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Trash or Recycle? What to do with Your Holiday Waste.

~A note from Extension’s Kari Parcell, Regional Waste Reduction Coordinator

During the holiday season, there always seems to be lots of “stuff.” The question most of us have is “how am I going to clean all of this up?”. Sorting that waste can get a little confusing, but Extension has answers for some of the common questions about which bin materials belong in.

Wrapping Paper, Gift Bags, Ribbon, Bows, and Tissue Paper

Gift wrapping paper that combines paper elements with non-paper decorations (glitter, foil and decorative small plastic elements) is not recyclable. These types of gift wrap should be placed in the garbage to avoid contaminating the recycling system. Gift bags can be thrown in your household recycling unless there is metallic ink, foil, or glitter on them, in which case, they go in the trash along with wrapping paper. Don’t forget to cut those string handles off your gift bags before recycling! Tissue paper, ribbon, and bows that cannot be reused should be put in the trash as well.


Toy packaging made of heavy cardboard is only recyclable when the cardboard is separated from any plastic. That includes the window on the box of a doll or action figure – this type of plastic belongs in your trash bin. Cardboard boxes can be broken down, flattened and put in the recycling bin – do not nest boxes within each other.

Bubble Wrap and Padded Envelopes

Paper envelopes with plastic padding on the inside go in the trash. Bubble wrap and fully plastic padded envelopes can be brought back to participating supermarkets to be properly recycled along with plastic wrap and plastic bags. Do not put plastic bags and wraps in your recycling bin. At recycling plants, they can get tangled in processing equipment, causing damage and worker injuries.

Packing Peanuts and Block Foam

Never place block foam on packing peanuts in your recycling bin. During the transportation and sorting process, foam and peanuts easily breaks apart and contaminates the recycling system, so get the most use out of them before throwing them away in the trash. Paper envelopes with plastic padding on the inside go in the trash.

Greeting Cards

The fancier the paper, the less recyclable it is. Greeting cards and their envelopes are recyclable unless there is metallic ink, foil, or glitter on them, in which case, put them in the trash. Be aware of cards with button batteries. They don’t go in the recycling or trash because they have been known to start fires. This battery guide can help you identify and properly handle batteries. And speaking of batteries…

Battery Disposal

When certain batteries are improperly disposed of they can cause serious harm. Batteries that end up in household garbage or inside of recycling carts can explode and pose a significant fire risk. Do not put rechargeable, and button batteries in the trash. Your local transfer station and some retailers will take batteries. Everyday batteries (AA, AAA, C, D, 9V) are single use, alkaline batteries and can go in the trash.

Trees and Wreaths

Most towns provide Christmas tree collection programs (usually during the first 2 weeks in January). The collected trees are chipped and either composted or used for mulch. Remember to remove all tinsel, lights, ornaments, and/or garlands!

Despite the fact that many wreaths are made from trees, they do not belong with Christmas tree or yard waste collection. The wires in wreaths are a contaminant, so put wreaths in the trash.

Holiday String Lights

Recyling your broken or unwanted lights at your local transfer station. Click here for more info.

If you have any questions about recycling or waste disposal, feel free to reach out to me at or check out Extension’s website.