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.