Top Tips to Reduce Holiday Waste
It is not uncommon for the holiday season to mean different things to different people, thanks to a host of influences like childhood traditions, celebrations in your community, and the endless holiday-themed media that runs on repeat from our radios and televisions. The importance of these elements to the season will vary, depending on the person as decorations, food, traveling, and the abundance of plastic products all play their part in creating the ideal “holiday vibe.”
They are also responsible for substantial amounts of holiday waste, too.
Holiday Waste by the Numbers
According to Stanford University, Americans throw away 25% more trash in the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. That amounts to over a million extra tons of garbage. The facts don’t stop there:
- Nearly 3 billion Christmas cards are sent annually.
- In America, the cumulative amount of giftwrapping paper used to wrap 3 gifts per family can fully cover 45,000 football fields.
- As reported by the Center for Global Development, the total energy spent on holiday lights in America can be measured in the billions of kilowatt hours – more than some entire countries use in a whole year.
These factors, including the annual loss of millions of trees for people’s foyers, or the influx of hundreds of tons of batteries into our landfills, can have a substantial effect on the health of our planet during the holidays.
Rescuing the season from such a fate doesn’t require that we turn into the Grinch, cursing all plastic products, boxes, and bags that accompany every holiday. Instead, we simply need to hone in on a few manageable changes that can make a world of difference.
Recycle the Christmas Tree (and other things, too)
To say that recycling is important is a bit of a given, but dealing with holiday waste may leave some people to question what exactly can be recycled, or what kind of positive impact it can have on the environment.
Naturally, giftwrap can and should be recycled, and we’ve illustrated above what the sheer bulk of giftwrapping can look like in America. But there are other holiday items that can be recycled once they’ve outlived their usefulness. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
- Cardboard boxes – If Santa has brought any kind of toy, clothing, or tool to put under the tree, chances are that it came in some kind of cardboard or paper box. Imagine the good that could be done if we, as an online-shopping-addicted society, made an effort to recycle all the boxes that pass over our threshold on a sometimes-daily occurrence.
- Christmas trees – For households that traditionally display live Christmas trees, a lot of good can be done when you recycle the Christmas tree and allow them to reenter the natural order of fertilization and regrowth. Instead of tossing it in the trash can, you can recycle the Christmas tree by having it picked up by a third-party to be ground up into mulch, or you can chop it up yourself and add it to your compost heap.
- Christmas lights – One of the biggest surprises when recycling holiday waste is the type of utility old Christmas lights can have after they’re no longer shining. By taking them to an approved recycling center or secondhand shop (as Good Housekeeping suggests), your old lights can be converted into materials for construction, car manufacturing, or even household tools.
Remember that if any of the natural or plastic products that you want to recycle is in working order, chances are that some individuals or families would be happy to take them off your hands, directly.
A Warning Regarding Plastic Products
As professionals in the space of cleanup and sustainability, we are particularly concerned with the practice of reducing holiday waste. As such, not all plastics are created equal, even if they are connected to other typically recyclable materials. Below are some handy tips to bear in mind when you consider how to reduce the amount of holiday trash in your home this year.
The Don’t-Recycle List
- Grocery sacks – You may be surprised to learn that putting grocery sacks in the recycling bin is frowned upon. This is because they are so thin that they could cause issues for the equipment at the waste management center. Instead, return them to grocery stores that have a bag drop-off station.
- Bubble wrap – Like grocery sacks, bubble wrap requires specifically tuned equipment to process. Fortunately, the same specially-marked receptacles that accept grocery sacks for recycling can also handle bubble wrap. Otherwise, your best course of action is to simply throw it in the trash.
- Laminated/glossy pages and gift bags – The problem with glossy papers and gift bags is due to how the materials are broken down. In short, plastic products need heat, but paper needs water. Because these are at odds with one another, neither can be recycled when they exist as a single product.
We’ve spoken about why it is important to recycle the Christmas tree when cleaning out your holiday waste, but choosing not to recycle some materials can prove equally as important. If you have questions about whether a specific item is acceptable, contact your local waste management center.