Christmas Cleanup: How to Minimize Holiday Waste

January 1, 2020

Santa may leave dozens of wonderfully wrapped gifts beneath our decorated trees, but who cleans up after they’ve all been torn open? Each holiday season, Americans produce on average 25% more garbage than any other time of the year. Torn wrapping paper, Amazon shipping boxes, broken Christmas lights, and expired Christmas trees all have to go somewhere and the landfill is probably not the best place. Before you put it all on the curb, check out our Christmas cleanup guide to learn how to minimize holiday waste!


Cleaning Up Your Christmas Tree

Real Trees

Burn the Yule Log – Burning the Yule log is a part of certain Christmas celebrations dating back hundreds of years. If you need to dispose of your expired tree, you can carry on this tradition by cutting it into firewood or even having a bonfire.

Repurpose for Landscaping – If you have a chipper-shredder, turn leftover trees into mulch for your garden. You could also use it to line a small pathway in your yard, either by making larger wood chips or by making stepping stone-like circles. If you don’t have a chipper or a chainsaw, you can typically rent them from your local hardware store for a day. If you have a landscaping project in mind, rent a chipper for the day and invite your neighbors to recycle their tree and viola – free mulch!

City Pick Up – Some cities will even pick up your tree and recycle it for you. Check with your local waste collection service or your city/county office and ask if they do so.

Take it Back – Before purchasing a tree, consider checking with the company to see if they offer disposal services. Some of them will take your old tree back to its natural habitat where it can decompose properly.

Rent a Tree – Did you know that you can actually rent a live Christmas tree? It’s true! There are companies that will deliver a live tree to your home for a set period of time. At the end of the rental period, they pick it up and replant it so it can bring joy to a new home next year!

Artificial Trees

Donate It – If you’ve outgrown your artificial tree or simply want to replace it, don’t throw your old one out! You can help bring the Christmas spirit to other households by donating your unwanted artificial trees to a place like Goodwill.

Recycle It – If you can’t find a way to donate your old tree, or if it isn’t in good condition, many communities offer yearly pick-up services to help you recycle it.

Cleaning Up (and Untangeling) Your Christmas Lights

Traditional Lights

Recycle – Traditional Christmas lights are made of copper wire, plastic insulation, and glass. Most of this can be recycled! There are a number of organizations that will happily take your broken lights and extract useful materials to be repurposed. The company Holiday LEDs will even give you a discount coupon when you send your old lights to them to be recycled!

Donate – If your lights still work but you’d like to replace them, consider donating them.

LED Lights

After your old traditional Christmas lights have died and you’ve recycled them, consider switching to LED lights! You can find all manner of LED Christmas lights wherever regular lights are sold. They are brighter, longer-lasting, and more energy-efficient than traditional Christmas lights.

Picking Up the Packaging

Wrapping Paper

Sort and Recycle – No matter how careful you are, it’s next to impossible to open a gift without tearing the wrapping paper. This makes it difficult to reuse and unfortunately, many styles of gift wrapping paper aren’t recyclable. Anything with lots of glitter, metallic or foil patterns, or any other odd texture can’t be recycled. However, if the wrapping paper doesn’t have any of those things, it’s probably okay to recycle it.

Creative Alternatives – Just because you want to wrap a gift doesn’t mean you have to use wrapping paper! Old newspapers, magazines, comics, paper grocery bags, and even old clothing can serve as unique alternatives to set your gift apart. Gift bags and tissue paper are also great options that can be used year after year.

Bows and Ribbons

Reuse – Bows and ribbons often wind up in the paper recycling bin as they cling to ripped wrapping. This can cause huge problems for the paper pulping process, so it’s important to remove them. Unlike wrapping paper, which is difficult to reuse once torn, ribbons and bows can adorn presents indefinitely. Rather than purchasing new ones each year, consider keeping a collection of different styles and colors to decorate gifts in the years to come.

Alternatives – If you’re feeling creative, consider making your own bows! Use old scraps of wrapping paper or colorful recycled construction paper to fold your own. There are tons of online guides that show you how to make a variety of fun bows to decorate your gifts.

Shipping Boxes

Recycle – Amazon shipped an estimated 2.5 billion packages during the 2018 holiday season. That’s a lot of boxes! Fortunately, cardboard is recyclable in most places. Check with your local city or municipal waste collection program for details on what types of cardboard can be collected and recycled.

Reuse – If you’ve ever had to move, you might know that moving companies sell boxes specifically for that purpose. Rather than paying for them, break down the leftover boxes and save them for your next move or for wrapping gifts next year. You can even use your boxes to ship old Christmas lights to one of the aforementioned recycling programs!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.