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Holiday waste

The presents have been opened and the festivities are over. What’s to be done with all the stuff and waste that’s left? Are there eco-friendly ways to keep it out of the trash?

A lot, and you bet!

The EPA reports that garbage increases 25 percent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and it’s not hard to see why. Drive down any street or alley in late December or early January and you’re likely to see trash bins and bags overflowing with holiday waste. Some of these materials have potential value, which can be lost when they hit the waste stream.

Even if your holidays weren’t the “greenest” on the block, there’s still time afterwards to engage the 5 R’s:

1. Reduce
2. Reuse
3. Repurpose
4. Recycle
5. Rethink


When he was little, my youngest son invented a term for the piles of used gift wrap, bows and ribbons, boxes, and packaging left after the holidays: “wrap-aging.” Too often, wrapaging ends up in the trash when it could be reused, recycled, or repurposed.

Packing materials. Things like packing peanuts, bubble wrap, and air pillows can be saved and used again. You can also drop them off at shipping stores like UPS, which I’ve done multiple times over the years. For Minnesota drop-off locations, see The Peanut Hotline ( or call 800-828-2214).

Gift wrap, bows, ribbons, tissue. The best option is to save these for next year’s use. By reusing, you’ll save money on new materials and help keep existing materials out of the garbage. Gift bags are a particularly good candidate for reuse as are bows, ribbons and the like, but even wrap is reusable if handled carefully.

Helpful hint: You’ll have more savable gift wrap if you forgo tape. In its place, try using a tapeless wrapping technique. Or, if your gifts aren’t wrapped yet, forget the paper and try Furoshiki, a traditional Japanese method that uses a single piece of cloth.

Although some recycling collection programs accept gift wrap, most do not. A lot of gift wrap contains heavy metals, dyes, plastics, and other non-recyclable components. Check with your city or recycling service provider for information or guidance on what is and isn’t recyclable.

Boxes. Another good item to save and reuse. Alternatively, your curbside recycling program may accept gift boxes (tissue removed) along with cardboard ones.

Cards. Save and reuse next year as gift tags. Click here some other creative and crafty ways to reuse cards. You can also send them to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children for their Recycled Card Program (note that some restrictions and requirements apply).

Packaging. There aren’t facilities in Minnesota that recycle protective foam packaging. Residents of Anoka County can drop off the material at the Recycling Center in Coon Rapids. For others, it should go in the trash.


Leftovers can come in handy after the holidays. Keep them out of the trash by following a few practical steps. These include:

• Refrigerating leftovers promptly.
The U.S.D.A. recommends within 2
hours after cooking.
• Composting food scraps. Take
advantage of your community or
waste hauler’s organics collection
program, if one exists. Or, if it’s too
cold for outdoor composting, try
indoor vermicomposting.
• Creating new meals. Take advantage of the growing number of recipes
for leftovers on the internet. Check out
Love Food, Hate Waste for
some ideas.
• Donating extras. You
can donate many
canned and dried
foods to food
For more ideas
on this

topic, see Reducing Your Food Waste During the Holidays on the MPCA website.


Holidays can mean lots of new toys, electronics, clothes, and other assorted gadgets and whatnots. You may be tempted to quickly purge the old stuff to make room for the new. This can lead to hasty decisions that see perfectly good items unnecessarily thrown in the trash. Before the purge, make a plan for what to do with castoffs. • Host a post-holiday swap party. Invite friends to bring residual or unwanted belongings and gift items to exchange.

• Recycle old

Christmas lights.

New LED holiday lights are much more
energy efficient than previous versions.
Keep old or broken light strings out of
the waste stream, where they can create
problems, by properly recycling them.
Light strings and extension cords can be
dropped off for recycling at a variety of
locations throughout Minnesota. For a
list, visit
• Donate usable toys, clothing, and other
items in good condition to a charity,
thrift store, or organization like Minneapolis Toy Library, a toy lending library.
For tax deduction purposes, make sure
to record a fair market value for each
item, using the guide at www.goodwill.
org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Donation_ Valuation_ Guide.pdf or a similar
guide. You may be surprised at how
much the values add up!
• By law, electronics can’t go in the trash.
For information on where to recycle
them in the Twin Cities, see Rethink Recycling. If you live outside of the metro
area, check with your county solid
waste office for guidance.
Before you toss, ask yourself these
• If broken, can it be fixed?
• Is it reusable or recyclable?
• Can it be upcycled into something of
ReUSE Minnesota is a good resource for
answers to these questions and more.


Use the new year as an opportunity to do things differently! There are action steps you can take throughout the year that will contribute to a greener holiday season.

Source: Erin Barnes-Driscoll and the Living Green Team at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Questions or comments about living green can be sent to livinggreen365. For more information, visit

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