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How to get rid of Christmas shopping after holiday season is over

Many people generate extra waste around the winter holidays, making it critical to recycle, re-gift or dispose of holiday goods appropriately

Many ornaments that adorn wreaths and Christmas trees are not recyclable. If glass and clay ornaments break, they should be placed in the trash. If they’re intact, you can often donate used ornaments to thrift stores or charities. (AFP)

By Bloomberg

LAST PUBLISHED 26.12.2023  |  06:10 PM IST

The holidays are a special time of joy and giving—and a special time for generating trash. 

In the US alone, the amount of waste generated between Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day is 25% to 43% higher than average. All that trash pollutes the planet by piling up in landfills, and also contributes directly to climate change. Decaying waste generates methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term, and waste-management facilities emit nitrous oxide, another noxious greenhouse gas.  

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“When you're giving a gift at Christmastime or receiving one, think about what happens next to that product," says Joe Iles, lead of the Circular Design Programme at the nonprofit Ellen Macarthur Foundation. “In our current model, a lot of the stuff ends up in the same place, which is in the trash." 

It doesn’t have to be this way—or at least it doesn’t always have to be this way. Between recycling, upcycling, re-gifting and reducing consumption, there are plenty of sustainable ways to reduce the environmental impact of your holiday favorites.

Also read: In the North-East, Christmas is a big fashion festival

Holiday lights

Holiday lights should not be placed in recycling bins, as they can get tangled in the sorting machinery at recycling centers. If you’re getting rid of lights that still work, you might be able to deliver them to retail hardware stores like Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Ace Hardware for recycling. If your lights are broken, some lighting companies—including Holiday LEDs—will take them in exchange for a discount on your next order. Either option is better than tossing them out. 

Depending on where you live, you can also contact your local recycling service to see if they offer days to collect donations or if they can direct you to another place to ditch your old bulbs. 

Christmas tree 

Nothing says “the holiday season is over" like the perennial obligation to take down the Christmas tree. If you have a real tree, many communities offer curbside-pick up that will let you ditch it along with the rest of your trash. You may also be able to drop off your tree at your local recycling center; many of them have accommodations for Christmas trees come January. 

Another option is to give your tree to a local tree-recycling and mulching program, where it can be chipped and shredded for compost. 

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Recycling artificial trees is a bit less straightforward and depends on where you live and what your tree is made of. Most faux trees contain hard plastics that are difficult for recycling facilities to process. But if your local recycling center accepts all rigid plastics, you can most likely recycle the base of the trunk of the tree.

Tinsel 

Unfortunately, tinsel cannot be recycled. If you have to get rid of it, the best option is to put it in the trash. To make the decoration a bit more sustainable, however, you can simply reuse your glitter floss year after year. (You might also consider decorating with more recycling-friendly materials, like paper chains.)

Whatever you do with your tinsel, make sure you remove it from the Christmas tree before disposing of the tree. When Christmas trees are tossed with tinsel still on them, it can get washed into storm drains, leading to water pollution and harming wildlife that ingest it. 

Gift-wrapping materials 

Every year, Americans throw away an estimated 2.3 million pounds of wrapping paper, much of which ends up in landfills. Here, the best solution is also an easy one: Pick paper that’s recyclable. Regular and glossy wrapping paper can be recycled unless it has added embellishments like metallic flakes, colored shapes, glitter or plastic. (And of course, any gift wrap can be reused if it’s carefully removed and set aside the first time around.)

Pretty much any gift bag can be stored and reused for subsequent holidays, though gift bags’ actual recyclability depends on the material they’re made out of. Paper gift bags can be recycled, while plastic or fabric gift bags generally can’t. 

Reusing is also the best option for gift bows and ribbons. Neither of these festive decorations can be recycled, but they do tend to fare well for future use. Add a little tape to the back of gift bows if the adhesive on them wears off to spruce up a present. 

Candles 

No holiday is complete with a kitchen that smells of warm vanilla, balsam and cedar or sugared plums. But spent candles are often tossed in the trash, even though the jars they come in can be reused or recycled if the remaining wax is properly removed. 

Getting the wax out is easier than it seems: Simply freeze the candle, which will cause the wax to harden and shrink, then pop it out of the jar. You can also pour boiling water into the jar, which will melt the wax until it floats to the top. The excess wax should be thrown in the garbage and not down the sink. 

Once wax-free, a candle jar can be used as a plant pot, a vase, or desk or bathroom storage. You can also just toss it in with the rest of your glass recycling. 

Ornaments

The delicate green, gold and red balls that adorn wreaths and Christmas trees are unfortunately not recyclable. If glass and clay ornaments break, they should be placed in the trash. 

If they’re intact, though, you can often donate used ornaments to thrift stores or charities. Another idea: Give old ornaments a new life by repainting them, which doubles as a fun holiday activity.

Unwanted gifts 

It happens to all of us: You receive a gift that doesn’t quite suit you. Whether it’s a shirt you’d never wear or a device you’ll never use, there’s no need to stick unwanted presents in the back of a closet. Instead, pass that gift along to someone who might actually appreciate it. Depending on the item, you can also donate many gifts to hospitals, charities or thrift stores. 

Old clothing and shoes

An influx of new stuff often means a purge of old stuff, but getting a new pair of sneakers doesn’t mean the old pair has to go to the trash. After receiving holiday gifts, make sure to assess what you still need in your closet and what can go. Old shoes, clothing, bags, and more can often be donated to local thrift stores or charities. 

Also read: 5 last-minute Christmas gifts