What To Do with Holiday Waste (and unwanted gifts)

What To Do With Holiday Waste

Spread the Sustainable Gospel!

What To Do with Holiday Waste (and Unwanted Gifts) We can try our very best to avoid holiday waste but come on, it’s going to happen. I’m being realistic here. You’ll acquire wrapping paper and boxes from gifts you receive, you’ll inevitably end up with gifts you didn’t ask for or need, and yes, you’ll end up with a mountain of plastic waste. Ugh.

Related: How I Avoid Getting More Stuff During the Holidays

This time of year can peak anyone’s eco-anxiety and I’m here to help ease your worries a bit. Remember, you can only do the best you can. The only person you can control is yourself, so don’t get bent out of shape on things you cannot influence or change.

Even I end up with several new, wrapped items during the holidays. Do I get angry? NO! I’m thankful. I’m thankful that my friends and family thought of me and wanted to show their care and love by getting me a gift. We’ve got more important things to get upset over.

More: How to Encourage Others to Be Zero Waste

I try to focus my emotional well being on being understanding and kind. Despite how others act or treat me. What’s the point, right? So, if you are a loner like me during the holidays, let us celebrate together, in spirit.

What To Do with Holiday Waste (and Unwanted Gifts)

Unwanted Holiday Waste

I’m sure you’ve seen the statistic that holiday waste increases by about 25% between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s being broadcasted ALL over the internet amongst sustainable folks. I’m also seeing TONS of posts related to reducing waste this time of year and though that is incredibly awesome, I’m having a hard time finding any that talk about when you actually GET the waste. What now? Let me offer my advice.

Wrapping Paper | Bows | Bags

Christmas Presents

Every year we spend billions on wrapping paper that, today, is nearly impossible to recycle. Most wrapping paper is laminated, dyed, and glittered making it almost certainly destined to landfill. We are literally throwing our money into the trash. I think I’ve noted this phenomena 1000 times in this blog.

Related: Zero Waste Alternatives to Holiday Wrapping

Reuse | If I get a gift that is wrapped, I’m that annoying, weird family member who slowly and carefully unwraps a gift. I fold it back up, slide it into my bag, and save it to use on gifts or other art projects. I let my son cut them up and make art as well. Reuse those bags and bows. Those almost NEVER get torn up.

I also use it to stuff boxes when I ship things and occasionally use used wrapping paper to make cards. Because wrapping paper is SO difficult to recycle, the best thing to do with it if you have too much to reuse, is throw it away. I hate to say that but that’s the reality.

Related: Zero Waste Tips for Moving

Recycle | If it is just plain wrapping without any heavy dyes or fancy laminations, recycle it with your paper recycling. My grandmother still to this day uses the funnies from Sunday papers. She saves them up ALL year and wraps all of her gifts with it.

Donate | Donate used bags, paper, and bows to a thrift store, second hand craft supplies store, or give it away. Some, somewhere will use it. Trust me.

Upcycle or Trash | Like I mentioned earlier, MOST wrapping paper isn’t recyclable so just trash it if it’s unusable or Upcycle it into crafts. 

Packaging (boxes)

Christmas Holiday Waste

Reuse | If they are reusable boxes, I reuse them for my online eco store to ship out all of your awesome orders. Or if I still have more holiday get-togethers, I may use them for my gifts to give. Boxes can even be used when moving. Regardless, I treat boxes as a commodity in my house. They ALWAYS get used.

Recycle | If the cardboard can be recycled and I have no need to use it (which is rare), I’ll add it to my curbside recycling.

Compost | If I’m unsure of the quality of cardboard, I’ll cut it up into smaller pieces and add it to my compost.

Packaging (plastic)

Reuse | If the packaging is made in a way that allows me to keep my new item protected and in good shape, I’ll keep the packaging. I’ll store my item in the packaging when it’s not being used. Keeping my things in pristine condition has always been a habit of mine because it increases the longevity of the items I own. I don’t want to continue to replace things because I didn’t take care of something.

Recycle | Most plastic packaging that comes on new items isn’t recyclable, however, once in a blue moon, you’ll get packaging that is. Look for the recycling symbols to verify. Once you identify those symbols, check with your local recycling facilities to make sure they are accepted. If there isn’t any obvious recycling symbols, it’s probably best to just trash it.

Trash | Unfortunately, “Wish-Cycling” plastic can increase packagings’ impact rather than just throwing it into the trash. If you’re unsure about whether or not a certain plastic is recyclable, I would just toss it. Gah, I hate to say this but, “When it doubt, toss it out.” Consider the following – You toss the plastic packaging into the recycling. The packaging makes its way to the recycling center (Fuel Resources). Packaging gets sorted (Labor). The packaging gets kicked out of the sorting process by not being recyclable and put into a bin to be transported to a landfill (Fuel Resources).

More: What’s the Deal with Plastic?

In even worse scenarios, a recycling center would ship the plastic to a Southeastern Asian country like Malaysia where it might be processed in an illegal recycling factory causing unnecessary, toxic exposure to nearby residents. Yea, plastic is just a nasty thing.

Gifts (unwanted)

Zero Waste Christmas

This almost sounds like I’m being ungrateful which ISN’T the case whatsoever. But let’s be real. We all get things we don’t necessarily want or things we will use. That’s reality. So what do you do, let that unwanted item sit dormant in a closet or garage taking up space? I consider this to be even more wasteful since the resources went into an item that isn’t getting used. It might as well be sitting in a dump.

Related: Alternatives to Traditional Family Gift Giving

Regift | If you know someone who would use the gift, regift it. There is NO harm in this. That item deserves to be used and if you can make that happen, go for it.

Donate | Donate the item to a charity, “Adopt-a-Family”, Nursing Home, or a shelter. This will ensure the item gets into the hands of a deserving soul who can find value in something you didn’t need.

Return | Return the gift back to the store. If it’s still in the packaging, unopened, return it for cash. Take that cash and get something you want and/or need. When you were gifted the item, you were also gifted it’s value. I’ve returned items for the value on a gift card that I’ve in turn regifted.

And that’s that. What did I miss?

There’s no perfect solution for avoiding holiday waste because yes, it will happen. Just do your best and deal with it when you get it. Oh and most importantly, don’t stress!!

Have a happiest of Holidays!

Check out all of my Holiday posts HERE!

I hope this post helps with what to do with holiday waste! What do you do with your waste during the holidays?

What to do with Holiday Waste 2

3 thoughts on “What To Do with Holiday Waste (and unwanted gifts)

  1. One thing you missed about wish-cycling plastic is that contaminated items in a recycling facility often also contaminate perfectly good recyclable items nearby. So, they often have to discard a whole slew of perfectly good post-consumer waste because someone wondered if their pizza box was recyclable.

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