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Guide to Sustainable Gift Giving and Wrapping

Christmas lights and other long, stringy “tanglers” don’t belong in your recycling bin! Photo credit: CSWD.

Michele Morris

The holiday season leaves much in its wake: Warm memories, lots of leftovers, maybe few extra pounds, and a whole lot of…stuff. Because you’re reading this, we know you’re committed to reducing your waste as much as you can. Read on to see how you can reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as you can this year, while also making sure that what you put in your blue bin really does belong there!

Spoiler alert: you can’t go wrong by sticking to this list for recycling-bin items: Paper and cardboard (clean and dry); and empty, rinsed beverage, food and non-hazardous cleaning product bottles, cans, tubs and jars bigger than your fist.

Give—and Receive–Thoughtfully

We’ve said it before and it bears repeating: Instead of giving stuff, give experiences, shared time, or a tasty homemade treat you know the recipient will enjoy. Let your loved ones know you’d prefer a gift certificate for a shared activity. If they’re far away, make it for Skype time to catch up. Or, request a donation to a favorite charity on your behalf instead of another thing you don’t need.

Wrap Wisely

Obsolete maps are a favorite wrapping paper in our household. If you must buy wrapping paper, follow these guidelines for maximum sustainability.

  • Seek out paper made with recycled content to boost the demand for recycled paper.
  • Use natural, uncoated kraft-style paper. This is widely and inexpensively available online. Gussy up your packages with natural sprigs of pine, spruce, or holly. Add more bling by attaching an old ornament or costume jewelry scored in a second-hand shop or flea market.
  • Only wrapping paper made from 100% paper—and nothing else—is recyclable. Here’s what to avoid:
    • Plastic or foil coatings: If you tear it and see a thin film on the edges or stretching into the tear, it’s trash.
    • Glitter: Glitter, and the glue that keeps it in place, turns paper into trash.
    • Any other flocking, coating or texture: All these make wrapping paper non-recyclable.
  • Ribbons and bows: None of these are recyclable, no matter what they’re made from. But fabric ribbon can be reused over and over, and simple cotton string or even baling twine lend a rustic feel to packages and can be cut up and composted when you’re done.

Reusing and Recycling Outside the Blue Bin

Think of your recycling bin as a special creature that has specific feeding needs. Just as you wouldn’t risk choking or poisoning your beloved pet with chicken bones or chocolate, please don’t mistreat your recycling bin by feeding it filmy plastic—bags, overwraps, etc.—or other nasty stuff it can’t handle.

Styrofoam, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap

None of these items belong in your recycling bin! Lots of stores will take packing peanuts, bubble wrap and packing “pillows” for reuse, though. Search for “packaging” on our website ( to find local organizations that accept packaging materials for reuse. Take plastic bags back to a participating grocer or other store for recycling.

String lights

Unwanted strings of holiday lights are accepted as scrap metal at any CSWD Drop-Off Center and other locations—for no charge! Larger, old-fashioned bulbs should be removed and placed in the trash first.


Please DO NOT put batteries in your recycling bin. Bring batteries of all types to any Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) Drop-Off Center for special recycling at no charge (quantity limits apply to certain battery types). Find even more battery recycling locations at Better yet: Use rechargeable batteries (if your gadgets operate well with them) to reduce your overall energy footprint. Some can be reused hundreds of times before they stop holding a charge.


Thanks to the Vermont E-Cycles program, Vermont residents and businesses can bring old TVs or computer items to locations all over the state for special recycling at no charge. Some electronics require a fee, though, so visit the Electronics Recycling Page on to learn more.

As the holiday season approaches, lists often grow long and stresses add up. Sorting out what is and isn’t recyclable doesn’t need to be hard or confusing. See all the details at, or give our Hotline a call at 802-872-8111.

Michele Morris is the Director of Outreach and Communications for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, a municipality created to implement solid waste management mandates legislated by the State of Vermont. CSWD’s mission is to reduce and manage the solid waste generated within Chittenden County in an environmentally sound, efficient, effective and economical manner. Our vision: Products are designed to be reused or recycled and our community fully participates in minimizing disposal and maximizing reuse and recycling.

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