This holiday season, make sure you are recycling smarter, not harder, and are disposing of items properly. Americans generate approximately 25% more waste than usual from Thanksgiving to New Years. Sometimes this is because people put items that they are unsure how to dispose of in their recycling bins, because they think they can be recycled, or hope that they can be. When in actuality, Municipal Recycling Facilities (MRFs) are unable to process such items. This is the phenomenon called ‘wishcycling.’ Clothing, hoses, and, the largest offender, plastic bags, are just some examples of items that are commonly wishcycled. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to higher contamination in the MRFs, and higher disposal fees too, since MRFs cannot process these materials.

Avoid ‘Wishcycling’

Make sure to not ‘wishcycle’ this holiday season! These are some items that do NOT belong in the recycling bin:

  • Items with glitter, wires, foil, or metallic inks (these are inks that glimmer or have a sheen to them) – these materials are not recyclable at MRFs.
  • Items that have been laminated – even if it is made of paper, this coating of plastic makes it not recyclable.
  • Ribbons & bows – however, these can be reused over and over again. Or, if they are in good condition, consider donating them to a local charity in need of these items.
  • String lights – these are commonly referred to in the recycling industry as ‘tanglers’ because they will get tangled in the machinery at MRFs. Instead, donate these if they’re still in working condition and remember to use LED Christmas lights!

Glittery holiday gift wrap with ribbons and twine sprawled about.

Consider the 5 R’s

Reduce your consumption this holiday season to avoid generating any extra waste with the 5 R’s – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, and Recycle. Refuse getting or giving physical gifts this year, and instead opt for a non-material gift, like an experience or a donation. Reduce the number of gifts given, just stick to one or two meaningful gifts. Give secondhand gifts to reuse items, which is better for the environment. Repurpose, or repair, items that otherwise would go to waste. And of course, make sure to recycle items properly this holiday season.

A great resource to help you recycle correctly is Recycle Smart MA’s Recyclopedia tool. Enter any item into the Recyclopedia and it will tell you if an item is recyclable, or if it belongs in the trash instead.

Alternatives to Gift Wrap

One item that is commonly used during the holidays is gift wrap. However, some gift wrap is not recyclable due to glitter, lamination, a waxy coating, metallic inks, etc. Instead consider alternatives to wrapping paper with these options:

  • Give 2 gifts in one – wrap the gift in some type of fabric, like a scarf, cute dish towel, or a thrifted shirt. Or put them in a basket or decorative dishware.
  • Put it in a paper bag – you can recycle a plain paper bag. However, gift bags that have metallic inks, wires, glitter, or foils can NOT be recycled! Instead look for other gift bags that are plain and can be recycled. Or encourage the person receiving the gift to reuse the bag again!
  • Wrap it in recyclable materials – wrap gifts in newspapers, old maps, old magazines, old posters, or other paper items that CAN be recycled. Not to mention that these can be aesthetically appealing, the Sunday comics pages make great, colorful gift wrap!
  • Make it a game – hide the gift somewhere in the home and give clues to where it might be.

Brown paper wrapping tied with red yarn and lights around the gift.

Gift Ideas

  • If you picked up a new skill during quarantine, such as knitting or baking, consider giving this homemade gift It’s more meaningful and can be low waste!
  • Since giving the gift of an experience is hard to do this year… consider donating in someone’s name to an organization you feel passionately about. This is a zero-waste idea that also gives back!
  • Give the gift of zero-waste with gifts that are sustainable and can be reused over and over again. For example, bamboo utensils or a really nice water bottle both make for great gifts.
  • Support a small, local business – this can look like gifting a haircut to someone at a local salon, or stopping by a local used book store and picking up a few used books.

Find even more sustainable gift ideas here.

Webinar Recap

Check out our webinar to learn more about the recycling system, what can and cannot be recycled, and some more tips for a more sustainable holiday season!

00:49 – Why Recycling is Important

5:42 – The Recycling Process

10:07 – How to Properly Recycle

14:28 – Solutions/the 5 R’s

18:12 – Green your Holidays (tips to reduce waste this holiday season)

23:53 – Recycling Game

29:00 – Q&A with Veronique Blanchard