Holiday Recycling Tips

Americans generate 25% more waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Remarkably, about 80% of what is thrown away during the holidays could actually be recycled or repurposed. Here are tips to become better recyclers during the holiday season!

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Know what to throw

With all those extra packages and materials during the holidays, it’s important to make sure you’re putting the right things in your recycling container.

Stack of presents

Paper & Cardboard

Flattened cardboard, newspaper, magazines, office paper and common mail can be recycled as long as they aren’t contaminated by food, liquid or waste.

The gifts were a big hit and now it’s time to clean up. Whether you gave toys or tools, housewares or hockey sticks, the packages are often made of mixed materials. Be sure to separate the cardboard backing from the plastic windows before placing them individually in your recycling container.

Sticky gift tags are too small to recycle by themselves, but they can be recycled if they’re still stuck to an envelope, wrapping paper, or a paper gift bag.

A few metal cans

Metal Cans

Before recycling food and drink cans, remove paper or plastic labels and clean out any residual materials.

Lots of parties means lots of food! Metal cans are usually recyclable, but not if they have an insulated coating. When in doubt, throw it out!

All those holiday meals will result in plenty of dishes to wash, so don’t fret over thoroughly cleaning your recyclables. Just be sure to give them a good rinse and place them in your container when they’re dry so they don’t contaminate other items.

Plastic bottles in recycle bin


While hard plastic containers like water bottles, milk jugs and detergent containers can go in your container, flexible plastics like grocery bags, bubble wrap and styrofoam require special handling and can’t be recycled curbside.

Eggnog and flavored creamers make the holidays extra delicious! Better yet, the plastic containers they come in, and other containers like them, are recyclable. The lids, however, are too small to recycle by themselves, so either put them back on the containers or throw them away.

The poke test is just as accurate during the holidays: if you can poke your finger through the plastic, it doesn’t belong in your recycling container.

Family grabbing snacks from box



  • Paper & Flattened Cardboard
  • Metal Cans
  • Plastic Jugs & Bottles
  • Plain Wrapping Paper



  • Padded Envelopes
  • Ribbons & Bows
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Packing Peanuts
  • Foil or Glittery Wrapping Paper

Empty. Clean. Dry.

How to keep all recyclables free of food and liquid.

Emptying metal can into sink

No Soiled or Wet Materials

Make sure recyclables are Empty of their contents, Clean of any residue, and Dry before tossing them into the recycling container. This helps significantly to reduce recycling contamination.

Once cardboard or paper comes into contact with food or liquid, it can no longer be recycled. Make sure to keep your outdoor recycling lid tightly closed during wet winter weather and don’t use your recycling container as an overflow trash can.

Water your holiday plants and trees, but not your recyclables! Never allow more than one teaspoon of liquid to remain in a recyclable item.

Recycling near sink

Keep it loose

Remember to never put your recyclables in containers or bags.

Don't bag recyclables

Don't Bag or Contain

Never bag or bundle your recyclables. Items should be placed in the container individually.

Plastic bags are good for transporting holiday food and gifts, but once they’ve done their job, it’s time for the trash can. If they wind up in the recycling bin, they get caught in the machinery and cause extensive delays and expensive damage to the equipment.

Baby, it’s cold outside! So bundle up your kids and bundle up your pets, but don’t bundle up your recyclables. These items can’t be sorted at the facility, so all of it ends up in a landfill.

No mixed materials like padded envelopes

No Connected or Mixed Materials

When two or more materials are connected they cannot be recycled as is, even if they’re all recyclable.

If all of the mixed materials are recyclable, like a plastic toy package with a paper insert, separate the materials and put them in your container individually.

If only part of the mixed material is recyclable, like a credit card bill in a window envelope, separate the plastic portion from the paper and recycle only the paper.

Taking recycling container outside

Want to Learn More?

Now that you know the basics, move to the next level and become an expert. Just review our handy guidelines, watch the videos, and download our helpful resources for recycling know-how.

View Expert Tips View Resources