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What You Can (and Can't) Recycle this Holiday Season

Morgan Keegan

The holiday season is a time of joy, spending time with loved ones — and gift-giving.

While everyone loves the surprise of opening a beautifully wrapped gift, once the wrapping paper has been removed, don't throw it away — you may be able to recycle it!

Knowing what can and can't be recycled can be confusing. Here is a quick guide to help you cut down on waste this holiday season.

Note: Every community's recycling guidelines are different, so be sure to check the website for your local recycling service or center.

What CAN'T Be Recycled

Let's start with the items that can't be recycled (or may need to be taken to a center for hard-to-recycle materials):

  • Bubble wrap (SEE BELOW)
  • Cellophane
  • Plastic bags (SEE BELOW)
  • Christmas lights (SEE BELOW)
  • Ribbons
  • Bows
  • Batteries (SEE BELOW)
  • Foam packaging
  • Padded mailers
  • Decorative wrapping paper (SEE BELOW)

Even though these items cannot be recycled, that doesn't mean they need to meet the trash can just yet — a number of them can be reused.

And some of them may be accepted at centers that collect hard-to-recycle or hazardous materials. For example:

  • Bubble wrap and plastic bags are accepted at some centers. Clean bubble wrap and packing peanuts may also be accepted by local packing and shipping stores — call and ask!
  • Wrapping paper is low-quality material that is not normally accepted for recycling in most locations. However, some recycling centers will collect non-foil wrapping paper for a limited time after the holidays.
  • Batteries can be recycled at hazardous material facilities.
  • Holiday string lights and extension cords qualify as scrap metal and can be dropped off for free at some sites — check your local recycling center's guidelines for more information.

What CAN Be Recycled

Here are the materials that can be recycled:

  • Cardboard boxes (flatten them first)
  • Holiday cards (unless foil embossed, and no photos or photo paper)
  • Plain paper shopping and gift bags
  • Sticker gift tags (only if placed on material that is recyclable)
  • Wrapping paper in some locations
  • Empty cookie/popcorn tins
  • Magazines and catalogs
  • Wrapping paper tubes
  • Aluminum pie plates

While this is a general guide for recycling, the rules do vary from place to place, so double check your county's rules and regulations before sorting! In lieu of the holidays, some communities will alter their waste pickup to accommodate for the sudden influx of things like wrapping paper, bubble wrap, cellophane, etc. so definitely look into how your community handles holiday waste!

For all of those that love to have a live Christmas tree in their home, but don't know what to do with it after the holidays, most communities have Christmas tree pickup days to help keep things organized and to get those trees where they belong! Most county websites will have these dates and guidelines listed on their websites.

If you have a holiday card you really love and you want to do some easy holiday crafts with the family, check out this video of 10 holiday-card DIY's!

If you have a ton of leftover wrapping paper with adorable patterns, don't throw it away just yet — check out these 19 clever ways to repurpose old wrapping paper!

Don't Forget to Compost!

A number of things can be composted, including:

  • Gift tissue paper (no glitter)
  • Dark or neon-colored envelopes
  • Live Christmas trees (with all ornamentation removed); check to see if your city offers a special collection of these or a drop-off site
  • Live wreaths and garlands (remove decorations and wire)

We hope this short guide will help you reduce waste after all the excitement has ended. Happy sorting!

Morgan Keegan is a Graphic Design Specialist and Content Creator for CollegiateParent. She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduating with a degree in Creative Writing, Journalism, and Communications. She grew up in Bronx, NY and enjoys painting, hanging out with her two cats, and taking care of her many plants.
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