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6 Ways to Recycle, Repurpose, and Reuse After the Holidays

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Merry Christmas! Make your last gift one for the earth by recycling and reusing your holiday stuff.


Once the eggnog and cookies have been enjoyed, Santa’s come and gone, and gifts have been opened, it’s time to get the house back in order. This means taking down the decorations, finding homes for all the new toys and clothes, and packing up all the seasonal goodies for another year.


Even with the prep work I put in to create less holiday waste, our trash cans are usually bulging with broken strands of lights, holiday cards, and decorations that aren’t worth saving another year. But this year when I’m packing everything away, I’m going to make a better effort to recycle and repurpose what I can, in order to give it all a longer life… and to keep my trash can (and the landfills) from overflowing.


Want to join me in this post-holiday mission? Here’s a refresher with some ideas we all can use.


Greeting Cards: Some greeting cards aren’t recyclable in curbside bins (such as those with foil or glitter), but that doesn’t mean they’re not recyclable. You can send greeting cards of any kind to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, where children and volunteers will transform the cards into brand new cards, which are available for purchase on the organization’s online store. The money from card sales helps support their programs for abused, neglected, and homeless children. Or collect the cards and upcycle them for various craft projects, such as paper ornaments, colorful garlands, or gift tags.


Gift Wrap: I always thought it was a bit weird that my grandma would open her gifts by carefully slicing each piece of tape so that she could unwrap the paper, intact and uncrumpled. But now I’m the one being so careful with the pretty paper encasing my gift, and I’m sure my kids are thinking I’m just as strange! That’s okay, though, because there are dozens of ways that you can reuse that lovely paper. Cover matchbooks or small boxes for future holiday decorations, weave strips of it into decorative baskets, or decoupage a wooden tray. The possibilities are endless — and good thing, too, since some gift wrap is too adorned with glitter and the like to be recycled. Check with your recycling program to see if gift wrap is recyclable in your area.


Shipping Boxes: Sometimes it seems like it’s not Santa’s sleigh, but the UPS van, that is the real Christmas hero, and we’ve got a porch full of the brown cardboard boxes to prove it. Luckily, these boxes are easily recyclable in most curbside programs. You can leave the tape and labels on the boxes, but you should break them down as flat as possible to allow your local recyclers to pick them up more efficiently. Make sure to keep cardboard dry — wet cardboard can clog sorting machines. But you might not want to put it in your curbside bin when you see some of the clever ways you can transform those boxes into something new!


String Lights: Hopefully by now you’ve switched to LED string lights to light your tree and decorate your front yard — it makes sense from a sustainability standpoint, since LEDs will not only use less energy to operate, but will also last as long as 20 years (that’s 7 times longer than their incandescent counterparts). And organizations like Home Depot have made it easier to make the switch without putting your old ones in the trash by holding trade-in events. Look around for retailers and organizations that are collecting light strings for recycling, where they’ll be chopped up and the materials — like glass, copper, PVC — will be separated and used to make other items.


Unwanted Decorations: If you’re getting tired of your current decorating scheme, or you’ve decided to upgrade items, don’t just pitch the old decorations. A little investigation will likely find a local organization that would welcome your gently-used holiday décor. Ask around at schools, hospitals, shelters, or fire stations, or consider donating them to a charity store like Goodwill or Salvation Army.


Live Christmas Trees: A Christmas tree’s life doesn’t end once you’ve taken off all the lights and ornaments. In most communities, you can either leave it for your yard waste pickup or find a recycling program that will turn your tree into mulch for public parks and gardens. Some communities even dump trees into rivers or lakes, where they can become fish habitats, or burn them for energy. If your neighborhood doesn’t have a convenient recycling option, consider renting a chipper with a few neighbors and chipping all of your trees for landscaping mulch.




How do you recycle your holiday-season waste? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan
I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same. more
  • tommy b. 5 years ago
  • lisa r. 5 years ago
  • erica m. 5 years ago
    A fire station is not likely to accept decorations that are possible fire hazards. Just saying.
  • Ann M. 5 years ago
    A good idea, but I recycle mine.
  • Debra B. 5 years ago
    I work with special needs students, providing Occupational Therapy services for the 34 years now. I save my Christmas cards and reuse the front part of the card. The students love making choices from my cards and often make more than one! We make new Christmas cards folding construction paper into cards, then cutting out the card or parts of the card, gluing and and lastly writing inside of them. This is a way for them to use scissor skills, learn how to squeeze the correct amount of glue from a bottle, and to work on handwriting skills. They are so proud to give a handmade Christmas card. We also cut out felt circles and then cut a smaller circle from a Christmas card and glue onto the felt. punch a hole and add ribbon, glitter, beads, sequins, etc. for a Christmas ornament. Put a sticker on the back with their name and date made, and you have created a memory that will be used for years to come on the tree!
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