Buried in holiday trash? Here's what you can and can't recycle

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How can you make sure you're recycling everything that can be recycled? Here are some tips. (Shutterstock photo)

The presents are opened, the parties are over, and now we're all left with holiday memories... AND a whole lot of holiday trash! But how can you make sure you're recycling everything that can be recycled? It can be confusing with different rules all over the Bay Area, but here are some quick general tips to help you figure it out:

  • Wrapping Paper: Most Bay Area agencies will take wrapping paper. The stuff you have to watch out for is stuff with multiple layers and or metallic elements. This stuff is often not accepted by recycling mills. Recycle Now suggests the "Scrunch Test" to determine if the paper can be recycled. If it scrunches into a ball when you squeeze, it can probably be recycled. If it pops back to its original shape are you scrunch it, it probably can't be. But different agencies have different rules though, so check with your own agency to be sure.
  • Ribbons/Bows: Generally they cannot be recycled. Officials suggest that you reuse them when possible. If they can't be reused, then they need to go to the landfill. "It's a good idea to have a bag or a box somewhere in your house where you would store ribbon so you could re-use them," said Robert Reed, Spokesperson for Recology.
  • Christmas Lights: These are considered "Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment" and should NOT be put into landfill. Same goes for batteries for all those toys. They can be recycled at a household waste recycling center. Some agencies also collect them or provide special bins at other sites (grocery stores). Check with your provider to see what's available. In San Francisco, Recology asks that residents wait to put their trees out for pickup until the first week in January on their regularly scheduled pickup day.
  • Christmas Trees: Real trees can be composted. Fake and flocked trees (covered in fake snow) cannot be composted or recycled and will be disposed in the landfill. For both types of trees agencies usually have a special pick up window for when and how you can dispose of them.
  • Decorations (Tinsel, ornaments, wreaths): If it's natural (wreaths, holly, etc) if can be composted. Glass and plastic ornaments are generally NOT recyclable because of the materials that they are made of and should be put in the landfill bucket. Tinsel cannot be recycled. Unwanted decorations in good condition can also be donated to charity shops.
  • Christmas Cards: Most are paper based and can be recycled along with their envelopes.


There are some other general holiday recycling tips:

  • Reuse everything you can: Gift bags are the easiest to reuse. Pair that with some decorative tissue and wrapping paper that hasn't been torn up. The great thing about reusing stuff is that it also saves you money next year (because you don't have to buy more!).
  • Recycle all paper and carboard: Recology says these two materials make up 80% of what's in recycling bins. This includes tissue paper. Paper comes from trees and we need trees more now than ever before. So please place all holiday paper, tissue wrap, and cardboard in your recycling bin.

  • Break down boxes: It saves you room in your recycling bin so you can fit more in there.

  • Make sure to empty all beverage containers: This makes sure that liquid doesn't spoil paper in recycling bins. Officials suggest you turn over every beverage container to make sure liquid is out.


  • Compost all food scraps: The holidays generate tons (literally) of food scraps. If you don't want to do it yourself at home, you can send the scraps back to local farms by participating in a curbside composting collection program.

For further recycling guidance where you live visit our Recycling Resources Page
Related Topics:
homeholidayrecyclingenvironmenttrashwaste management
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