Recycling during the holidays — Don’t toss your commitment with all the wrappings!

I’m a pretty committed recycler, but there are times when I find it a stretch. The holidays are one of those times. To be honest, the hustle and bustle (and last-minute frantic shopping and wrapping) sometimes leaves me resorting to the easiest way to the finish line! This year I’m determined to do better. It’ll take a little planning (to minimize the frantic), but really, it’s not hard to help make the holidays less burdensome for our planet. It just takes a little mindfulness about shopping, wrapping, decorating, and recycling during the holidays.

And our actions do make a difference. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, Americans create 25 percent more trash than any other time of year. That’s about a million extra tons each of those weeks! According to Vanderbilt University, if each family reused just two feet of holiday ribbon, the ribbon saved could tie a bow around the planet! (Wouldn’t that be a lovely holiday decoration!)

Here are some simple ways to recycle—and reuse and minimize wasteful consumption— during the holidays.

Shop Thoughtfully.

• Buy sustainable gifts/gifts that support a sustainable lifestyle. Some good options: plants, battery recharger, water thermos, pretty postage stamps, food, sustainable soap, compost bin, non-toxic candles, non-toxic cleaning supplies, tools, reusable food wrap. BTW, in my book, regifting is more than okay; it’s a great idea! 

• Consider experience gifts—tickets to concerts, plays, and movies; donations to charities and favorite causes; enrollment in classes and workshops. Many people appreciate them more than material possessions.

• Give the gift of help. Who wouldn’t love a day of housecleaning or yard work—from you or someone you hire? If you know someone with their own business, consider hiring some professional help for them (a graphic designer or a virtual assistant for someone with an online business or blog, for example).

• Don’t overdo. I could (and probably will) write a post on why kids don’t need tons of toys under the tree. A few quality, thoughtful gifts are far better. (Think one hand-crafted puzzle or sorting game in place of three plastic toys that will soon find their way to the trash.) Kids like experiences, too—a coupon for a rock climbing or animation class or a certificate for a hike in the woods with you, for example, will delight well beyond the holiday. Hearing about the gift and looking forward to using it often add to the enjoyment!

• Buy in bulk. When shopping, look for items with little or no packaging. Purchase food in bulk for parties and for assembling gift bags and jars (nuts, seeds, dry beans and grains, herbs and spices, and baking products can all be purchased in bulk). 

• BYOB (Bag) when you go gift shopping. Also consider gifting reusable shopping bags this season. There are lots of cute ones online. They’re also easy to make!

Wrap Creatively.

• Find creative, sustainable gift wrap. Use recycled papers (not foil or shiny paper), maps, comic books, magazine pages, or old newspapers.

• Think beyond throw-away papers, too. Recycling during the holidays is easier if there’s less wrapping to deal with overall. My friend Ann sometimes wraps her lovely small gifts in a pretty new tea towel. 

Present your gift in a tote bag that will get lots of use in the coming year, or in a basket that will surely find a new use after the holidays. My friend Mary has a giant cloth bag under her tree for each child and grandchild. Not only does this eliminate the need to wrap each gift individually, it looks lovely, and it’s great fun for each family member to dive into their own bag each year!

• Consider a thematic gift holder: pasta, sauce, and cheese in a new colander; tea bags in a teapot or teacups; soap and a bath brush in a towel, for example. 

Fine tune the festivities.

• Look to nature for new holiday decorations. Evergreen branches and pinecones will deliver cozy, festive décor without waste. Find some in your own yard or a friend’s yard, or ask at a local tree farm if you can gather leftover branches and cones .

• Avoid using disposable plates and utensils. If you’re throwing a party, enlist help with cleanup instead.

• Put out a recycling container for guests to use for cans and bottles, etc. (You can make it festive!)

• Send cards made of recycled paper. Or phone friends and family with well wishes. Some people send e-cards. If you are sending paper cards (I have to admit I love getting these rather than an e-card), keep your list up to date (and perhaps narrow it a bit). If each of us sent one less card this year, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper! That’s taking recycling during the holidays to a new level!

Reuse what you can.

• Unwrap gifts carefully. I’d be the last one to tell kids not to rip through their presents on Xmas morning. But the rest of us can usually open things carefully enough to have boxes, ribbons, bows, and wrapping and tissue papers for reuse when we’re finished. 

• Reuse holiday cards by cutting off the covers and using them as postcards. They make great “Thank you for the Christmas gift!” or “Thanks for having us for hot cocoa!” cards. 

Recycle the rest.

• Recycling during the holidays involves a lot of paper goods — including whatever cardboard, wrapping and tissue paper isn’t reusable. (First remove bows and ribbons for reuse.) Fold the papers rather than scrunch them up—you can fit lots of folded paper in a cardboard box that is itself heading for recycling.

• Find special recycling centers, if you need them, for packing peanuts, bubble wrap, foam wrapping sheets, and the foam blocks that come as protection for what’s inside the box. Contact your local recycling company for direction. (Their websites often provide this info.)

• Recycle your Christmas tree by placing it in your backyard for the birds and bunnies, or check with your local city re: their pickup of trees for recycling. 

• Recycle old electronics if Santa brings new ones. Electronic stores often take old computers and cell phones, and so does Goodwill. In fact, Goodwill works with partners to recycle those old phones. Make sure you wipe the memory on your electronics first, of course.

• Recycle all those mail-order catalogs that arrive in abundance this season. It’s a good time to cancel unwanted mail-order catalogs, too, by calling the number on the catalog and telling them to take you off their mailing list. 

How do you rate yourself when it comes to recycling during the holidays? What do you wish you could do better? What are you great at, when it comes to recycling?

You might also like: 5 Ways to give meaningful gifts and Regifting — Time to re-evaluate?

2 thoughts on “Recycling during the holidays — Don’t toss your commitment with all the wrappings!”

  1. You know I’m a superfan of the large woven Christmas bags for our family present-giving. It saves me SO MUCH time wrapping and eliminates all that waste! Plus, I can store presents in each bag as I purchase them throughout the year, so nothing gets misplaced trying to store it covertly among my attic surplus.

    • I absolutely love that solution, Mary! In fact, I’m going to shop around for some of those bags, now that the season is over, for next year! They look super nice under your tree, too!


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