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Holidays Add One Million Tons of Waste – in One Month

Reprinted with permission from Clare Innes at Chittenden Solid Waste District

Christmas morning insanity. Photo by It’s Twinsanity.

Christmas morning insanity. Photo by It’s Twinsanity.

According to the EPA, the volume of household waste in the United States shoots up 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That adds up to about 1 million extra tons in just a month.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We shouldn’t have to pack even more stuff than usual into the landfill just because we want to celebrate the holidays with friends and family.

Here are some easy ways to reduce waste during the holidays:

1. Shopping and decorating

Keep reusable shopping bags in your car—and visible!—so you dont forget to use them.

Use natural garlands to decorate your home instead of plastic decorations that end up in the landfill. You can compost natural decorations after the holidays. Remember, though, that if wreaths or garlands are held together with wire or plastic, that has to be removed before composting.

Choose a real Christmas tree instead of an artificial one. Stay away from spray-on snow and tinsel. Both are nearly impossible to remove and, when the holidays are over, you will need to send the tree to the landfill.

2. Throwing a party

Pair the bins. Make sure the recycling and trash containers are clearly marked. (Bonus points for a food waste collection container!) You will be amazed at how little trash you have afterwards.

Go reusable. Reusable food-ware has the highest waste-free score, compared to disposables. You can pick up a stash of them at reuse stores. If you are using single-use plastic plates, cups, and bowls, remember that those items are recyclable IF rinsed clean. Utensils are not recyclable.

Get rid of the trash can altogether by using only certified compostable food-ware.

3. Opening gifts

This simple step has a dramatic effect: place a sort station in the room where youre opening gifts. Three containers are best: one to sort trash, one for recycling, and one for reusable items. Sorting stuff at the source makes your job a whole lot easier when its time to clean up and helps make sure everything ends up in the right place.

Where does it all go?

First, remember the rule of 2: To be recycled, an item has to be at least two inches in two directions and smaller than two feet in any direction.

Ribbons and bows: reuse or trash. These get very little wear and tear and can often be saved and reused for next year. If you really want to get rid of them, they belong in the trash.

Wrapping paper: recycling. Most wrapping paper can go in your blue bin with regular paper. Its OK to leave the tape on, but no bows or ribbons.

Cardboard: recycling. Flatten cardboard boxes and put them in the recycling bin.

Packaging: recycling. Remove paper inserts from plastic—both can be recycled separately. Plastic packaging can go in the recycling bin if its hard (no plastic film).

Styrofoam: trash. Styrofoam of any kind is not recyclable.

Bubble wrap: reuse or trash. A number of local stores (like UPS) will take your bubble wrap and packing pillows for free and put them to reuse. If you must throw it away, any kind of filmy plastic belongs in the trash.

Learn more at

Clare Innes has lived in Vermont for the past 10 years. She can be found peering into recycling bins everywhere to see what works and is frequently quizzed about recycling and composting in random places when people find out where she works. She spends as much time as possible playing ukulele and roaming through Vermont’s spectacular mountains and forests.


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