, and it’s even more confusing around the holidays. This year, I took extra care to make sure I only bought recyclable wrapping paper (no glitter or foil allowed), and used gift bags, ribbon and tissue paper we already had. But that still left plenty of packaging and other things to sort out, and it isn’t always obvious where they should go.

The aftermath

Lucky for us, our local recycling company has a pretty sweet app where you can type in virtually any item, and it will tell you what to do with it. It’s important to note that recycling is not universal, so what my hauler accepts is probably not the same as what yours does. With that caveat in mind, here is what I learned:

  • Wrapping paper: As long as it is plain paper, it is recyclable. I also learned through my zero waste Facebook group that it should be flattened and not balled up, so that it gets sorted as paper at the recycling facility. You should also remove as much tape as you can before recycling. And of course, save any salvageable pieces to use again next year!
  • Tissue paper: Not recyclable, but compostable. If ripped or super small, compost it. Otherwise, fold it up and put it away for reuse.
  • Packaging: This one is arguably the toughest. Cardboard boxes can go in the recycling, but again you should remove the tape. As for plastic, unless is has a #1 recycling symbol on it, it is garbage. If it’s a box/plastic combo, like many toy packages are, you need to separate the plastic from the cardboard before putting it in your bin.
Separate plastic from cardboard before recycling
  • Cards/envelopes: If plain paper, recycle! If only the front of the card has glitter on it, rip it off and recycle the rest.
  • Christmas trees: Our garbage hauler will take one tree per household for free and recycle it as yard waste. All we have to do is put it out in the alley before trash day.
  • Unwanted gifts: Inevitably, you will get something you already have or really don’t want. Instead of putting it in a closet and forgetting about it, see if you can find someone else who could use it. We have great buy/sell/trade as well as buy nothing groups on Facebook for my neighborhood, and the Donate Good Stuff website allows you to type in the item you want to donate and find places that need it.

We still have a full bag of trash after this morning’s gift opening, but I feel good knowing that what I put in the recycling is actually recyclable, rather than trying to guess. Next year, I will be even more conscious of the packaging the gifts I buy come in, and will also check whether I can find it secondhand before buying something new (which I did for my husband’s main gift).

Happy holidays! I hope this is helpful and will make your holiday season as low waste as possible.

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