Holiday Recycling Dos & Don'ts

Many of us will use this week between Christmas and New Year's to take down decorations and throw away gift wrap and boxes. The holiday season results in an extra 25 million tons of trash annually. But some of that trash should go to your local recycling facility. Consumer reporter Steve Noviello says it's best to know what to recycle and what to throw away.

Holiday Décor:

  • Real Christmas Trees: Did you know that there are approximately 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees sold annually in the United States?  As long as tinsel, ornaments, and lights are removed first, your real Christmas tree doesn’t have to go to the landfill, but it does require special care to be turned into mulch or compost. Check with your municipality or local service provider to see if there are any special tree collections taking place this holiday season.
  • Artificial Christmas Trees: The main benefit of an artificial tree is that it lasts for many years and is a mess-free alternative to a real tree. However, if you’re considering getting rid of your artificial tree, don’t throw it in the recycling bin! We recommend donating it or repurposing it into a DIY wreath or decorative arrangement first. Artificial trees are usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is not recyclable.
  • Holiday Lights: String lights should never be placed in your recycling bin. They can spool around the equipment at recycling facilities causing jams, delays or even damage. If you can’t reuse them next year, it’s better to throw them out.
  • Tinsel & Ornaments: Tinsel and ornaments are not recyclable either. If you can’t donate or repurpose them, toss them in the garbage.

READ MORE: Here's where you can recycle your Christmas tree

Holiday Wrapping:

  • Wrapping Paper: While plain wrapping paper is great for recycling, the fancy glitter or foil covered paper is not. Think "the fancier it is, the less recyclable it is." Only recycle plain wrapping paper – Nothing laminated, glitter or foil covered.
  • Gift Bags: The same idea applies to your gift bags – plain paper bags are good to go, but laminated or embellished bags must be discarded if they aren’t suitable to save and reuse for next year.
  • Bows & Ribbons: Bows and Ribbons should never be placed in the recycling bin. They are however, great to save and reuse next holiday season. My family has been using the same bows for nearly ten years now!
  • Boxes: Always recycle your cardboard boxes! Did you know: Between Thanksgiving and New Years Day we typically see a 25% increase in the amount of waste people generate! Flatten your boxes before placing them in the recycling bin as this will help you save space.


  • Electronic toys: If toys are still in good working order, it’s best to donate them so they can continue to be enjoyed by more children. However, if they’re broken or damaged beyond reuse, the next best thing is recycling - but not in your curbside bin. Check with the toy manufacturer to see if they offer a recycling program for their products. If that’s not an option, you can remove the batteries to dispose of them properly – the rest of the toy can be disposed of in your regular trash bin. For the batteries, check with a local electronics recycler to see if they accept them, or use Republic Services mail back program.
  • Cell phones, computers and printers: Many local Republic Services facilities collect e-waste throughout the year, especially in the spring and fall – check for options, or search Earth911 or Call2Recycle to find an e-waste drop-off site near you. We also offer an electronics recycling mail-back program. These items should never be placed in your curbside recycling bin.
  • Lithium-ion batteries: While all batteries require special handling and can’t be disposed of or recycled in your curbside containers, lithium-ion batteries can be particularly dangerous when thrown away. Why? Lithium-ion batteries can easily explode if dropped, punctured or smashed, resulting in fires. In fact, there were 343 reported fires at U.S. and Canadian waste and recycling facilities due to battery-powered electronics last year, according to the 2019 Waste & Recycling Facility Fire Annual Report.

Other Gifts:

  • Toys: Though many toys are made of plastic, they generally can’t be recycled. Donate them for reuse, or dispose of them in your trash. 
  • Clothing: Like toys, clothing can be reused but not recycled. Give unwanted clothing to a local charity, or sell it at a consignment shop. If items are worn out, throw them away or repurpose as rags.