While the holiday season begins a bit later this year, many people are already preparing for family gatherings, holiday parties and, of course, getting a head start on holiday shopping.

It’s estimated that waste increases by about 25 percent in the United States between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That’s about 1 million tons a week of waste likely headed to a landfill. Additionally, people discard about $11 billion worth of packing materials and 38,000 miles of ribbon during the holiday season –  or enough to wrap around the planet and tie a bow.

Between regular trash and the increased waste that comes from the holidays, it’s important to know how to properly dispose of materials and reduce your environmental impact. As you’re making your list and checking it twice, here are some tips from our team at the Kent County Department of Public Works to help you reduce your waste this holiday season.

Click here for the 2019 Holiday Waste Guide!


1. Use reusable shopping bags
Wherever you go shopping – whether the grocery store or mall – bring reusable shopping bags. Reusable shopping bags are more durable than plastic shopping bags and can help you minimize your environmental impact. If you do use plastic bags, remember to return your unused bags to drop offs at participating grocery stores or retailers in your area. This will help ensure plastic bags are recycled properly. Remember to remove your receipts from plastic bags before recycling.

2. Shop your pantry
With many holiday meals coming up, there will be a lot of delicious food to be enjoyed with loved ones. As you’re preparing your shopping lists for meals, shop your pantry first to see what food items you already have available. This can help you use up ingredients you have on hand and reduce buying duplicate or unnecessary food items.

3. Reimagine those leftovers
Another way to combat food waste during the holidays is to use up those leftovers by creating new dishes! In the U.S., more than 1/3 of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste, making food the single largest type of waste in the daily trash. Avoid the garbage bin by using those mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes, turning that leftover turkey into turkey soup, or whatever yummy creation that comes to mind!

4. Be merry and bright when it comes to disposing of holidays lights and decor
With the holidays comes holiday cheer, and nothing seems to put us in that festive mood as holiday lights, garland, and other decorations. Holiday lights and decor cannot be recycled in your curbside bin as those materials can wrap and tangle around our sorting equipment, jamming our machines at the Recycling Center. Instead, donate any unwanted lights or decorations, recycle broken holiday string lights at an alternative drop-off, and toss any other decorations that are broken (beyond repair) in the trash.

5. Get creative with gift wrapping Believe it or not, wrapping paper and tissue paper cannot be recycled because it’s low-quality paper often made with bits of plastic or clay. Reduce your wrapping paper consumption this holiday season by using other creative materials to wrap gifts, such as old maps, colorful cloth, newspapers or old gift bags.

6. Give a gift that can’t be wrapped
If you’re feeling extra creative this holiday season, consider gifting an experience. From a museum membership to yoga classes to concert tickets to movie passes, there are many fun and creative experiences for friends and loved ones that don’t require much packaging or any at all.

7. Don’t make it snow at the Recycling Center
Styrofoam and other packaging can crumble and static-cling to other recyclables or tangle around our equipment, wreaking havoc on our sorting process. When placing your broken-down cardboard box in your recycling bin, double-check that all packaging materials have been removed. Not sure what to do with the rest of the packaging materials? Find a plastic film packaging & foam recycling drop-off by clicking here. 

8. Separate your packaging
The gift-giving season brings extra packaging. From plastic to cardboard to strings and zip ties, it’s important to separate packaging materials before recycling them. For example, if a toy comes in a plastic package that also has cardboard or paperboard backing, make sure to separate both materials before recycling them.

9. Don’t throw away electronics
The holidays are a popular time of year for upgrading electronics such as TVs, appliances and new gadgets. Before you throw away your old coffee pot or gaming system, visit the electronics section of our recycling & waste directory to learn how to properly dispose of these devices. If they’re still in good, working condition, you also could donate them to a thrift store or shelter.

10. Ugly Christmas sweaters just got even uglier
More than 15 million tons of used textile waste is generated each year in the United States, with the average American tossing around 80 pounds of textiles away each year. If you’re attending any ugly Christmas sweater parties, instead of purchasing a brand new sweater, try your hand at reusing and decorating one of your old sweaters or purchasing one from a second-hand store. Additionally, if you are giving or receiving new clothes, donate any older or unwanted clothes!

11. Rinse and recycle glass bottles
After you pop the champagne or cheers with a glass of wine, remember to rinse out glass bottles and place them in your recycling bin.

12. Properly dispose of Christmas trees
When the holidays are over, it’s time to take down the Christmas tree. If you put up a real tree, remove all ornaments, tinsel and other decorations before taking it to your local composting or yard-waste drop off site. On the other hand, if you’re disposing your artificial tree, it’s not recyclable so donate it to a local thrift store. Even better, buy a living evergreen from your local gardening store and plant it once the holiday season is over. Want to know what the pros and cons are of artificial tress vs. real trees?