Ask Eartha: What to do with holiday waste (column) |

Ask Eartha: What to do with holiday waste (column)

Dear Eartha, I am overwhelmed with waste from the holidays, and with New Year’s coming next week, I don’t know how I can deal with it all! Please help.

— Lorrie, Frisco

I’m glad you’re thinking of the planet during this busy holiday season, Lorrie. Did you know that Americans throw away 25 percent more trash during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s? You may be surprised by that number, but just think about all the “stuff” that goes along with the holidays. More food, different decorations that can break, or maybe your decorating taste changes — these all contribute to the mass of waste that hits our landfills every holiday season. We can’t forget about the gifts — they often come with lots of packaging. Thankfully, there are some ways we can divert it. Follow these guidelines to reduce holiday waste going to the landfill:

Paper and Packaging

Do recycle paper-based wrapping paper if it has no glitter or anything else stuck to its surface. You can tell if your wrapping is paper-based by scrunching it up. If it bounces back into a flatter shape, it is not paper-based. Save these, as they can often be reused since they are durable! Recycle your cardboard after you break it down. Styrofoam cannot be recycled. Reuse gift bags, ribbons and bows, as these items cannot be recycled.


Reuse these next year. If you no longer want or need them, donate to a local thrift store. Glass or plastic ornaments, tinsel, wreaths, etc. are not recyclable. However, wreaths made of living material may be dried and used the following year or composted. You can also think of ways to reuse decorations. Got new ornaments for your tree this year? Instead of tossing the old ones, put them in a basket, jar or vase for a holiday display in another room of your home. Don’t care for the shiny tinsel that used to adorn your tree? Save it for New Year’s to hang from the ceiling during those festivities.


Trees can be put to good use in a composting system, if they were live. If you don’t have this capability, contact your local town to find out if you can drop your tree off for mulching or composting. Artificial trees are not recyclable, unfortunately. If you no longer want yours, donate it to a thrift store. If it has a couple broken lights, simply string lights around it as you would with a living tree. No need to throw it in the landfill!

Food Scraps

Food scraps produce harmful greenhouse gasses when thrown in the landfill. You can compost these or find a friend with chickens or other animals to recycle some of the waste, but lots of your holiday goodies will remain fresh until New Year’s for more enjoyment! Consider storing them in your freezer for later use, too.

Thank you for diverting your waste this holiday season, Lorrie. I hope these guidelines have helped and be sure to try to use them for other holidays. With all the celebrating, we can all do our part to be a little more sustainable.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

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