Post-Christmas: The Eco Way to Dispose of Holiday Trappings

After Kris Kringle has come and gone, the gifts have been opened, and the turkey has been eaten (with plenty of leftovers to spare), I’ll wager that many of you find yourself thinking … now what?

After the holiday ends, the Christmas cleanup begins. How do you dispose of the wrapping paper, decorations, and other holiday trappings in an eco-friendly way? We’re here to break it down for you, from the smallest gift box to the tree itself.

Wrapping Paper

Despite the name, wrapping paper isn’t always a paper product. Glitzy, shiny wrapping paper is often made out of foil, while other types of wrapping paper are made with a thin, glossy plastic coating — both of these may render the wrapping unrecyclable.

One option for dealing with all the wrapping paper is to save and reuse it. This works best if you remove the paper in one piece, but if you’re more of a rip ‘n’ tear sort, you can still keep wrapping paper scraps to use as gift tags or for wrapping small gifts.

If your used-paper stash is overflowing and you would like to dispose of it, use Earth911’s handy Recycling Search to find out if wrapping paper can be recycled in your city or town. Simply type “wrapping paper” into the search bar, and complete the form with your ZIP code. You should get results that indicate where your municipality prefers you dispose of these festive wrappings.

Gift Boxes and Gift Bags

Most gift boxes are cardboard, which many recycling programs will accept for recycling. Gift bags, on the other hand, are often a glossy paper that may be harder to recycle. But the good thing about both is that they are reusable. I never have to purchase a new gift bag or box; I just reuse ones I’ve received.

However, if they have gotten damaged to the point you don’t want to use them again, check out our Recycling Search for locations where you can recycle gift boxes and gift bags. Be sure to add your ZIP code to the search form to get local results.

Ribbons and Bows

I absolutely adore people who use fabric ribbons and bows to decorate gifts they give me — it allows me to add to my ribbon stash and use them to gussy up my gifts to others! There’s really no reason to throw out fabric ribbon; if you don’t want it (and why on earth wouldn’t you?), I’m sure you can find someone close to you who does.

I also suggest keeping and reusing plastic ribbons and bows, but for an entirely different reason. These inexpensive adornments cannot be recycled, and if you don’t plan to keep or reuse them, they have to be thrown out. One more reason to invest in some thick fabric ribbon, or simply avoid it altogether!

Christmas Cards

Despite trying to reduce paper use whenever I can, I still really enjoy sending and receiving paper cards in the mail. Something about it just feels incredibly joyful and festive. I try to buy cards made of recycled paper whenever possible. Cards with recycled content reduce the demand for virgin fiber — saving trees, energy, water, and producing less waste. And by purchasing products made with recycled content, you demonstrate to corporations that there is a demand for sustainably made products, which encourages more business to follow suit.

As for the holiday cards I’m lucky enough to receive, after displaying them for the Yuletide season, I like to carefully cut off the front of the card and save it for use as gift tags for next year’s presents. I recycle the written-on back portion of the card and feel good about reducing my recycling by 50 percent. An added bonus of reusing my cards like this is that I never have to shell out for brand-new gift tags! Get more ideas for upcycling Christmas cards.

Oh, Tannenbaum…

Within the eco-friendly world there’s a rich tradition of debating whether it’s better for the environment to get a real tree every year or buy one artificial one to reuse for a lifetime. Digging into that debate itself is a topic for another post (check out Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees), but I’m firmly in the “real tree” camp.

After you’ve removed all the ornaments — that includes those strands of plastic “tinsel” — and carefully packed the angel away for another year, don’t toss that tree in the garbage! Many cities have tree recycling programs that turn your old Christmas tree into mulch, wood chips, or compost. This is another time to take advantage of our Recycling Search to find out whether your city participates in a program like this.

Do take note that recycling your tree is time-sensitive. Most cities offer recycling services during a set time period only. Just one more reason not to put off post-Christmas cleanup and get ready to welcome the new year with a fresh slate!

Feature image courtesy of

Editor’s note: Originally published on December 26, 2016, this article was updated in December 2019.

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