Holiday Recycling Guide


The winter holidays are full of our favorite things: the smell of pine trees and gingerbread cookies, the sight of twinkly lights and sparkling ornaments, the feeling of giving gifts to loved ones — the list goes on.

Unfortunately, the winter holidays can also generate a ton of waste — six million extra tons, to be precise. That’s why we’ve put together this easy guide to help make your celebrations a little more eco-friendly. It will help you recycle what can be recycled, reuse what can be reused, and limit what has to end up in the trash.

Christmas Trees

Real trees can be disposed of locally — find the information here. You can also choose to compost your tree at home. Either way, remember to remove all decorations first.

Artificial trees are a bit more tricky to dispose of. If they’re in good condition, they can be donated to secondhand stores or sold on Craigslist. If only certain branches are in good condition, remove them to repurpose as smaller green decorations, such as garlands or wreaths. If your tree is in rougher shape, you can recycle it by shipping it to Polygroup’s Christmas Recycling Program. Otherwise, it will need to be taken to the landfill.

Christmas Lights

Christmas lights cannot be thrown away or recycled curbside. Not only can they become dangerously tangled in recycling machinery, causing damage, but they also contain fragile glass and electronic materials that require proper disposal. You can recycle them at any Home Depot during their Christmas Light Recycling event, or trade them in for a discount on new lights with retailers such as Holiday LEDs or Christmas Light Source. If they’re in usable shape, donate them to a secondhand store. Learn more about recycling e-waste.

Bows, Ribbon and Tinsel

None of these items are typically recyclable, so reuse them as many times as you can. The pieces that are in good shape can be saved to wrap presents again, and the pieces that are slightly rougher can be saved for craft projects. When you are done reusing them, toss them in the trash. Read more.

Wrapping Paper and Tissue Paper

Wrapping paper can be recycled unless it is foil. If you’re not sure which it is, try scrunching it. If it stays scrunched, it’s paper. Remove all bows and ribbons before recycling it. A little bit of tape is OK. If it doesn’t stay scrunched, then it’s foil. Foil paper should be reused or thrown away.

Tissue paper is not recyclable because the fibers are too short. Try using other recyclable materials like newspaper or magazines to pack your gifts instead.

Also, when buying new wrapping paper, opt for products that have been made from recycled materials.


Candle wax itself cannot be recycled, but a lot of the containers that candles come in are recyclable glass or tin. Remove the wax and wicks before recycling these containers.

There are different methods to remove wax: 1. You can scrape it out with a spoon. 2. You can heat the candle enough to pour out the melted wax, and wipe out remaining residue with a paper towel. (Just don’t pour any wax down the drain.) 3. If there is only a tiny bit of wax residue left, you can also freeze the candle in order to get it out easily.

Candle containers can also be repurposed, and leftover candle wax can be combined to make new candles at home. Find out more.

Glass Ornaments

If you no longer want any of your glass ornaments, donate them to a secondhand store. Ornaments are fragile and likely to break, so skip the curbside recycling for these. If you have a glass ornament that does break, make sure to dispose of it as broken glass so that it doesn’t injure any sanitation workers.