The holiday season is filled with social events with family, friends and co-workers. All that celebrating is not only hard on the waistline, but the environment too. So after all that sipping candy cane cocktails, wrapping gifts and dipping strawberries in the chocolate fountain, be sure to reduce, reuse and recycle along the way. 

Conscientious purchasing

Waste begins with purchasing. If you’re in charge of the event, or have any influence in the matter, start by finding party supplies that are low waste. Rent plates and glassware or use the real stuff in your home instead of single-use disposables. When it comes to food and drink, buy containers made from glass or metal whenever possible. Better yet, make your own juices with a power or manual juicer. Watch for the copious plastic wrapped around food, gifts and decorations and refuse to buy items stuffed with plastic foam (Styrofoam). 

Related: Need eco-friendly holiday gifts for friends? We’ve got you covered.

Compost unwanted leftovers

With good planning, you can achieve minimal food waste, but there will always be some to dispose of. While you’re scraping plates after the big meal or when you’re disposing of the seeds from your peppers and skins from your onions, remember the compost pile loves all plant-based scraps. You can also toss in undyed toilet and paper towel rolls and brown paper bags.

Recycle where you can

Recycling is a tricky industry. There are some materials that are widely accepted in nearly every market. For example, glass, cardboard and metal can commonly be recycled curbside or at a drop-off facility. Plastic is more location specific. However, most recycling services accept large jugs. Others may take smaller containers like those used for yogurt, salsa and sour cream. Again though, since only about 10% of plastic is actually recycled, your most eco-friendly choice is to make those foods from scratch and make every effort to avoid plastic at the purchasing level. 

Holiday wrap and bows are another sticking point. Most paper-only wrap can be recycled while anything with glitter and other finishes cannot. To minimize waste, use classic wrapping paper and real ribbon you can reuse for years to come. Bonus points for relying on jute or other natural materials. At the end of your gift-unwrapping frenzy, sort the ribbons and bows from the tissue paper and wrapping paper. Crush all boxes and recycle them with paper.

Identifying items that can be recycled in your area is only a portion of the task. The next step involves ensuring you recycle correctly. For example, all items, including food containers, should be clean and dry before going into the bin. Food remnants can actually pollute the entire recycling line, meaning that perfectly good cardboard and paper might have to be pulled out and thrown away if soiled. Similarly, keep small items out of the recycling. Although caps might be technically the right materials for recycling, they can jamb machines and cause big problems during processing so make sure they’re attached to the container rather than left loose. 

Items that cannot be recycled curbside include lights, ribbons, electronics, bubble wrap and cellophane, along with wrapping paper, cards and gift bags that are any material other than basic paper. 

Other Materials

If plastic foam makes its way on scene, check your community for places that recycle it. You may have to pay a few dollars for the service. 

If your strand lights are garbage, check for community collection events rather than throwing them into the trash can. These events are commonplace at home improvement stores. 

Electronics can be donated to a local recycling center or mailed in to an e-waste recycler. Some large stores recycle household batteries. Check with Lowe’s if you have one in your area. Other batteries are often accepted at the recycling center, such as car batteries.

Plastic film like that used for Ziploc storage bags, shopping bags and as the shrink wrap around toilet paper and paper towels can be collected and dropped at select locations. Get online to see which stores in your area provide the service. Also watch when you enter grocery stores as there is often a drop box near the entrance.

If you live in a state with a beverage bottle, make sure you keep them separate from other debris. Provide an easy deposit spot for your guests and return them for recycling after the party. If your state is one that still hasn’t adopted this practice, write your state representative asserting the idea and then be sure to properly recycle each glass, aluminum and plastic container. 

Make a donation pile

If you don’t plan to save used holiday bags and unused wrapping paper, put it in the donation pile. Also include any items in good working condition that you replaced during the holiday season. This might be cookware, clothing, tools, electronics or bedding, for example.

What about your tree?

If you have a live tree this year, you can keep it in a pot and move it outside to plant in the spring. If you’ve cut a tree for the season, be sure to responsibly recycle it. Most city yard waste recycling companies offer pickup of most trees in the weeks following Christmas. This is an easy fix. All you have to do is remove all ornaments and lights and drag it to the curb on pickup day. Be sure to remove every strand of tinsel too. Trees larger than eight feet tall may need to be cut down in size. Avoid placing trees in plastic bags. Note that flocked trees cannot be recycled in this way and will end up in the landfill. 

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